Darren Gough September 11, 2008

My dazzling mate

Stephen Tompkinson
His heart-on-sleeve heroics and full-on friendship made this Yorkshire trier easy to love

Straight-up-and-downer: Gough lets another rip © Cricinfo Ltd

I first met Darren "Dazzler Goughie" Gough briefly in Antigua in 1994. Brian Lara was breaking the batting world record for the first time - Gough was not in the squad, and thanks to battling centuries by Mike Atherton and Robin Smith, England salvaged a draw.

The first thing that strikes you when you meet Goughie is his sincerity. He is a straight-up-and-downer with a smile as wide as the 22 yards he runs up to and attacks with unerring consistency and panache.

The next year our brave boys set off to prise the Ashes from Mark Taylor's Australia. Warney's hat-trick in Melbourne meant we had to win in Sydney. In the first innings at the SCG, Darren got that late inswinger judged to perfection, deceiving and dismissing David Boon and Steve Waugh, neither of whom offered a stroke. His first England five-for came when Taylor dollied one of the cheekiest back-of-the-hand slower balls straight into the youngster's grateful hands. He had earlier scored 51 in what Wisden described as a "jaunty innings of village-green innocence and charm".

I met up with him and Tuffers, Gus Fraser and Mike Gatting in their hotel that night. I had seen them the week before on Christmas Day dressed as Yankee Doodle Dandy, The Riddler, Lurch and Henry VIII respectively. After Darren's performance with bat and ball, spirits were equally high despite having got only a draw. Then again spirits are generally high when Goughie's around. His charm and enthusiasm are infectious. He also lit up the subsequent one-day series, with, among other things, an audacious reverse pull for four that had Richie Benaud almost speechless.

He returned my support by coming to cheer me on in Drop the Dead Donkey at the London Studios. Later, over dinner at Joe Allen's, he revealed not only his admiration for the TV news show but also his penchant for cheesecake. Another exclusive for Damien Day!

Normally in famous theatre-going restaurants like Joe's it is the actors who turn heads, but that night it was "Who's that lanky idiot with Darren Gough?" I have rarely been prouder.

Our friendship had strengthened to the extent of best wishes and phone conversations with parents at Darren's growing achievements. The night before Lara scored his 375 I had dinner with Darren and he wrote to my father, also called Brian, on a napkin "Thanks for all your son has taught me". Later, I asked Darren to repeat the message. He duly obliged, then stopped and said, "Oh no, I've put 'Thanks for all your son has bought me.'" Dad treasures it nonetheless.

Having Goughie's never-say-die attitude was essential for every England fan during the mid-1990s. As the next Ashes down under loomed, I got lucky with work schedules. The BBC had asked me to present one of their Great Railway Journeys of the World. An incredible trip on the Eastern & Oriental Express from Singapore through to Bangkok. I said yes, with the proviso that I could stop off in Sydney first for a few days' cricket. I am so grateful they agreed.

The SCG is a beautiful ground and the atmosphere there when Australia entertain the Poms is special. Goughie had already endeared himself to the Aussie crowd four years previously, and there was an expectant air whenever he started his run-up. He did not disappoint. In a blistering final spell towards the end of the first day, our Darren delivered three unplayable balls that showcased his explosive pace and accuracy. It was as comprehensive and exhilarating a hat-trick as you could wish to see. It is testament to the respect that Darren is held in that every spectator stood up and wildly applauded this remarkable feat.

As a player he would knock himself out for you, as he proved emphatically at Lord's after taking a brilliant catch in the deep and smashing his head into the turf. I count myself fortunate to call him a friend

No two people were more thrilled for Darren than my Mam and Dad. When they finally got to meet their hero in the Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town on England's 1999-00 winter tour of South Africa, they were not disappointed. Both he and Tuffers were charm personified in their England blazers, and I think Mam was a little breathless at seeing her Yorkshire idol face to face.

When I was asked to appear on Goughie's This Is Your Life, I was one of the "Do you recognise this voice?" guests. Mam said when she watched it that Darren's face broke out into that trademark grin and said: "It's the big 'un." She was thrilled to bits.

Sadly Mam passed away suddenly in 2004. When Darren heard, he was straight on the phone to my Dad to offer his sympathy and share memories of meeting her. It was something above and beyond the call of duty and meant so much to my father, my brother and me. We will never be able to thank him enough for his sincerity and kindness.

The next time I saw Goughie he had traded in his whites for white tie and tails. I'd come to support him in the final of Strictly Come Dancing. My daughter Daisy and I had been watching and rooting for him every week. I couldn't miss the final. KP and I were in the audience as twinkle-toes won over the nation's voters by encompassing the spirit of the show with his heart on his sleeve, just as he always did on the cricket field.

As a player he would knock himself out for you, as he proved emphatically at Lord's, taking a brilliant catch in the deep and smashing his head into the turf. I count myself fortunate to call him a friend. I wish all the very best to him and his family as he approaches retirement.

Stephen Tompkinson is an actor, best known as star of Drop the Dead Donkey, Ballykissangel and Brassed Off, and a Chance to Shine ambassador. This article was first published in the September 2008 edition of the Wisden Cricketer. Subscribe here