'I was bored so I kicked him up the arse'
January 23, 2014
Will Carling's stock was at an all-time high in 1993 © PA Photos
Twenty-one years ago today, the nation watched on as Will Carling, then England captain and dressed in full kit, was at the mercy of Noel Edmonds on the eponymous Noel's House Party, a show that at its height commanded viewing figures of 15 million. It was an institution.
The programme was aired on January 23, 1993, but it was filmed a few months before, a time when the infamous 'Gotcha' - a part of the show where celebrities are put in ridiculous scenarios and are eventually put out of their misery when the hidden television cameras appear - was the bane of its victim's lives.
"I remember being told by the guy who was my agent at the time that I had to go and do a children's television show," Carling told ESPN. "I told him no, but he insisted that I needed to go and do that sort of thing, kids PR and all that. So I pitched up and wasn't really in the mood."
The gist of what Carling thought he was in line for was to teach Mr Blobby, the show's mascot, how to play rugby and first up was the walk through ahead of the actual filming.
"All I remember is walking into the studio and there was a guy there with the feet and arms on and that was it. I remember turning around thinking 'bloody hell there are a lot of cameras' here for a basic children's television show. But it was like whatever, let's just get this thing over. And then there was the break and when I came back the guy had this full costume on."
The switch had happened, the individual sporting the arms and legs had been swapped with Edmonds. Throughout the filming, the camera focused on Carling as he looked increasingly bemused and attempted to smile though the frustration.
"At that point, he wouldn't speak. I was pretty bored by then anyway so I kicked him up the arse. Then when I trod on his foot I obviously hurt him as I heard him squeal."
Carling grew more and more frustrated with the predicament he found himself in as he attempted to teach the pink, yellow-spotted, sausage shaped creature, rugby.
"I still thought it was this other guy and I think they cut bits out as he wouldn't fool around for a bit after that. I told him to get a fucking life. I'm not the most patient guy and it took much longer than I thought. The language wasn't great, though."
Carling tried to teach Blobby scrums and the tackling, with predictable disastrous consequences as rugby posts were sent flying as the cumbersome Blobby rolled around. It climaxed with the great unveiling and the 'Gotcha' moment.
"The most embarrassing moment came when he flicked the head back, I remember thinking I recognise that face, but couldn't remember the name. It was great as Peter Winterbottom asked me, 'why didn't you just punch him?' That would have been great television had he flicked his head back and I floored him."
When the whole sequence was aired on the BBC, a camera was on Carling in the studio as he watched it back with predictable hilarity focused in his direction. At a time when his stock was at an all-time high, he was England captain after all, there was inevitable public interest.
"I remember thinking, why would he do me? It only featured famous people and at the time it was one of the biggest shows on TV. After it had been shown I was in this taxi and he was like 'ah Will, I can't believe you fell for that mate, don't you watch Noel Edmond's? He's been doing that for weeks'. But of course we filmed it before they showed any of it. The light bulb then switched on: 'Oh really? Oh.'
"But it was kids' television; I didn't think anyone would watch it."
To date, the YouTube video is closing in on 200,000 views but the worldwide appeal was immediate."It was aired before the 1993 Lions tour and in the first taxi I got in New Zealand, the driver was telling me how brilliant it was. I couldn't believe it had got that far."
Fast-forward 21 years and rugby players' appearances are largely limited to whatever media officers deem necessary. Ex-pros can be seen treading the boards on reality television shows, but during their playing career, an event such as Carling's seems unthinkable. Now, any mass-media coverage of a rugby player is largely due to off-field relationships, rather than an appearance on Saturday primetime television.
Characters are stifled by the need to say the right thing at the right moment, in Carling's view.
"Without trying to get too serious, there are characters out there and what the current crop need to do is get into some areas where they can show what they are truly like and their character.
"The media part of the RFU and clubs at the moment need to allow the players to express some sort of view. It gets too polished and too bland. Part of rugby's appeal was the nature of the character. There are guys in there with character but we need to allow a little bit of that out. Let's let them portray their character a little bit more."
Will Carling is the host of the Heineken Rugby Show. Join the conversation at #HeinekenRugby and watch the next show at www.youtube.com/Heineken for your chance to win a pair of tickets to the Heineken Cup Final.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
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