Brian Moore: 'I've had letters from well-known players who have also been abused'

The Brian Viner Interview: Former England hooker speaks candidly about how he still suffers self-esteem problems after being sexually abused as a child, and about the reactions prompted by his startling biography
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Merely a flick through the index of Brian Moore's heart-piercingly candid autobiography offers a hint that what is chronicled in the preceding 326 pages is a life less ordinary than most. Under "Moore, Brian" comes "adoption of", "arrested", "articled", and "atheism of", and that's just the A-words. Another A-word, abuse, has loomed even larger over his life, but that subject comes under T, as in "teacher's sexual relations with". I turn up to his terraced house in south London with rugby, and the thoughts of England's most-capped hooker, now a BBC pundit, on the forthcoming Six Nations, just about the last things on my mind.

We sit down in a cluttered kitchen, the day after his 48th birthday, and I tell him that we have several things in common. Not only the same name and the same age, but I too was adopted as a baby, and I too met my birth mother much later in life, indeed around the same time as he did, in the mid-1990s. This fascinates him, and for 20 minutes he asks most of the questions, rather disconcerting for an interviewer, but helpful in establishing an emotional rapport that I don't often achieve across a kitchen table.

Eventually, I ask him whether his birth mother, Rina – who went on to have two more children with his Malaysian father, giving Moore a full brother and sister – has been in touch since the publication of his book, which reveals that at the age of nine, on a camping trip and later in a school storeroom, he and several other boys were sexually abused by a male teacher.

"Not yet," he says. "To be honest, I feel slightly guilty that I didn't consult her about the book. I haven't spoken to her for a while now, 18 months or so. But my sister has been in touch to say that she wants to write me a letter. She's a very fierce and direct woman, so she'll be writing..."

He tails off into silence. There are many such silences during our two hours together.

"I should think she [Rina] will be angry. She'll think, 'If he'd stayed with me, I wouldn't have let that happen'. But my parents [a decent, church-going couple from Halifax] didn't allow it to happen. They didn't do it. People have no idea of the chilling, calculated way in which these things happen."

Moore did not disclose his abuser's name in the book, but the Daily Mail has since discovered the man's identity. Coincidentally it was yet another Brian, Brian Wright, a bachelor friend of his parents, who died aged 83 two years ago. He has not yet spoken to others abused by Wright at Whitehill Junior School. "But I've got messages to call a couple of people from my schooldays, which won't be easy. I've also had 20 letters from people who suffered in the same way, including two fairly well-known players I played against. Like me, they all kept it to themselves, in one case for 57 years."

In plenty if not all of these cases, and certainly in Moore's, the abuse, and the determination to keep it a secret, led to enduringly low self-esteem. He actually has a name, an identity, for this low self-esteem: he calls it Gollum, after the hobbit with the split-personality in Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. Not even his unequivocal success in the sporting arena – a World Cup final, three Grand Slams and 64 caps – suppressed this demon. Moreover, he reasons that the fierce competitiveness that served him so well on the rugby field has blighted him in other areas. There is a very perceptive sentence in his book – "the refusal to relent is rewarded in sport and sometimes in business, but it is destructive in relationships" – and he has two divorces [his current wife, Belinda, is the third Mrs Moore] to prove it.

"That old Vince Lombardi quote, 'Show me a good loser and I'll show you a loser', is fine for sport but in life it's no use at all," he adds. "Saying that, there's one reason sport is great for people like me. It offers temporary satisfaction [from the self-esteem issue]. You can say to Gollum, 'There's the scoreboard, mate. I've won this one. I don't care what you say'."

But in 1997 Moore hung up his boots, and that avenue of temporary satisfaction was closed. Besides, retirement dumped a whole trunkful of other issues at his feet. "As a former sportsman you can't go on a 30-year reunion tour playing all your old hits, and I don't think people realise the implications of that," he says. "You've lived your dream, but maybe half of your life has not yet run, and that can be very hard to deal with. I don't know anyone who deals purely with the psychological aspects of retirement. Maybe I'll do it. Because it certainly would have helped me if someone had just said, 'You spent all those hours training, what are you going to do with all that time?'"

He continues toying with an unlit cigarette, as he has since he sat down, and which clearly he can hardly wait to smoke. "And in some ways that's even more relevant now that some of them make enough money not to have to work again," he continues. "I'm surprised there isn't more addiction among former sportsmen, more George Best stories. Because once you put the word 'former' in front of something, it's never the same. If you think of the adulation you go from, well, not in my case..." This all too typical burst of self-deprecation comes with a wry chuckle.

At least Moore's media work, which now occupies him full-time although he was previously a solicitor, keeps him in close contact with rugby, I venture. "Yeah, but in some ways that makes it worse. You're there, but only slightly there. That's why I get frustrated with my England commentaries. Anyone can miskick or mispass, but I think, 'Why the fuck did you think it was a good idea to do that?' I've become unforgiving, and I need to get a grip on it."

An ungenerous observer might suggest that there is lots on which this tortured but engaging man needs to get a grip, but maybe it's more that his grip is too strong, his lacerating self-analysis too unyielding. He is not so introspective, though, that he can't recognise a potential kindred spirit.

"When I read about Jonny Wilkinson being dissatisfied with himself, I think, please don't carry on with this, Jonny. You're a World Cup-winner, you've been this extraordinary player. Don't get to the end of your career looking back even to the ones you won, like I did, and thinking, 'Well, we might have won, but I didn't play that well'. You don't deserve that, so please, please, please try." Has he ever said as much to Wilkinson? "He doesn't know me. He could trust me, he could talk to me in confidence, but he doesn't know that."

As for the 2003 World Cup win to which Moore refers, he watched it at a friend's house in London, lustily cheering England on. And yet when Jason Leonard received his medal, Moore broke down in huge racking sobs, ashamed of himself for feeling jealous of his old front-row colleague, who had compensated, as Moore never would, for being on the losing side in the 1991 final.

He chronicles this episode in the book, but by now I know better than to ask whether he found emotional catharsis in writing the book. After all, he's had plenty of psychological counselling, but even that's not always cathartic, indeed it's sometimes undertaken with Gollum on his shoulder.

"I don't like asking for help because I know I should be able to work it out for myself," he says. "I know that I'm merely a victim [of the abuse], and not responsible for what happened, and I can rationalise that on paper but not in my head. I think, 'I'm a bright guy, so why can't I do this for myself?' And Gollum says, 'Because deep down you're inadequate. You understand it and still can't do anything about it, how fucking useless is that? I know the sort of person you are, and I know what you did'." Moore says this with his head half-turned, as if the demon really is perched on his shoulder. Then he looks at me and smiles. "My lawyer's training is perfect for this, you see, because it allows me to argue with myself."

He taps his cigarette on the table. Outside, afternoon is turning to dusk. I remark that we haven't even mentioned England's chances in the Six Nations.

A grin. "No, we haven't. There's a lot of talent there, but at some point they have to identify the best team and let them play together. There have been 18 different centre partnerships, 14 different half-back partnerships, since 2003. So I don't blame Martin Johnson because there's a legacy of it, but I will blame him if it carries on. Look at Mathew Tait. Firstly, they don't know where to play him. Secondly, they don't know if he's good enough. But by now he ought either to have 40 caps, or to be properly on the periphery. And the jury's out on so many other players, too.

"Jake White [the former Springboks coach] said to me once that 85 per cent of what he does is selection. If you have good players in the right positions then even if you've got poor coaches, you've got a chance. With good coaches but poor players, you've got no chance. And with continual changes in personnel, even less chance. In business, if you see a high staff turnover then you know there's something wrong without even knowing what the business is. That's no different in sport. As soon as I see the cap count going up, I know something's wrong.

"In the period I played for England [1987 to 1995], we had settled teams. In [Clive] Woodward's last four years, settled teams. Woodward understood that it's not good enough to have talented players, you have to have experience. Apparently, the average number of caps in a World Cup-winning side is over 40, yet a player like [Shane] Geraghty can't even reach 40 caps before the next World Cup. Why have the England football team done well under [Fabio] Capello? Because he hasn't mucked around with selection. Same with the cricketers. Until England start that process, they'll get nowhere."

So who would be in Moore's first-choice England XV? This is the final question of an interview in which he has answered, with brutal, searing honesty, questions about being sexually abused, about his tricky relationship with his birth mother, about his psychological demons.

He holds his head in his hands. "Oh hell," he says. "You've stumped me there."

Extracts from Moore's autobiography

On his abuse

What were the reasons for my silence? First, by a long way, is the shame and guilt at the fact that I did not resist. Did I deserve it, encourage it? Surely any normal boy, even of that age, would know what was unfolding and would struggle, or at the very least protest? In other respects this man was pleasant and fun. He was a good teacher. What if I told and he was taken away? That might upset my parents. I felt I could not tell my parents because of the friendship they had with him; also because I had not fought back, and at least initially had enjoyed some of the acts.

On the 1991 World Cup final

In life, you get very few chances to be the best in the world. When that chance is given, you have to do everything you can to win. If you deliver everything and still lose, I think you should not be reproached. We did not do everything we could, because we could have played in a different way, that would have more chance of succeeding. I reproach myself and have done ever since with the ever-present aid of my alter ego. The team and I let ourselves and the country down. I just have to live with it and try and gain sufficient acceptance and perspective so it does not cloud the great times I had whilst playing. I took home my loser's medal and put it in the loft. But even after two years, during which I had not looked at it again, its presence still haunted me and I threw it in the Thames.

'Beware of the Dog: Rugby's Hard Man Reveals All', by Brian Moore, is published by Simon & Schuster, priced £17.99

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