Apart from his TV appearances as brand ambassador for Shredded Wheat, the closest link between Ian Botham and the world of food and drink appeared to be his nickname - Beefy.
However, as The Grocer revealed last week, the former cricket star is now changing that perception through his endorsement of a new range of soft drinks and his own brand of wine. And if his track record is anything to go by, he is likely to tackle the task with the same gusto that saw him notch up more than 5,000 runs, 383 wickets and 120 catches in 102 Test matches for England.
Botham’s desire to add another legacy to his CV would appear obvious. Famous for being a fierce competitor, a sparkling Test and County career was brought to a premature end in 1994 through a troublesome back injury which had previously led to major surgery.
It is, therefore, not the biggest surprise to find that Botham is throwing his heart and soul into a number of business ventures.
As well as continuing a demanding schedule as a charity fundraiser and cricket commentator for Sky (as we meet he is just days away from jetting out to the West Indies to cover England’s Test series), Botham has launched his own premium range of wines into Tesco with former team mate Bob Willis and Australian winemaker Geoff Merrill.
He is also deadly serious about his involvement with former Golden Wonder supremo Paul Monk’s new brand consultancy InVentaBrand where he has joined England rugby captain Lawrence Dallaglio and former soccer star Rodney Marsh as shareholders. Botham has already thrown himself into the venture by committing to be the face of one of the company’s first clients - ‘wellbeing’ soft drink range Vitaminsmart.
However, it is refreshing to discover that far from turning into an archetypal corporate diplomat, the plain-speaking views that often landed him in trouble with the cricket authorities are still part of his repertoire. For example, ask him for his views on obesity and he immediately lets out a gasp of air like he is getting ready to launch himself into the issue for the next half-hour. Views he has - and plenty of them.
“Where everyone is going wrong,” he starts, “is that you are not going to stop kids from drinking Coke or eating crisps. But it shouldn’t be a case of telling them ‘you mustn’t eat any’. A bag of crisps should be a treat - not the norm.”
Press him on who is to blame for the problem of Britain’s rapidly expanding waistlines and he’s to the point even quicker. “We have brought the problem on ourselves because we’re creating a nation of nerds who sit around watching TV,”he says. “How many kids today go and draw three stumps on a wall and play cricket in the street all day? Virtually none, because they’re all inside playing computer games.” The inference that parents must take some blame is clear, and he is particularly offended by Britain’s
fast food culture, where kids can shovel in more than 1,000 calories at one sitting.
“When I was a kid, things like fish and chips were a Friday night treat. It was not my staple diet,” he insists. “That really is the point, because it’s not like that for many kids growing up today.”
So who’s ultimately to blame? Careful not to point the finger at supermarkets and suppliers, with which he has working relationships, Botham readily admits there are plenty of products on shelf which he would not eat.
However, he also insists “there’s some good stuff out there” and that things like ready meals “in moderation” are OK.
“I think the biggest problem is that people do not know what they are eating or what to eat,” says Botham. “I am glad to hear that education in nutrition is being given greater priority in schools, but I don’t understand why we so often take a lovely piece of fish, for example, and destroy it one way or another through food processing.I mean, how many people eat fish three or four times a week, like they do in countries like Spain?”
He also claims to be sceptical of celebrity endorsements, even though he is treading that road himself. He says: “It is easy to put your name on something and then walk away.” That is why he is glad to be promoting products
at the healthier end of the spectrum. One of Shredded Wheat’s most famous ambassadors, he says he is more than happy to be associated with what he believes is a “good product”. Similarly, he is more than happy to have his name on the three-strong range of Botham-Merrill-Willis wines and the Vitaminsmart drinks.
“I am proud to be involved with all the products I endorse. What I am actually doing is sharing my lifestyle. For example, I love wine and travelling the world. I also do drink Vitaminsmart, but I am also a shareholder in the business behind it so it is not a case of putting my mugshot on the product, collecting the cheque and walking away.”
Botham makes it clear his journey into Britain’s grocery market is more than a passing fad. For example, he sees plenty of scope to broaden his wine interests beyond the range’s £8.99 Australian Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz varietals and sees quality control as not just a way to protect the brand but also his reputation. “The range took 17 years to come to fruition. Again, it would have been easy to let someone say ‘I’ve got a spare vat of wine, how about we stick your mugshot on the label and then flog it?’ That sort of thing horrifies me.”