by TOBY JAI
AS we launch into a new era in Rugby, a new phase of growth and development where everything seems shiny and there are no end of possibilities. With the olympic bid proving massively successful and new innovative companies such as Rugby Unplugged offering the rugby community more than they have seen before, we decided to catch up with the adorable Alison Kervin, one of the first female Rugby Writers that broke ground in the ‘old boys club’ paving the way for the rest of us mere mortals to breach the barriers of traditional Sports Journalism.
Alison’s career has been fruitful and interesting, to be honest I could write a whole article just on where she’s been, when she was there, and what she was doing. Ali –to her friends– she is a globe trotting, hard working journalist with key access to some of the biggest names in rugby and it’s celebrity supporters. With acclamations to her name such as Sports Journalist of the Year, Sports Personality of the Year, Magazine Journalist of the Year, award winning biographist and more recently award winning novelist, she is without doubt a force of literary and journalistic skill unsurpassed by most in her field.
Yes, I sound somewhat over awed –and yes Ali you may use these as quotes, all major credit cards accepted– but this lady can do her thing very well indeed, and on a personal note rarely do you find someone as forthcoming in interview as the lovely Ali.
It began in earnest for Alison at Chelsea College, Sussex University, when she was asked to train the college rugby team in fitness using her background in gymnastics. Alison revolutionised fitness for a team whose idea of training was as many pints as they could down in the clubhouse, and carrying kit-bags to and from matches. As her university life ended, she went straight into jobs as a sports journalist in regional papers in the South East, before she moved on to Rugby World, and in 1999, what began as a proposal to write a column for the Rugby World Cup in The Times morphed into Rugby Editor; it was onwards and upwards from there. And somehow and somewhere in between, she also managed to acquire coaching qualifications in ten sports, become a regional development officer at the Rugby Football Union, public relations manager of the England team, and became the first woman to referee at Twickenham.
Most of you Rugby aficionados will have read her work somewhere or another, whether it’s one of her ghost written articles or one of her many novelly approached straight sports pieces, she is a sports writer in every sense; which begs the question as to why she took such a dramatic change of form from reporting her work to novelising it? In actuality it all came about while watching the real-life wags supporting their men at various functions and game-side at matches. The characters she witnessed during theses events caused her to pause for thought as she realised, in a light bulb flashing, eureka type moment that there were masses of character elements surrounding her and to write about it, was well, the only decent thing to do. She took her inspiration and moulded it with all the grace one would expect from someone of her calibre and created her first novel ‘The WAG’s Diary,’ published in 2007; it went on to gain critical acclaim as well as do much for the dinging of cash registers across the globe. Her novels have even been read by Big Brother contestants, a feat in itself, as to prise them from Heat magazine is a very difficult thing to do.
She followed the success with a follow up ‘WAG’s Abroad’ which took the fame hungry Tracie Martin to L.A. to continue her exploits. This is where Ali cemented herself with the novelist title as she produced yet another title that was incredibly well received. She has a chance through her novels to show just how funny she really is, with her raucous style and the disturbingly believable dramas that her characters face, she promotes again the concept that British humour is best.
She took her novels in a different track for her third novel, 'Celebrity Bride' where she created an anti-wag character that has fame thrust upon her; again this is typical Ali-style trying to find new ways to look at the same issue and make it interesting, while informative. She is full of ideas for the follow ups to both series and we can expect much from the penning of her next novel to be published in July next year.
On Rugby, I wanted to know about her experiences as a Rugby Journalist rather than the standard, favourite sporting moment, questions. She entertained me with a story about Sean Connery and how she coerced her way into an impromptu interview at a golf course; of course the highlight of that story for me was the fact that she put the ‘3AM Girls’ nose out of joint as they had been tail chasing him all day.
The story that still makes me giggle involves toilets, Catherine Zeta–oggy oggy oggy–Jones and overcoming personal assistants. I think it best to let Alison tell you the story in her own words.
“I was out in L.A. and I already knew that Catherine was into rugby so I thought it would be nice to get an interview with her. I had tried going through all the normal channels and wasn’t getting very far, everyone was stating I wouldn’t get an interview.
"A friend and I were a dinner function linked to big event in L.A. - just an average girly night out when I noticed that Catherine was eating at another table; there was no stalking involved, she just happened to be there. I dismissed going over as to disturb someone’s private time with their family is just a bit creepy and generally I feel uncomfortable behaving in that ‘pushy Journalist’ way. I carried on with my meal and thought no more about it.
"After the meal I was paying a visit to the Ladies, there was a queue for the cubicles so I stood and waited, and just happened to glance over my shoulder and Catherine was stood there. I did a quick double take, just to be sure I wasn’t mad and then pondered on the fact that is it really the appropriate moment to be introducing myself stood in a queue by a bunch of ladies cubicles!
"I decided that the best course of action was to just ask -she could only say no or have me thrown out the restaurant- so I turned around, explained that I was Rugby Editor and that I had been trying to get in touch, and would she mind answering a few questions on rugby at some point. She replied with a rather enthusiastic ‘Yes, I love rugby’ in her quasi American-Welsh accent. She then popped her head round the door to waiting hubby, Michael Douglas and said 'I’ll be out in a minute -I am having a chat about rugby.' Michael replied with a slightly exacerbated reply, like he’d been hear before, ‘Oh god, rugby again.’
"We then spent the next few minutes doing an interview sat on a sink, in a Ladies loo in L.A. which by any standard is a career highlight.”
Alison Kervin is a treasure of the rugby community and with such a packed schedule of works ahead of her we won’t have too wait long for another fix.