London - He stands 6ft 4in (about 1.9m) in his socks and his appearance with ball in hand struck fear into the hearts of batsmen.
But Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff has revealed a more vulnerable reality behind the macho image – that taunts about his size and weight caused him to suffer bouts of bulimia.
The retired England cricketer has told how he began vomiting in cricket grounds and restaurants after he piled on the pounds.
Flintoff, 34, who was pivotal in two Ashes victories against Australia, said he was called “fat lad” and faced jibes such as “Who ate all our pies?”
“I started being sick, putting my fingers down my throat. I used to be a really skinny kid, I used to be tall and skinny and I didn’t drink, I didn’t do much. Then I started putting weight on. My lifestyle was great, granted, when I started living on my own. I got to about 19 to 20 stone (120 to 127kg).
“It was all a bit deeper than that because to lose the weight, I wasn’t really sure how to go about it. I started being sick. I would eat and I would be sick.
“I would be doing it myself. I would put my fingers down my throat and everyone within the team hierarchy thought it was great because I was losing weight.”
He added: “I’ve thrown up in cricket grounds around the world, in restaurants, all sorts, and I lost about 34lbs (15kg) by doing that.
‘Then before you know it, even good meals you are getting rid of. It becomes a real habit. The only way really to lose weight is to train more and eat less, eat the right things.”
Flintoff, who is training for a comeback as a heavyweight boxer, revealed his eating disorder in a documentary to be screened this month. He hopes that speaking about his battle will raise awareness about bulimia.
Flintoff, who married Rachael Woods in 2005 and has three children – Holly, eight, Corey, six, and Rocky, four – added: “It’s not the right way to go, which I am very aware of.
“You start off doing it if you have a bad meal, you eat something you don’t think you should have eaten or you have drunk too much.”
The cricketer, who retired in 2010, recently lost more than three stone (19kg) during a gruelling training camp.
He has dismissed claims his boxing is a publicity stunt saying: “You couldn’t go through this for a TV stunt. I’m hoping this is something where boxing is celebrated.”
A spokesman for the National Centre for Eating Disorders said: “It is well known that men get eating disorders, too – look at John Prescott (Mr Prescott revealed he had suffered from bulimia during his time as British deputy prime minister). This is a condition more likely to occur in someone who has poor body image or shaky self-esteem.’
The documentary Flintoff: From Lords to the Ring, details the sportsman’s career change from cricket to boxing.
Flintoff also uses the programme to criticise former England team-mates who have since taken up careers in cricket commentating. He said: “I could have taken the easy option, saying ‘Coming into bat for England at No?3’. But no, I go and get my head kicked in instead.”
Flintoff is not the first sportsman to suffer from bulimia. Footballer Paul Gascoigne detailed his battle with the condition in his 2006 autobiography, Being Gazza: Tackling My Demons. - Daily Mail