Jonny Wilkinson: We need to talk about our anxiety to beat it

Lizzie Edmonds
Raising awareness: Jonny Wilkinson and his wife Shelley have developed drinks that could boost well-being: Getty Images

Former England rugby star Jonny Wilkinson has said raising awareness about mental health is “everyone’s responsibility” – and that he wants to talk about his anxiety to help others.

The 38-year-old flyhalf, who scored the winning kick against Australia in the 2003 Rugby World Cup final, has struggled with crippling anxiety at various stages of his career.

He said he would often be a “shivering wreck” before major matches, and would struggle to compose himself in the changing room. Speaking to the Standard, Wilkinson, said he spoke out about his struggles to help others in a similar situation realise they can “get through it”.

He added: “There is a stigma around it [mental health] and an association with weakness. I never really spoke out about it to help others get help. There is something on the other side and you can help yourself and get through it.

Jonny Wilkinson kicking the winning drop goal to clinch the Rugby World Cup for England (PA)

“My message is that you can get out. For me it has been a real journey, learning how to deal with anxiety and what I can do to help myself.”

He said that while there had been a lot of progress in promoting good mental health though organisations and charities like Mind and Heads Together, more could be done to help those who were suffering in silence. “Mental health is everyone’s responsibility,” he said. “Lots of people are going through difficult times and not saying anything. It is a journey for everyone, that everyone should be interested in and that everyone should be part of.”

Wilkinson was speaking as he launched a range of drinks made from kombucha — a type of fermented black or green tea often hailed for its health benefits. Some experts claim fermented foods can improve gut health, help with diabetes and insomnia and generally improve mental and physical well-being.

Wilkinson started eating the foods about a decade ago to help ease his anxiety. For the past six years, he has developed the drinks at his kitchen table with wife Shelley. This week he is launching three drinks – called No.1 Kombucha — stocked only at Sainsbury’s for £1.95 a 275ml bottle.

His drinks come in three flavours — Ginger and Turmeric; Passionfruit, Goji and Raspberry; and Pomegranate and Hibiscus. He said: “I changed my diet 10 years ago and it changed me dramatically. My own mental and physical health has been boosted so much by fermented foods, that I wanted to make it more accessible to everyone.”