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April 22, 2007

The Big Interview - Adam Hollioake

Five years after the death of his brother, the former Surrey and England captain is still trying to make sense of the fallout from that terrible night

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It is the evening of Saturday June 8, 2002 and Halle Berry, Denzel Washington and Samuel L Jackson have travelled to the Pyramid in Memphis, Tennessee to see the fight of the decade. So has Adam Hollioake. The former England cricket captain has paid thousands of dollars for two ringside seats, close to the Hollywood stars. Hordes of excited fans are streaming into the arena for the eagerly awaited smash between Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis. One is trying to claim the second Hollioake seat.

“Hey buddy,” he announces. “Okay if I sit here?”

“Sorry,” Hollioake replies, “that seat is taken.”

Ten minutes later it happens again. “This seat vacant pal?” “No, there’s somebody there,” Hollioake says.

The fight begins with some early aggression from Tyson. Hollioake watches entranced. Between rounds, people are still trying to claim the seat alongside but he shuns them away.

“I told you, it’s taken.” And it remains vacant until the contest ends with the killer right-hook that floors Tyson in the eighth round.

Why waste all that money? What breed of a man would do such a thing?

IT IS the morning after my interview with Adam Hollioake and my boss is on the phone. “How did it go?” he asks.

“Terrific,” I reply. “One of the most interesting people I’ve met.”

“What did he say?” “We spoke about everything; the death of his brother; the birth of his daughter; the things he has missed about England since returning to Australia.”

“Okay, give me a line on his brother,” he asks. “I need to sort the headline.”

“Well,” I reply. “I know this sounds ridiculous but I’m not sure I can.”

“You can’t give me a line on the death of his brother?”

“Not really.”

Even now, five years on, he is still trying to figure it out.

IT IS seconds after my introduction to Hollioake and I begin the interview by presenting him with a banana. “What’s this? BYO?” he smiles. “Bring your own banana?”

“It’s a test,” I reply. “I want to you peel it.”

“You want me to peel it?” “Yes.” He picks it up and peels back the skin from the unorthodox end.

“I read that was how you did it,” I observe. “You made it look easy.”

“It is easy,” he says. “That’s the way monkeys peel it.”

“It is?” “Yes. Everyone goes that way [he mimics peeling it back from the stalk] but you have to fight with it.”

“So the other way is easier?” “Yes.” “And that’s the way monkeys do it?” “Yes.” “That’s interesting because in this piece that I read you were quoted as saying ‘the usual end is the way monkeys do it and I’m not a monkey’.”

“Another misquote then,” he says and smiles.

I show him an interview he gave to The Sunday Times in 2003.

“Is this a misquote?” I ask. “What does it say?” “You’re being asked how much you earn. This is your quoted reply: ‘A respectable five-figure sum from my club. I could have earned more through sponsorship, but three or four years ago I chose not to have sponsors. I decided my time was more important than the amount of money I could get from sponsorship’. Is that true?”

“Yes,” he replies. “That’s astonishing,” I gush. “Why?” “I’ve never heard a professional sportsman make a decision like that.”

“No, they all do,” he counters. “They all do!” I exclaim. “To a certain degree,” he says. “We’re not talking about a huge amount of money here; I gave up my bat sponsorship which was about £5,000 or £10,000 a year — if they had offered me £2m I’m sure I would have taken it. You weigh things up, don’t you? It’s like being offered a job abroad — you weigh up the salary with being away from your family; for £2m a year you might think about it.

“So that’s where that came from; I’m not some kind of martyr who doesn’t care about money.”

What about the thousands he spent in Memphis? I wonder. How did he weigh that up?

“Tell me about Ben [his brother, also an England cricketer, who was killed in a car crash in 2002],” I ask. “He was six years younger than you?”

“Yes.” “I’m curious about how close you were. Six years is quite a gap?”

“My family travelled a lot when we were kids,” he explains. “He was the only guy I could play with — I couldn’t rent a friend — and we spent a hell of a lot of time together. When I was at senior school, he was at junior school and I was always keeping an eye open for him — it was almost a parental role. And that’s where I think the foundation of the relationship came.” “He was more talented than you,” I suggest.

“Yes.” “How did you feel about that?” “I was proud of it; I think I was the first person to point that out but there were times later when I regretted saying it.”

“Why?” “I said it to draw attention to him, to use as a positive thing, but in some ways it became a noose around his neck. When he didn’t play well it was like ‘Oh, he has all this talent and it’s going to waste’.

It was an extra pressure he had and the expectation on him was immense. And because I said he was more talented, it created this impression that I wasn’t talented.

I became the ugly duckling: ‘Oh look at him, he’s trying his best.’

So there were some negatives to it as well.”

“Your characters were different?”

“Ben was a free spirit. He was more easy-going and could crack jokes at whatever time of day or night it was. I’m someone you don’t want to f*** around with; I had this little fuse which made people wary and tiptoe around me. I developed it growing up but it is not something I’m proud of.”

“Does it bug you that I am interviewing you but we are talking about him?” I ask. “I imagine that happens a lot.”

“It depends what mood I’m in, and who I’m talking to, and what I feel their motive is,” he says. “Sometimes I feel open to talk about it and other times I just don’t feel like talking about it. I don’t have a 10 commandments made up about it; it’s just how I feel.”

“I noticed a bit of a tattoo on the underside of your arm. Is that Benjamin?”

“Yes.” He lifts his right arm and shows me the etching of his brother’s name and a bird in flight, hidden by the sleeve of his T-shirt.

“And that’s a dove?”

“Yes, a dove.”

“When did you have it done?”

“Two weeks after his accident. It was probably a bit quick to do it but I have other tattoos as well. I’m not someone who gets a tattoo for the sake of it; I did it because they mean something to me.”

“What others do you have? Do they all have meaning?”

“Yeah.” He shows me the underside of his left arm and an etching of his children’s names and the south Pacific god of inspiration.

“Does the god of inspiration have a name?”

“Yes, but I can’t remember it right now.”

“Why did you have that one done?” “My uncle gave me this [he shows me a trinket of the god on his necklace] years ago and I had the tattoo done about seven years ago when he passed away. I’ve always hated tattoos. At first I felt tainted and thought ‘I can’t believe I’ve done that’, but I don’t regret it. It was probably a bit old to be getting my first tattoo but I’ve had them done on the inside [the underside of his arms]. They are not for other people, they are for me.”

HE IS showing me snapshots of his childhood. His father, John, was an engineer from Ballarat, a mining town in Victoria. His mother, Daria, was from Melbourne. The Hollioakes shared a spirit for adventure and Adam spent chunks of his early years travelling in a caravan around Europe. Then Ben and Eboni were born and the family returned to Ballarat.

Adam has two distinct memories of his Ballarat years — the joyous backyard cricket games with his Dad when he would emulate his heroes, Allan Border and Dennis Lillee, and the somewhat less joyous memories of school. Adam didn’t care much for school. He had inherited the same tint as his half-Indonesian mother and having the darkest skin in the class became a tough burden to bear in a redneck town.

The kids made fun of him daily. “Is it Adam or Abbo?” “It’s Abbo, right?” “Here he comes, Aboriginal Hollioake!” But he would not be pushed around. “I must have got in 30 or 40 fights there,” he says. “Every day was just a fight with kids giving me a hard time.”

One day, after almost severing a boy’s finger in a fight, his father was summoned to a meeting with the headmaster. “He put his hand in my mouth and was trying to fishhook me,” Adam explained. The taunting continued; Adam persisted to stand his ground and it wasn’t until the family moved to England in 1983, and he was enrolled at St George’s in Weybridge that a truce was finally declared. He was 12 years old.

“I remember the first day vividly,” he says, “going into the class and just being able to blend. I wasn’t the darkest and I wasn’t the whitest; it felt quite nice being one of the crowd.”

Rugby was his favourite sport at St George’s but he was also playing cricket with the Surrey Under12s and the game began to take hold. A fast bowler and decent bat, he had trials for England Under15s, played for England Under19s and made the first of 35 one-day international appearances for England in 1996.

“It’s quite curious,” he says. “I was Australian, I had Australian parents, Australian grandparents, and had grown-up in Australia until I was 12. I supported Australia and my allegiances definitely weren’t with England but everything changed when I was picked for the Under19s. Morally, there was no going back then. I thought ‘Hang on a minute, my allegiance must now be England’ and all of my goals changed to the point where I don’t feel any affiliation to the Australian cricket team whatsoever and follow and support England in everything.”

In 1997, after three seasons of filling in as Alec Stewart’s deputy, he was appointed captain of Surrey and was soon earning rave reviews. But the talk around the club was that his brother was even better. “I remember him playing a game of first division cricket when he was 10 or 11 or something ridiculously young,” he says. “We were losing the game and had him coming in at No 9 — just making up the numbers — and he almost won the game.”

The Hollioake boys became the first brothers to play in the same England Test team in 40 years that summer. Adam was being hailed as the best captain in England; Ben was making headlines as the new Ian Botham and when you watched them sometimes it was hard to reconcile that they were brothers. Adam, the guy you didn’t mess with; Ben, the free-spirited boy. They were different in build, different in character and different in style but united by a bond more powerful than blood. A bond that would never be broken. IT IS the evening of Friday, March 22, 2002. They have booked a table at one of the finest restaurants in Perth and are sitting down to a family dinner with their parents, John and Daria, and sister, Eboni. Ben has just returned from the one-day international series in New Zealand. Adam has been busily preparing for the start of the new season. A date has just been announced for the Tyson/Lewis fight in Memphis. “Whatever it takes we are going to that fight,” Adam tells his brother. “I’ll organise the tickets.”

Adam’s wife, Sherryn, Ben’s girlfriend Janaya Scholten and Eboni’s boyfriend, Luke Wyllie, are also in attendance. Sherryn is seven months pregnant and Ben has been insisting that they call it after him if it’s a boy. “We were getting ready to fly back [to England],” Adam says “and it had become a bit of a ritual that we always took Mum and Dad out for a family dinner before we went back.”

The meal ends shortly after midnight. The couples prepare to drive home in separate cars. The brothers live less than a kilometre apart in a suburb of South Perth on the far side of the river. Ben turns right for Narrows Bridge and the Kwinana Freeway as he exits the car park. Adam decides to use the causeway and turns left.

“What if we had gone the same way,” Adam says. “I must have asked that question a million times. Maybe it wouldn’t have happened. Maybe it would have happened to me. Who knows?”

He had been at home for 10 minutes when his father called with the news.

Ben’s Porsche had spun on the freeway exit to Mill Point Road and crashed into a wall. Janaya had been critically injured and was being rushed to hospital. Ben hadn’t made it. His brother was dead.

A week later, he delivered a deeply moving eulogy at his brother’s funeral with tears running down his face. A year later, he launched the Ben Hollioake Memorial Fund for CHASE — the hospice service for life-limited children — and was the one of Wisden’s Cricketers of the Year. Two years later, he announced his retirement from the game and returned with his family to live in Australia. Five years later, he is still coming to terms with it.

“Do you want to know what I’ve learnt?” he asks. “You don’t learn anything by being happy in life. I’ve learnt that you don’t progress as a human being when all you are doing is walking around with a smile on your face. You learn when times are hard and bad stuff happens to you. I know so much more now, and am much more in tune with myself then before my brother’s death.”

“What do you know?” I ask. “Well,” he replies, “I was just saying this to my mate [Matt Church] today. I remember when I was 23 or 24 and I’d see somebody in the service industry going around with a frown on their face and poke fun at them and say ‘How about a smile?’ or ‘Jeeze! What’s wrong with them?’ But they might have just lost a child! Now I actually take time to stop and think ‘Who knows what is going on in that person’s life?’ And that’s a maturity I didn’t have before.”

The weeks following his brother’s death were the hardest he has known. He spent his days visiting Janaya in hospital and trying to remain buoyant for his heavily pregnant wife. The birth of their daughter, Bennaya — an amalgam of Ben and Janaya — in May was traumatic. Complications set in and Sherryn was rushed to intensive care.

“It was as low as I have ever been,” he says. “For a week it was touch and go.”

Two weeks later, he fulfilled his promise to Ben and travelled to Memphis with tickets for the Tyson/Lewis fight. He had bought a ticket for Ben. The vacant seat would be a tribute. I suggest that it might have been wiser if he had stayed with Sherryn in Perth. He doesn’t disagree. “There are things I might have done better,” he says, “and that was probably one of them.”

We meet on a sunny Wednesday evening at the London Rowing Club near Putney bridge. He has returned to the city for the first time in almost two years to run in the marathon today, with his father and some friends in cricket whites and pads for Ben’s charity. “I haven’t done any training at all for this which is a real worry,” he says. “I’ve been really busy at work and with a heap of other things, but I know if I have to crawl I will get there.”

He has not paid much attention to the trials of Duncan Fletcher or the World Cup. He met up with Andrew Flintoff several times during the Ashes but never attended a Test. “I don’t know why,” he says. “I think I knew the result was going to be the way it was — well, not 5-0, but I thought it would be very one-sided and that didn’t appeal.”

His son, Addison, was born last July. He has enjoyed his return to Australia, and his new career in the property business, but says he still confuses himself when he tries to explain why he went back.

“The No 1 reason was for my family, not just my immediate family but my Mum and Dad were there and finding it tough after my brother and I thought it was important I was there for them. And then on the cricket front . . . I don’t know . . . it was like I had this sudden moment of clarity. I went from thinking I would play for another two or three years to deciding it was time to move on and do something else.”

“Not much confusion in that,” I observe. “Any regrets? Or don’t you do regrets?”

“No, I’m not inhuman. We all have regrets — I just don’t dwell on them. It’s funny but I feel like I’m in a strange place at the moment and have suddenly matured. It’s as if I have been stuck on this plateau for the last 15 years and finally managed to move on.

“I’m reading this psychology book that my wife gave me and it’s fascinating. All my life I have never shown weakness; I don’t know if it was a barrier I put up from a very young age but I never, ever showed anyone any weakness. It was a very macho thing, a very Aussie thing, but I put myself under a lot pressure. People were always relying on me and I put myself under a lot of stress and strain not to let them down.”

The interview ends with a knock on the door and a photographer takes him outside. He thinks of his father who has been training like a Kenyan and obsession with weakness returns. “I don’t want him to beat me,” he smiles.

Adam Hollioake’s marathon effort

- Adam Holliaoke will be running the Flora London Marathon to raise money for the CHASE Ben Hollioake Fund, set up in the wake of his brother’s death ?ve years ago. Adam will be one of 12, including his father John, running dressed in cricket whites, some equipped for the 26 miles with bats and pads. The fund raises money for CHASE Hospice Care for Children, which supports life-limited children and their families. For further details go to www.benhollioakefund.com

- Adam and Ben made their Test debuts alongside each other in the ?fth Test against Australia in 1997, the only time two brothers did so in the 20th century. Ben, 19, like his brother an allrounder, became the youngest England debutant since Brian Close in 1949

- Adam was six years older, but lacked the natural ability of his brother. He played four Tests, but it was as a one-day player and innovative captain of Surrey that he made his name. He captained England in 14 of his 35 ODIs, leading them to the Champions Trophy in 1997. Under his leadership, Surrey became the powerhouse of the county game, winning three championships in four years. He retired in 2004 and moved back to Australia, the country of his birth

- Ben was killed in a car accident in Perth in 2002 aged 24. Prodigiously talented, he charmed Lord’s with a sparkling 63 on his ODI debut against Australia in 1997

 

 

 

Adam Hollioake

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Adam Hollioake with the 1999 County Championship Trophy