Jonny Wilkinson: I’m finally at peace with myself after years of depression and anxiety

Jonny Wilkinson was one of the country’s most-loved sportsmen – but he was struggling with his mental health at the height of the success.

Jonny Wilkinson has spoken about his struggles with mental health.

Rugby icon Jonny Wilkinson was instrumental in the England squad winning the 2003 World Cup. The former Newcastle fly-half kicked the winning drop-goal, handing his nation a dramatic victory over Australia.

While he was known for his calm, controlled demeanour and meticulous pre-kick routine during his glittering career as an English rugby union player, off the pitch he was struggling with mental health issues concerning his identity and ability to live in the present.

“Being a rugby player was what I was always about,” recalls Wilkinson. “Health became fitness and being became doing, yet inside, all I really craved was peace, quiet, serenity and stillness.

Jonny Wilkinson, playing for Toulon during the Heineken Cup Final match at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Ireland in 2013. Picture: Julien Behal/PA.

“My life was literally only about what I could do physically, and the things I could achieve. I saw my body as only a functional tool. Now, I don’t see success as having to achieve in order to be happy. I’m at peace and kinder to myself and my body.”

Today, Wilkinson, 41 – who hung up his boots in 2014 – has transformed his life. He’s the author of five books, enjoys a involvement with rugby as a coach as well as a TV pundit, and lives with his wife Shelley and their child in Berkshire.

The rugby star, who is a Puressentiel brand ambassador, says lockdown has proved something of a blessing as a chance to reflect on his good fortune.

“It’s made me feel it’s a privilege that I’m alive and the people I love are alive and healthy, because that’s not been the case for many people during this time. Recognising that means whatever you have to do in a day doesn’t seem like a challenge at all, but more of a bonus.

Jonny Wilkinson holding the Rugby World Cup after the victory over Australia in 2003. Picture: David Davies/PA.

“This period’s given me even more time to explore my spirituality and look for ways to expand my horizons mentally. It’s also been lovely to be at home with my family.

“I’ve been on washing-up duty, looking after our vegetable patch, and clearing jobs, like sorting our garage.”

Wilkinson adds: “I feel I’ve gone through three phases in my life. The first was trying to be the best ever rugby player on a journey full of stress and pressure.

“The second was trying to be the best I could be, but only by comparison with others and sometimes only feeling better when others lost and suffered misfortune.

Jonny Wilkinson, kicking coach during an England squad training session at Pennyhill Park, Bagshot in 2017. Picture: Adam Davy/PA.

“The third is now and is about letting go of everything – from assumptions to judgements – and exploring all I can be.

“This just blows those other two periods out of the water and is the most fulfilling and enjoyable.

“I can look back quite objectively on that 35-year-old who finished his last game.

“My body’s certainly been shaped by those years, with scars and shoulders that don’t move quite so well.

“There were amazing triumphs and highs and experiences I never even dreamt of as a child.

“But while I love catching up with players and reminiscing about brilliant memories, I don’t feel like an ex-player,