20111108

Jonny Wilkinson invites his fans on a fresh tour of his tortured soul

As the professional wordsmith behind his column in The Times, Owen Slot had been Jonny Wilkinson’s ghostwriter for seven years before they began to collaborate on the England rugby star’s autobiography yet it was not long before he discovered he knew his subject less well than he thought.

“It was abundantly clear that Jonny’s life story was more complicated, infinitely deeper and darker than I had imagined,” Slot writes in a piece accompanying the serialisation of Jonny: My Autobiography in The Times this week.

The book -- due out this Thursday -- takes readers on a candid and deeply personal voyage into the farthest reaches of Wilkinson’s complex character, setting out the inner torment that has even accompanied much of his success as well as darkening the days of his long periods of physical injury.

It reveals the fears that have dogged him since childhood and tipped him sometimes into bouts of depression and which have made the goals of fulfilment and true happiness almost impossible to attain.

“I didn’t know the extremes of the anxiety he suffered, I didn’t have a clue that it started so early on in his life and I certainly didn’t know that it never really left him,” Slot writes.

Slot amassed more than 50 hours of recorded interview sessions -- two and half times the amount a colleague had suggested would be adequate -- and had to submit his manuscript to three painstaking edits before Wilkinson was happy for it to go to press.

The result is a gripping read and an examination of the human psyche that throws up many thoughts and experiences that will be uncomfortably but reassuringly familiar to others haunted by self-doubt.  But it is also a book that tempts the suggestion that the obsessiveness that has driven Wilkinson’s career on the rugby field might also explain an apparent compulsion to write soul-searching autobiographies.

Jonny: My Autobiography is actually Wilkinson’s third life story, following on from My World, written in conjunction with Daily Express journalist Neil Squires and published in 2004, and Tackling Life, written four years later with the help of Steve Black, the former Newcastle Falcons fitness coach who became Wilkinson’s mentor.

In both, Wilkinson delves into his fears and anxieties, especially Tackling Life, which begins to reveal the complexities that required Owen Slot to embark on what must have felt like a marathon of transcribing.

In a way, then, Jonny is more of the same.  Yet Slot has trawled deeper still, perhaps, and given that Wilkinson’s fascination with the inner self involves continually challenging his beliefs and re-evaluating earlier conclusions, the old ground covered is refreshed just enough.

Jonny: My Autobiography is published by Headline.  Follow the link to buy direct from Amazon.

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