Andrew Flintoff was bullied at school and developed an eating disorder as he battled weight issues during his Test cricket career. These were the shock themes to emerge from a documentary to be broadcast in the run-up to his professional boxing debut at the end of the month.
At a private screening in London yesterday of From Lord's to the Ring the first episode of which is to be shown on Sky1 next week, Flintoff reveals a vulnerable side that is in part driving the compulsion to box professionally.
Flintoff takes on a novice American heavyweight in a four-round contest in Manchester on 30 November. Under the guidance of Barry McGuigan and his son, Shane, a professional trainer and fitness coach, Flintoff has shed more than 11 kilos (24lb) by conventional means. However, the 34-year-old confessed to self-induced vomiting to keep his weight down as a cricketer.
"I would stick my fingers down my throat to make myself sick," Flintoff said. "Even after I had gone to good restaurants I would do it. I ended up losing about 15kg [33lb]. It became a very difficult habit to shake myself out of."
Flintoff also spoke about his school days in Preston, where he was a victim of persistent bullying, and how his immersion in boxing has helped him process the anger and resentment related to that experience. "I had a very rough time at school. I wanted to play cricket and I frequently got knocked around because of it. I really wanted to retaliate but for some reason I couldn't make myself. So now I want to put that side of my life to bed a little bit.
"I have no qualms about talking about it. It happened a while ago now. I suppose if anyone is feeling like that it is all right to talk about it. Maybe me speaking about it helps people who have been through it to feel that it's OK to speak about it, too."
Flintoff's flirtation with boxing has attracted a mixed response. "Car crash TV" was the description used by promoter Frank Warren. The other boxing promoter, Frank Maloney, was even more scathing, claiming Flintoff is turning boxing into a joke.
To balance the argument there is an authenticity about Flintoff's approach and attitude that is best exemplified by the evolving contours of his nose, which has been significantly disfigured.
He has sympathy with his detractors but believes his association with the sport is positive. "I can understand people wanting to defend their sport. I would feel the same about cricket," Flintoff said.
"Our intention is not to cheapen the sport, but to show it for what it is, how hard it is and to celebrate it. Ultimately I'm a boxing fan."