Catherine Spencer Q&A: “I’ve had to deal with not achieving my dream”

The rugby player talks Neighbours, Jacinda Ardern and losing two World Cup finals. 

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Catherine Spencer was born in Kent in 1979. Selected as England rugby union captain in 2007, she led the team to the World Cup final in 2010. Now retired from rugby, she is CEO of the speaker agency Inspiring Women.

What’s your earliest memory?

At playschool, when I was three, a helper collected the orange plastic beakers that we drank milk from and piled them up in what seemed like the tallest tower imaginable.

Who are your heroes?

My childhood hero was the athlete Sally Gunnell. There weren’t many sportswomen on TV when I was younger. Sally won World and Olympic gold medals but I mainly liked her for her curly hair.

What book last changed your thinking?

I’m currently reading The Challenge for Africa by Wangari Maathai. I have spent time in Uganda, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Ghana and Kenya but I want to learn more. Maathai’s book is helping me achieve this.

Which political figure do you look up to?

In 2001 I spent a lot of time in New Zealand. The prime minister at the time was Helen Clark, a strong leader who was authoritative but without any unnecessary ego. Now they have Jacinda Ardern, a new mother who particularly impresses me because I have also recently had a baby. But there’s some leap between us: she’s running the country; I’m proud when I find time to make a sausage casserole.

What would be your Mastermind specialist subject?

Just so I could justifiably spend time sitting down and reading the books and watching the films again, I’d have to say Bridget Jones. 

What TV show could you not live without?

Neighbours, obviously. 

Who would paint your portrait?

Andy Warhol. I like how pop art balances an air of beauty with a streak of humour.

What’s your theme tune?

“Ali in the Jungle” by the Hours. It’s about picking yourself back up again after a fall. As someone who has had to deal with not achieving my dream, having lost two World Cup finals, I often listen to it.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

At a beer festival, my dad advised that it was a marathon, not a sprint; I should drink half pints and take my time. Did I follow his advice? No. Did I wish that I had? Yes. 

What’s currently bugging you?

Apart from politics, bushfires, climate change, poverty and war, what is truly bugging me is the inability of most drivers to navigate their way round roundabouts correctly. It drives me mad.

What single thing would make your life better?

A dishwasher. I would love to own a dishwasher rather than be the dishwasher.

When were you happiest?

When I walked down the aisle on my wedding day; when I travelled for a year with my twin brother; when we beat New Zealand at Twickenham in 2009. Now, I’m happiest when playing with my daughter.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

 An artist – a successful one, not a penniless one. I would travel the world to collect inspiration and then head home to my country mansion to put it down on paper.

Are we all doomed?

David Attenborough, who is basically God, has told us we are so we must be. We’re not looking after our world, we’re destructive, we’re selfish, and we’re only just realising that we should be a bit more careful. 

“Mud, Maul, Mascara” by Catherine Spencer is published by Unbound

This article appears in the 07 February 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Europe after Brexit

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