But a career in telly happened nevertheless. That jungle-born momentum was maintained by Phil’s three-series period as a team captain on the BBC’s cult sport/comedy panel game They Think It’s All Overand, from that point onward, he regularly turned up in assorted broadcast roles including sports commentary and the kind of light-hearted, mass appeal appearances for which he is probably best known: Sport Relief, All Star Mr & Mrs and currently as a team captain on A Question of Sport and as a regular reporter on The One Show in the show.
One notable highlight was his prematurely curtailed stint as a contestant on the Beeb’s Strictly Come Dancing. After a creditable performance over several weeks Phil was eventually voted off, but it was universally accepted that he had been put at a significant disadvantage by a nasty knee injury that he sustained during the course of the series. Judge Len Goodman spoke up at the time to say how sorry he was that Phil had not been able to stay in the show.
“It was tough and a bit scary,” says Phil. “The dancing was a little out of my comfort zone, so to speak. So, anyway, I threw myself at that and then really enjoyed it.
I had a good time doing it, and I did quite well until I injured my knee. That was a shame, and kind of held me back. It was very scary the first couple of times, you know, going out there and dancing in front of everyone with tight trousers and a pink shirt on. That was a little bit nerve-wracking. But really it was great.”
Phil is possibly best known as ‘Tuffers’ these days, but over the years he has worked his way through a selection of nicknames. At one point he was known as ‘Two Sugars” because of his fondness for a nice cup of tea. His new personal registration reflects another of his famous aliases.
“Well it’s The Cat of course. I’ve always been known as The Cat or Tuffers, but certainly in the cricket world it was The Cat because I was always having a snooze.”
We had wondered if the nickname might be a reference to cat-like agility on the field, but Phil soon lays that misconception to rest.
“I think that might be a bit ironic – I wasn’t particularly the best fielder! But no… Out all night, sleep all day, nine lives. I’ve got a little tattoo of a cat on my shoulder as well, and I’ve got two cats, as you’ve seen. I’ve got the big Persian and a little rescue one as well. We’re quite a cat family. So when you mentioned it, I thought perfect! Absolutely perfect.”
Phil’s interest in number plates predates his acquisition of his Best Cat registration. “Yes, I had one a long time ago with ‘Tuf’ on it. It was TUF something or other: I can’t remember the actual numbers.
“I know a couple of people who have them, a couple of the cricket guys. Graham Gooch had one, I think, with BAT because he was a batsman; and a few of the guys have got plates reflecting the number of hundreds they’ve got, or the amount of wickets they took, or something else to do with the cricket and things they are involved in.
“But, yeah, I’ve always had a bit of an interest. You know, you’re driving along and you see the old number plates on the cars, and you have a bit of a laugh sometimes. Muck about making them up in your head, down the pub, that sort of thing. Personal plates are a bit of fun aren’t they?”
We couldn’t agree more.
Interview: Angela Banh
Story: Rick Cadger
Photography: Stan Thompson
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