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'She hugged me and said my story saved her life': Referee Nigel Owens on helping others

The well-known Welsh official has used his profile to speak about overcoming difficult situations.

Nigel Owens appearing on Virgin Media's show, The Line-Out.
Nigel Owens appearing on Virgin Media's show, The Line-Out.
Image: Virgin Media Player

HE HAS BEEN refereeing for over 30 years, but Nigel Owens is just as passionate about rugby now as he was the day he discovered it. 

“My first memory of rugby was when I was about five or six years of age,” the Welshman recalls. “I watched Wales play Scotland in 1977 and remember Phil Bennett scoring a try.” 

He instantly caught the bug and began refereeing at 16. Having worked his way right up the ladder, Owens has gone on to officiate in some of the sport’s biggest matches — including the 2015 World Cup final. 

However, the Guinness Six Nations is a competition that remains close to his heart. 

“The [Guinness] Six Nations is special to me,” Owens says, while speaking backstage at Virgin Media’s rugby and entertainment show, The Line-Out.

“It’s something to look forward to when it comes around every year. The [Guinness] Six Nations is more than rugby, it’s a way of life.”

nigel-owens Owens refereeing Ireland and France in the Guinness Six Nations. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Having come out publicly as gay back in 2007, Owens regularly gives talks on inclusivity in sport, mental health and a range of other topics. 

His aim is to offer some hope to those who might be going through difficult situations in their lives. 

“When I go to talk about mental health or various different issues, you will always get people coming up to me who have experienced it,” he says, “or their son or daughter is going through something and I have helped them to understand.

Letters, emails and messages are great to get too. A girl came up to me tonight after the show and asked for a hug and a picture. She said ‘You sharing your story saved my life’, so to me that means a lot.

“The more people who share their own experiences, the more people it will help. When I was in that situation, people shared their experiences and that helped me a lot. I wouldn’t want others to go through what I had to. I have a voice and if it helps people that is great.”

A series of recent storms have caused major damage across Ireland and the UK. Upon hearing the news, Owens decided he would like to aid those affected in some small way. 

“I was reading on social media about how badly people were devastated by the floods, particularly rugby clubs,” he explains. “The weather has hit a lot of countries. 

“I was actually putting some kit away at the time and came across jerseys upstairs. A lot of people are doing good things in terms of fundraising and I just thought if anyone wanted one of my jerseys to auction or raffle off to help raise money then that would be great.

“They would all be jerseys that I would have worn. There are ones from the Guinness Six Nations, the European Cup, the Pro14 and there’s one from the World Cup. So there’s a variation of shirts, really.”

Nigel Owens jerseys Source: Twitter/Nigel Owens

It was a simple but lovely gesture from the 48-year-old, and many clubs have taken up his offer. 

“I put a tweet out and the response has been unbelievable,” he adds. “I posted out about 17 or 18 jerseys last week so I’m going to pick up some more from work and post them out as well.

“They have gone everywhere. There were one or two to Ireland, a good few in England, some more in Wales and a couple up in Scotland as well. It’s just about everyone pulling together to get through something like this.”

The Line-Out airs at 10pm on Virgin Media One every Thursday throughout the Guinness Six Nations. This week, the guests will include ex-Ireland internationals John Hayes and Alan Quinlan. If you miss out, you can catch up on the Virgin Media Player. Every Guinness Six Nations game will also be shown live on Virgin Media Television. Please drink responsibly. To learn more, visit drinkaware.ie.

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