Could you take a guess at how many rugby balls you’ve kicked in your life?
I thought about that recently. I was trying to total up whether I’d hit the big million. I don’t know. If we totted up how much time I’d spent kicking we’d be into years. I’ve kicked enough.
Talking about your winning drop goal at the 2003 World Cup, your old team mate Jamie Noon wrote in your autobiography, “I think, deep down, he wishes someone else had done it and not him”. Do you agree with that?
Part of me does. Professionally my life has been played out in two parts. There’s one part – one person, if you like - that prepares everything and the other person who takes over at the first whistle. He’s the egotistical one that says, “I’m here to win, I’m here to do whatever it takes”. I’ve never wanted to be that person off the field. I’ve sort of thought I’m a bit of a fraud sometimes because of the way people view you and celebrate you and all that sort of thing. So off the field, if you asked me about that, I’d be, like, “I’m proud that I was there and proud that all the preparation made that happen. Great.” I can look at it in that way. But that person on the field is the one who definitely was glad he did it. That was all I was there to do. I was there to help win that game.
Your older brother Mark was a professional rugby player too. Do you think it was ever difficult for him to be Jonny Wilkinson’s brother?
I imagine that must have been difficult. It wouldn’t be something we’d ever need to discuss. My brother didn’t have it as easy as me; a lot of things fell at the right time for me that didn’t for him and yet he’s supported me ridiculously in more ways than you could ever believe. A lot of my humility has come from the fact that I realise how fortunate I am. When Mark and I played together at Newcastle that was undoubtedly the moment at the top of my rugby list, right there above World Cups and everything else. We always loved working as a team. I admired his ability – which I didn’t have as an obsessive kind of person – to go through stuff but be able to put it to one side and just get on with life. That was his super-strength. Mine was something else and I wanted his.
As a person who is inclined towards self-analysis, have you worked out what really matters in your life?
The older I get, the more I realise that what really matters is other people. It’s the flip side of the coin where what really mattered to me at the beginning of my career was me. You attach a lot more importance to who you are from a status side of things than is probably healthy. When I went through my injury period later on a lot of the mental work I did then was undoing that attachment to this whole kind of macho side I felt because of what I did.
So you were quite self-absorbed as a young professional?
Definitely. The ego is in its process of really building. You need to go out there and explore and listen to other people but I didn’t; I was too busy thinking about what I wanted and how I was going to get there. Obviously I tried to do my best for the team but I had a lot to learn, that’s for sure. Later on you look back and think, “What was I doing?” But I honestly don’t know that if you put me back there right now that I wouldn’t do the same thing.
When you went to play for Toulon in 2009 did you feel more relaxed in yourself?
To a degree. I lived as intensely – if not more intensely – on the field. But, if you’ll excuse the oxymoron, I relaxed a lot more intensely off the field in France.
Why do you think the French fans really took you to heart?
I just got very lucky to be in a place where I was supported enormously by all the people around me. In a way it was the fact that it was a one-dimensional thing of just saying, “We’re here to do well, we’re here to give whatever it takes,” and an understanding that the guys in France were working hard to pay money to come and watch rugby. Our role was to recognise that. We’re privileged. We do what we love for a living and this is how we pay it back.
It seems odd to discuss retirement with someone who is 35…
It’s a funny life, isn’t it? Everyone goes through different things and everyone’s experiences are so valuable but they’re so personal. Mine’s that way. You could line me up with 100 other rugby players who have just retired and we’d all have totally different feelings about it. Maybe little shared parts here and there.
Are you enjoying the rather less physically gruelling daily routine?
That’s good. Your shoulders clear up. You don’t have the cuts and bruises. You don’t have the scratches, which stick to your sheets when you go to bed at night. Those were the things that made you feel like you’d done a hard day’s work. That’s part and parcel of the job, but it’s nice to be able to move my arms around properly.
Is your diet a bit looser now?
No. It’s the other way round because when you’re playing rugby you’re constantly doing stuff and burning energy. In normal life you can’t train for six hours a day – or if you do then you’ve got an issue – so you’ve really got to watch what you eat.
Apparently you're quite the Steven Seagal aficionado. What would you say is his best film?
There is no bad Steven Seagal film. I was always a little bit shocked by his early Nico movies - they were a bit too aggressive for me - and I’m maybe less of a fan of his more recent work, which seems to involve a lot of vampires. Sometimes he’s not in the film so much these days; it’s more his stunt double. I might be splitting hairs here but I like to see a star in his film. I’d probably say that Hard To Kill and On Deadly Ground are the best. Marked for Death is very good too. You can’t argue with that. I could go on all day.
Jonny Wilkinson is an Ambassador for GUINNESS, Official Beer of England Rugby. To view GUINNESS' 'Made of More' campaign, celebrating the character and integrity of some of rugby's greatest heroes, visit www.youtube.com/GUINNESSEurope