Simon Shaw has stuck a rugby ball with his name on in the window so I can tell where he’s sat. If that’s not the mark of a gentleman, I don’t know what is. I make it sound like it’s been personalised with his initials, but it’s actually much more impressive: the former England and Lions international now has a range of rugby apparel and balls, just the latest string to the bow of one of rugby’s great entrepreneurs.
“One of the reasons for developing the ball idea was to get more kids enthused about rugby,” he explained. “I’ve seen it all over the world. I came back from Kenya in January and getting hundreds of kids out of slums and putting a ball in their hands, letting them play rugby and enjoy the physicality of it, it’s overwhelmingly inspiring when you see a simple thing like that.”
As part of the promotion, Shaw will be bringing his new rugby apparel and equipment to Bournemouth Sevens, an enormous celebration of the sport that – from my experience as a former Dorset-dweller – is also a great excuse for a hangover. Shaw is a huge fan of that mix of sports people and festivalgoers. After all, he rose up the ladder in the old rugby system, where drinking was as much a part of it as the match.
“In yesteryear, the physical form of a rugby player was a fairly thick-set chap – depending on what position you played – but there was always a bit of a Sunday League carrying-a-little-bit-of-excessive-weight, certainly the forwards,” recalled Shaw. Athletes were a rarity in the sport, but the sport’s growing popularity and increased professionalism has changed that a lot.
“The traditional view was that you just ate loads of pasta before a game and that was kind of it,” laughed Shaw. “Now it’s all about scientists and nutritionists coming into the game and adding a little bit more year on year, which I think I have to say is now slightly tipped over the edge. It’s now almost too obsessive, almost to the point of being at risk of not helping athletes long-term.”
Since retiring, Shaw has moved his family to France, looking for some of the European lifestyle he had when he was raised in Spain as a child. Now his life is split between tending the chickens and coming into London for meetings in connection to his myriad businesses. We asked how he manages to keep fit and healthy in a busy week like, say, the Six Nations.
“I try and get back on the Sunday or Monday to France, spend at least half Sunday and Monday at home. I’m generally spending time with my four kids, a lot of outdoorsy stuff. Part and parcel of the reason for staying in France was to have that upbringing I had: being outdoors, not fixated on a screen. We live by the beach so generally, going down to the beach, playing a bit of softball with my sons, just mucking around.”
“Monday features an assortment of errands my wife devises as I only have that window of opportunity. I’ve got this fairly large plot of land that we’ve been developing for some time and I generally spend the afternoon breaking my back doing something in the garden. I’m not a great DIY-er, I tend to break more than I fix, but I do like the destructive element of it. If there’s anything to be bashed around, or filling holes, smashing down walls, I’ll put my hand to that.
Then tending to my chickens. I’ve got seven or eight that provide me with my daily omelette. I can’t remember their names, but I know one of them is called Princess Bubblegum.”
“I’ll jump on a plane early Tuesday morning to be back in London, essentially promoting various businesses that I’m involved with, such as the M group. We’ve got restaurants in Twickenham, Threadneedle Street, we run the hospitality stuff, so around the Six Nations I’m developing a list of people who are going to show up and represent the brand for the weekend, organising dinners as a kind of preview event for the Six Nations. Just generally running around a lot.
I’ll accept interviews here, there and everywhere and I’ll find a way to fulfill them. Generally I’ll jump on a Boris bike and sprint across town and that’s my exercise for the day. I’m not one of those people who says, ‘Right, I’m going to get up at this time,’ because that was my old life, everything was routine and you know what to do and when to do it. It all became a little bit boring for me.”
“It’ll be two to three meetings in the diary. I’m a big fan of brainstorming, getting groups of people together who are not necessarily aligned in their thinking. From my background, sport, you automatically have this perception that all sports people are alike and, actually, it goes back to the point of tall people, short people: what goes on in our brain is equally diverse and some of the best teams I ever worked with on the rugby pitch are a mismatch of different thinkers.
I don’t tend to go to the gym, but every time I’m getting the tube I run up the escalator. If it’s two tube stops I’ll walk or use a Boris bike.
[Food is] quite a tricky one, especially the travel days when you’re getting on planes and trains. I like my food, so I have to make the choice to eat something really, really healthy if it’s dull. I draw the line there. I’m not going to eat something because it’s good for you but tastes rubbish.”
“I get more done on a Thursday in terms of a day, generally a dinner on a Thursday, so I’ll get more done in the day – on Friday there’s usually a lunch or a dinner. It’s an unfortunate part of what I do, in respect to my health, is that the meetings I have around hospitality, around the M group, is that I’m meeting folk, rugby supporters versus people who play the game. In yesteryears they were the same group, people who watched the game tended to play the game and there wasn’t much of a difference, but now, as I say, you have the athletes and the people who watch and support the game. And they tend to be the type of people who like to have a drink, so you spend your time trying to limit. I do like a drink, I won’t lie, but you do have to weigh up if doing that every day of the week is a good idea.”
“I’ll be doing a private lunch or a preview dinner, which is the danger zone because it’s usually drink-fuelled with a lot to eat. And there’s an expectation from the clientele that we’re going to drink with them and share stories, that it’ll go beyond lunch into the later evening with more drinking. But they’re tricky ones. But if possible, if I have a lunch, I make sure to have another appointment after. If I’ve got a junior rugby club I’ve got a lunch for, I’ll fit something into the evening so I have an excuse to leave. I need a cut off point. Like with food, I’m susceptible to not knowing when to go home. If I put something into the diary I can escape.”
“The big day. It usually starts around ten in the morning, not a hell of a lot of exercise before then because of the previous two days and it’s from ten until midnight on your feet, talking about the game, hosting a match day event for all the big Six Nations internationals in Twickenham. We have a restaurant directly across from the train station where we offer a hospitality day, which we feel we set apart from all others.
I try to keep myself as active as possible during the day and, rather than sit down and eat with the clients, I’ll go to every single table in our venue and be the joyful figure that makes everyone feel like they’ve had a great day. Well, they have had a great day.”
Simon Shaw Rugby Balls will be appearing at Bournemouth Sevens Festival, now the world’s biggest sport and music festival. 25-26 May, Bournemouth. Buy tickets here www.bournemouth7s.com
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