Are you a saver or a spender?
I am more of a saver but I treat myself on special occasions. So last Christmas I got myself a Range Rover because I had been so busy all year, I hadn’t had a holiday. The car cost around £50, 000, which is lot of money, but I had always wanted one and my mum convinced me to buy it. She said: “You’ve worked hard all year, just go and get yourself one. It won’t break the bank and it’s not going to mean you’re on the poverty line.” So I did. My parents are massive influences in my life and if they think it is OK to spend a certain amount, then I can justify doing it.
What was your first job and how much did you earn?
Working in a factory in Bridgend, which made small parts for cars. I was 16 and knew I wasn’t going to pass any exams so my parents let me leave school as long as I got myself a job. I made about £120 a week. It was an OK wage but hard work, mind. I was working on the press machines that pushed down on metal and then I moulded them into shape. So I was constantly lifting steel.
I worked there for six months then got a job in the post office with my father and I worked there for the next three years. That was £125 a week exactly. I loved it because I was playing rugby at the time so I could practise after my rounds. I loved the fresh air and used to run my rounds so it kept me really fit. If I had never become a professional rugby player I would have loved to remain a postman.
How much did you make when you started playing rugby?
I was playing at amateur level so we used to have £10 in an envelope at the end of each game. You only had one game a week but it was OK because back then, £10 could be a night out. So that was your Saturday night paid for, perfect. That lasted about a year and a half.
So how did your finances change as you became more successful?
Things changed dramatically when I became professional at 18. I went from £125 at the post office and £10 for rugby a week to £25, 000 a year. That is when my parents stepped in and said, ‘You have to be wise with this’.
It was a very big time for pensions so my parents encouraged me to put as much into my pension as I could. It seemed a waste of money because I was 18 and didn’t think I was ever going to be a pensioner. I wanted the money to spend, but my parents made sure that I had enough to live on comfortably but every other penny was invested. At the time, to earn £25, 000 as an 18 year old was a bit obscene.
Did it change your lifestyle?
Not hugely because I had all that money but not enough time to do anything with it. Rugby took up all of my time. I had a nice car though, a BMW 3 series. I didn’t go on any spending sprees. It’s from my upbringing – you never squander. Even though I was playing a game I loved, I still had to work hard for it so I had respect for every penny I earned.
You played for several clubs over the course of your 15-year career. How did your salary change?
It rose every year because I was becoming a better player and therefore becoming more of a product to the club and the club could make money from me. On a personal level, I wanted to be valuable simply because it meant I was good. The biggest contract I signed was for £285, 000 a year when I went to Toulouse in 2005, which probably doesn’t sound too much now, but on top of that I also had sponsorship deals. It felt like all the hard work had paid off. But through it all, my attitude to money has never really changed.
You must have had some trappings of your success though…
I was married at that time and we had a lovely cottage in South Wales by the coast which was stunning. It cost around £400, 000 about 13 years ago. There was a lot of land and it was a beautiful location. What I liked never changed so I didn’t buy somewhere different just because I could afford it.
What was your biggest indulgence when the money started coming in?
I invested in a property in Battersea which I still have and let out. I bought it about four years ago during the recession and paid £480, 000 for it. It’s worth a lot more now.
Were you worried about your finances when you retired from rugby in October 2011?
Oh God, yes. I retired because I broke my arm and thought I couldn’t carry on any longer because my body was falling apart. I didn’t have a clue what I was going to do. I didn’t have another trade. That is the scary thing about being in sport – one minute you’re doing it and the next you have to survive on your own. I was just lucky that a few options came along and I started doing TV stuff.
You have been quoted as saying your work options ‘tripled’ after you came out as gay in 2009…
Yes, I was offered a lot of reality TV shows. I realised that as a celebrity you are either ‘hot’ or you’re not. So when you are offered something, it may be big money but you need to be wise with it because work calms down until you are ‘hot’ again.
You were in Celebrity Big Brother in 2012 and came third. Did that prove lucrative?
Yes, especially as it was only three weeks of my life. Was it a six-figure sum? I genuinely can’t remember the exact amount. I know roughly how much though, but wouldn’t like to say.
Gareth Thomas in Dancing on Ice
You also appeared in ITV1’s Dancing On Ice. Was that well paid?
That was a lot less money than Celebrity Big Brother and more commitment – about six months really if you consider the training that goes into it. But it was good, paid work.