‘Well, he’s better looking than Tom Selleck.’
So said 1980s schlock movie producer Menachem Golan about Ian Botham, after looking him up and down. Golan was, among things, the man behind Superman IV. There was little he could teach Botham, who had already lived parts I-III in real life. By the time Golan paid his left-handed compliment, Botham – one of the greatest all-round cricketers in history – was in his ‘conquering Hollywood’ phase, complete with highlighted mullet, rainbow-striped blazers (which actually look rather good now) and an agent, ‘Lord’ Tim Hudson, who had an eccentric view of reality. Cricket writer Simon Wilde is a forensic but sympathetic biographer and thinks that Botham was merely seduced by the idea of escapism. Hudson may have believed his client could be the next James Bond but Botham didn’t. However, because things were in many ways so grim for Botham at the time – media hounding, essentially, allied to injury and loss of form – the chance to pose for pictures as a cowboy at Universal Studios and hang out with Rod Stewart seemed like a good idea. It’s easy to decry this mid-80s phase of Botham’s career (and he has), with its mix of country house cricket, endless partying with famous musicians and, of course, those blazers – but it sounds like a right laugh, to be honest. Wilde’s thesis is that Botham is a very generous, open, loyal man who is also headstrong, sometimes cruel. He was inclined to be impressed by people who were ‘rich, clever or talented’. Much like the rest of us then. But with one major exception: very few people have raised so much money for leukaemia research – and fewer still are blessed with the talent (for anything) that Botham possessed for playing cricket. He will be remembered, increasingly mistily, by cricket fans of a certain age (i.e. me) for his extraordinary exploits against the Australians in summer 1981, images which continue to enthral and delight. Enthral and delight me, anyway. One of the most famous men of his time, Botham was a working-class boy from a comprehensive school in Yeovil. Yeovil is not even the biggest town in Somerset. Whichever way you look at it, he won.