England rugby star Jeremy Guscott has begun to lay the foundation for his career beyond sport. No, he isn't buying a pub - this is the Nineties. He's becoming a TV presenter. First project - Ulrika Jonsson's co-host on Gladiators
Jeremy Guscott is holding court at the launch for the new series of Gladiators in a swish central- London restaurant. Surrounded by mock-classical artefacts - tribal carvings, Roman mosaics and flaming beacons - he is fielding questions like "What would you like for Christmas?" from some of our most fearless investigative journalists. All around him prowl men the size of small family cars - they don't need to be in costume to let you know they're Gladiators.

At this point, Guscott may well be thinking to himself, "Why am I here in the heart of media-land being fawned over by luvvies in ponytails, when I'd much rather be sampling the more down-to-earth charms of a pint in the bar at Bath Rugby Club?"

To his credit, Guscott never gives away his feelings at the launch. He exhibits the same calm under pressure here that he did when executing that series-clinching drop-goal for the British and Irish Lions against South Africa earlier this summer. If any sportsperson is going to glide effortlessly into the cut-throat world of television, it is this supremely relaxed Bath and England centre three-quarter. The man was born with cool genes.

Smiling modestly, he confirms that "I've been told that one of my assets in front of the camera is that even though I'm nervous, I don't look it. But I'm actually more nervous doing TV than I was before the Rugby World Cup Final."

Ken Warwick, the producer of Gladiators, emphasises that calmness is a key quality in the man who has been brought in to replace John Fashanu as Ulrika Jonsson's co-presenter. "It helps that Jeremy is level-headed," he says. "He keeps his feet on the ground."

Later on, the most naturally gifted England international rugby player of his generation sits quietly on a balcony chatting to me and surveying the media maelstrom below. He remains adamant that he could never get swept away in a tornado of tabloid hype. "No way," he chuckles. "It's unnatural. I take it for what it is. The weirdest thing is being asked about being a sex symbol. You have to take it with a huge pinch of salt."

Being an international sportsman, Guscott is well-used to the "build 'em up and knock 'em down credo" by which much of the British press lives. He is bracing himself for a tabloid attack with the impact of a Jonah Lomu tackle. "Over the years, I've been hailed as a hero and a villain. You take the rough with the smooth," he says with the philosophical shrug at which all British athletes are adept.

Next week, Guscott will be exposing his back to more knife-wielding critics when he hosts the second series of the children's opera programme, Top Score, which he describes as a "lighter version of The House". He can relate to the top singers he introduces because "they are very highly trained performers who are very good at what they do. All we ever see is the finished product, but Top Score shows what they have to do to get ready for a performance. There are all the hatmakers and dressmakers - people don't realise what a huge process it is to get the thing off the ground."

Now 32, Guscott reckons that he has two seasons of top-class rugby left. Then, surely, he will be crossing the Rubicon definitively and will be going from performer to presenter. He is taking nothing for granted, however. "You've got to enjoy things for the moment," he warns. "Life is too fickle to believe you're going to do things like this all the time. I live my life like it's too short."

`Gladiators' tonight 6.15pm ITV.

`Top Score' begins on Sunday 28 Sept on BBC2



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