| Rachael: With Freddie
London, Sept. 9: As Britain’s boys began their final battle for the Ashes, thousands of supporters across the country roared them on to victory.
But the loudest applause came from a small group of women sitting together in a hospitality box at the Oval.
A win will undoubtedly see the England team transformed into national heroes, but it may also draw their wives and girlfriends even further into the spotlight.
Already, the partners of the England team have had to adjust to a degree of media interest that they can little have imagined before Ashes fever swept the country. And it’s their lack of interest in such attention that makes them so intriguing.
This isn’t a gaggle of wannabe media stars, but a group of working women and full-time mothers who have been catapulted into the public eye by a sporting event the British public has unexpectedly taken to its heart.
It’s difficult to resist the temptation to compare the cricketers’ wives to their footballing counterparts, but almost nothing is known about the partners of the men on whom Britain is pinning so much hope this week.
Kate Metcalfe at International Sports Management says that this is just how the wives would want it.
“They prefer to keep a low profile while a match is on,” she says. “They don’t want the limelight. They’d rather the attention was on the team and the cricket. All they really want to do is support their husbands.”
Indeed, many of the wives are too busy maintaining careers of their own to find time to shop or sunbathe in the familiar paparrazi hunting grounds.
Andrew “Freddie” Flintoff’s wife Rachael runs her own events company, Strawberry Promotions, which she set up when she was only 19. They married in March this year and have a one-year-old daughter, Holly.
Channel 4 commentator Simon Hughes says her influence on former wild man Freddie has been widely noted.
Another regular in the stands is Andrew Strauss’s wife Ruth McDonald, whose enthusiasm when England get ahead has been a particular pleasure to watch, not least because she is Australian. But her dedication to her husband’s career is equalled by his support for hers.
Bowler Steve Harmison suffers severe homesickness whenever he is away from wife Hayley and their daughters, and Hayley has come to rely on the support of the other wives. But she says that the life of a cricketer’s wife is not as glamorous as it sounds.
“It’s nothing like Footballers’ Wives,” she said, recently, “although we do socialise together. I meet up with Rachael Flintoff quite a lot. But the hospitality box we go to is more cr'che than champagne lunch.”
Hughes says the box is as luxurious as it gets for many of the partners. “You don’t see the French polish or big hairdos on these girls. They’re naturally pretty, and there’s not enough money in cricket for them to be wearing Versace dresses.”