Unfortunately, his form went up as his weight went down, which one imagines would have reinforced the connection, in his mind, between bulimia, weight, control and self-worth. And it is the massively strong, but lean Flintoff of 2005 who exists most in the sporting public’s imagination.
As long as Test cricket is played, a host of his moments will be talked of, but – as has been the case with a lot of British sporting success stories – it is now clear that behind the scenes, mental and physical health were being either sacrificed or ignored. A tour of Lord’s, scene of some of his greatest triumphs, sees him showing the cameras around the lavatories, which he rated among as the best on the circuit because of their low footfall and full-length cubicle doors, allowing discreet purging. It is all very sad.
On retirement, he moved into his new career as a light-entertainment personality and a regular on challenge shows including a brave but, even at the time, rather disturbing crack at amateur boxing. Today, he trains his body to what could be considered an excessive degree: nine workouts a week, some of which leave his personal trainer needing to lie down, and hour-long sessions on an exercise bike that show him looking utterly drained. In the now-familiar style of these “very personal journey” type docs, he learns from psychologists and dietitians that his bulimia might be a symptom rather than a cause, but the deeper roots are beyond the scope of this film, which is fair enough. He repeatedly maintains, however, that he has more or less got a handle on the situation, although the medical experts do not seem quite convinced.
He does also relay the fact that 1.5 million people in Britain “have an eating disorder like bulimia” and that 25 per cent of those are men. Flintoff notes that there is a gender-based stigma attached to asking for help, so this film represents a noble effort in that regard.
Among the insights in the documentary is a segment where Flintoff notes he “has two different sides to his personality. Fred is the person who goes out on the cricket field or drives cars, Andrew is the bloke that worries about a lot of things, has got his own insecurities.” It’s interesting, then, that this comes out under the ‘Freddie’ brand, the brash and, to some tastes, rather grating TV presenter of Top Gear, rather than the considerably more thoughtful and sympathetic Andrew. But it is clear that he has always been pulled in two directions at once, and anyone who loved watching him with either bat or ball will surely wish him good health, and some peace, with this problem.