Phil with England in 1993
One night on Jersey in 2004, a grand piano in Phil Tufnell’s hotel trundled along a corridor and plunged down a flight of stairs. It made a noise so loud it could possibly have been heard on neighbouring Channel Islands.
Phil had been filming the short-lived It’s a Knockout-style ITV gameshow, Simply the Best. There had already been a lot of high jinks after each show, with people from the production sliding down bannisters and running around the hotel in their underpants.
And the ex-England cricketer and recently crowned winner of I’m a Celebrity – which has just returned for its 23rd series – had certainly enjoyed the bonhomie too.
But the piano incident was rather more serious and Phil spent the rest of his time in Jersey hiding from the hotel management who had, for some reason, identified him as a prime suspect.
“I don’t entirely remember what happened with the piano, but I don’t think it was anything to do with me,” he claims now, his customary chuckle in his voice. “Nothing was ever proved. I think maybe the brakes came off the piano by mistake and there was a slight tilt in the corridor.”
This wasn’t the first time Phil had found himself in an odd situation while away from home, and it definitely wasn’t the last. In his new book, The Tourist, he describes a life of frequent trips abroad, from 11 years on the road with England to the South African wilderness in I’m a Celebrity. It’s been marked by fun, occasional chaos and frequent alcohol consumption.
Phil, 57, originally from north London, got a first taste of overseas adventure as a young boy on family trips to Benidorm. He loved the colour and warmth, and the sense of freedom of running on sandy beaches. “I’ve still got a picture of me, with blond hair, a lemon short-sleeve shirt, and long white socks on the steps of our hotel, standing there with my mum and brother,” he says, talking to me from his home in Surrey, in between watching India versus Pakistan on TV in the Cricket World Cup. “It makes me quite emotional.”
King of the Jungle: Phil celebrates I’m a Celebrity win in 2003
Phil added a more dramatic edge to his Spanish memories when he went to Benidorm with some mates, aged 16. They got into a scuffle with some other lads on the first night, were thrown out of their hotel and ended up sleeping on the beach.
But the travel bug had well and truly bitten.
By his late teens, Phil had been signed by Middlesex County Cricket Club and was picked for an England U19 trip to Barbados. Determined, almost above any cricket ambitions, to get a good tan, Phil and some of his teammates went to the beach, rejecting any instructions about wearing hats or sun cream. They ended up with severe sunstroke and received medical care for several days.
“We tried very hard to be professional and concentrate on our cricket during the visit but a few things kept getting in the way – the sun, the sea and the rum,” Phil recalls. Fortunately, his love of a good time was matched by his spin-bowling ability and he was called up to the full England team, completing several tours during the Nineties.
“India was absolutely mind-blowing for a young man,” says Phil. “As soon as the hotel lift opened each morning, you’d be hit by this huge noise that would follow you all the way into the stadium. Everything from fans shouting to cars, motorbikes and street sellers. You’d get back to the hotel, in the evening, close your bedroom door and go ‘Jesus!’.
“There was constant mickey-taking, some quite near the bone, during the Australian Ashes series. When we arrived at our hotel, for one tour, the doorman said, ‘Welcome Mr Tufnell.’ Then, as I walked by, he added, ‘You’re gonna get your bloody arses kicked. [Australian fast bowler] Glenn McGrath is gonna knock your bloody head off.’”
- Support fearless journalism
- Read The Daily Express online, advert free
- Get super-fast page loading
Phil for The Jump in 2016
Even the team’s coach driver in the Caribbean made jokes. “Every morning he’d say ‘Lara will get you, today. Curtly’s coming for you!’” Phil remembers. “This was on the bloody England bus on the way to the ground! But it was all enjoyable, in a funny sort of way. I embraced it a bit.”
Phil admits he can’t recall a single evening in stayed in his hotel room while on tour. “You can’t just have room service and
watch television until 9.30pm every night,” he argues. He once found himself drunkenly performing “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones while dancing with a mannequin in a smart Melbourne restaurant. It was very embarrassing, but Phil feels it may have endeared him to senior England players such as Ian Botham and David Gower, as they started inviting him on
the tours of high-class vineyards they frequented on days off.
Gower was one of several entertaining and occasionally ill-disciplined England characters. “He and John Morris sneaked off during a warm-up match and, famously, dive-bombed the ground in two Tiger Moth planes,” Phil says. “They got fined, but, crikey, could you see England players doing that now?” The current national team, under captain Ben Stokes, do still celebrate a win “properly”, says Phil. But their busy schedules, with numerous internationals and T20 competitions around the world, means things aren’t quite as relaxed as the 1990s.
Phil now enjoys trips abroad with wife Dawn
In 2002, Phil retired from cricket and, almost immediately, was cast in the 2003 series of I’m a Celebrity. “They said, ‘Do you fancy going back to Australia and doing this show? I said, ‘Are we going first class?’ They said, ‘Yes.’ So I said, ‘I’m in!’ Cricket had gone and I was looking for something else to get excited about. I was very fortunate to immediately be back on tour.
“I don’t think I’d ever seen an episode, but you just throw yourselves into these things. Off we went into the jungle in helicopters. It was mind-blowing.
“My mum used to say, keep a smile on your face for as long as you can, because there’s going to be plenty of times when it’s wiped off a bit.
“That’s made me want to always embrace opportunities. I even quite liked trying all the eyeballs and testicles. One of the low points, though, was getting bitten on my nether regions. It was excruciating. I told Dr Bob, ‘Take away the pain, but not the swelling.’”
Following I’m a Celebrity, Phil became a popular TV personality, alongside his work as a cricket summariser for the likes of Test Match Special. But some of his overseas television adventures since have been well outside of his comfort zone.
His fellow celebrities suffered several injuries, including a dislocated shoulder and a broken ankle in the Austrian mountains, during the winter sports reality show The Jump in 2016. For someone who’d barely skied “and was completely out of control of their limbs”, it was hairy. These days, he’s pleased to say, he can ski quite well.
“The scariest thing I did was during a New Zealand travelogue called This Could Go Anywhere, with Brendon McCullum, the former New Zealand player and current England coach,” he continues.
“I had to do the biggest bungee jump in the southern hemisphere or something. I was absolutely petrified – throwing up and everything. I think the bloke actually pushed me off, and I fainted on the way down. Everything in my body was screaming ‘What the hell are you bloody doing?’”
But Phil has also experienced terrific luxury on his travels. “During an England tour of the West Indies, we were invited on to Sir Paul Getty’s yacht.
It was like something out of Death on the Nile. All wood and funnels and everything. A bit sensational. The steward said ‘Ah, Mr Tufnell. Would you like a drink?’ I said, ‘I like the look of that champagne, there. But I hope you’ve got a few bottles because the boys are on a couple of days off!’ “‘Would you like to follow me, Mr Tufnell?’ he replied.
“He took me down about 16 beautiful floors, opened the door of this storage unit and there must have been 10,000 bottles of Don Pérignon, in there.
“‘I don’t even think you, Mr Tufnell, could get through all that!’ he said. He was right, but we gave it a bit of a go.”
This year, Phil had another I’m a Celebrity adventure in the South African “legends” spin-off show featuring former contestants. By now in his late fifties, Phil found trying to sleep properly in a hammock and the weird night-time shrieks from the surrounding wildlife to be his most challenging aspects.
But he has no intention of curtailing his life as a tourist. Dawn, his wife of almost 20 years, reins him in slightly. “Sometimes she says, ‘OK, that’s enough now. You’re sodding about.’” She loves to travel, too – if not quite as much as Phil. They’ve been everywhere from Egypt to Majorca, New York and Rome.
New Zealand was Phil’s favourite destination. “Every corner we turned, I was getting out of the car, saying, ‘Have a look at that!’ The landscapes! Every glass of wine I had was beautiful. Every lamb chop was amazing.”
Phil hasn’t visited Indonesia much, so that’s now on his bucket list. “I wouldn’t mind following old Rick Stein,” he adds. “Taking a barge down the Canal du Midi [as the chef does in his French Odyssey series] and stopping off for a bit of wine and cheese. I love England and I love coming home,” he says.
“But I can remember my dad, when we were in Benidorm, saying, ‘Oh, blimey, being here is a privilege.’
“He was right. Getting the chance to go out there and see what the world has to offer has been an enormous privilege. I’m very, very lucky.”
- The Tourist by Phil Tufnell (HarperCollins, £22) is out now. Visit expressbookshop.com or call 020 3176 3832. Free UK P&P on orders over £25