Belfast Telegraph

Sunday Life

Rugby star, fashion entrepreneur, TV star and devoted husband and dad... why Ulster's Tommy Bowe is having a ball

By Ali Gordon

Ireland rugby ace Tommy Bowe is tackling a whole new ball game.

In recent months, the Ulster winger has overcome a painful injury, become a dad to baby Emma, had his first presenting gig and launched the latest lines for his clothing brand, XV Kings, and shoe collection, Lloyd & Pryce.

“Rugby is tough, family life is brilliant and the clothes are selling well, so things are going great and it’s very busy, but it’s a good way to be,” Tommy told Sunday Life.

“Emma’s coming on really well. She’s six months old now, so she’s getting more alert and fun.

“She gets up in the morning and just wants to grab everything in sight, so nothing is safe any more!”

Before little Emma’s arrival, Tommy broke his leg during Ireland’s Six Nations clash with Wales. It was another heartbreaking moment for the winger, who has racked up a lengthy injury list during his professional rugby career.

“This time I actually heard the bone snap and I was almost smiling instead of crying when I was coming off the pitch, because I was in disbelief that this was happening to me again,” said the 33-year-old from Co Monaghan, who dismisses suggestions that he may have become hardened to injuries over the years.

“My wife Lucy tells me I’m definitely not hard,” he laughs.

“I broke my leg about three weeks before Emma arrived, so I was in a cast and crutches.

“Lucy, in the last stages of her pregnancy, was supposed to be getting all the attention, but the poor girl was having to cater to me. I wasn’t popular, but she coped very well.”

Tommy admits fatherhood has been a shock to the system for him and his stunning wife, a former Miss Wales who works as a nurse in Belfast.

“The lack of sleep was tough at the start, but Emma’s in a routine now thankfully,” said the 69-times capped Ireland star.

“We’re having to think about the house now and how we can make it more child-friendly now that she’s moving a bit more. We’re just enjoying it at the moment though — Emma’s a proper little character.

“Bonnie, the dog, was well able to muddy everything up and make a mess, but this is a new level. Between the two of them, I think they are going to completely destroy the house.”

Lucy has been Tommy’s rock throughout his roller-coaster career. The couple married in 2015 in Wales, where they’d lived during Tommy’s stint at Ospreys in Swansea.

Earlier this year, when Emma was only a few weeks old, Tommy joined the presenting team of Joe Lindsay, Mairead Ronan and Vogue Williams in the south of France and Ibiza for RTE and BBC holiday series Getaways.

He said: “It was a great experience. It was a dream gig to go and visit all of these amazing places, but it was actually hard work. I tried to tell Lucy when I rang home that I was knackered and there she was with a newborn baby and no sleep, so I don’t think playing the sob story worked.”

While on maternity leave, Lucy has been “a great help” with Lloyd & Pryce and XV Kings’ autumn/winter collections, which were launched in stores last week. “Lucy is a pretty serious critic, but she’s very helpful,” Tommy (right) said. “Coming up to Christmas is the busiest time of the year for us, so I like her, my mum and my sister (Hannah, an Ireland hockey international) to buy a present for their husband, brother, or whoever and it’s a tough task, but it lets us see what people want.

“The autumn and winter collection is coming along well. We have around 70 styles now between polos, T-shirts, hoodies, jumpers, gilets and chinos, and we’re bringing jeans out for the summer.

“It’s growing, which is brilliant, and we are seeing a lot more stores growing in confidence and placing larger orders with us.

“We’re not trying to go to Milan or London Fashion Week. We’re just trying to provide good quality, trendy clothing that men in Ireland are happy to wear.

“We’re not trying to break barriers — we’re supplying men with nice clothes to wear while watching rugby or going to work or out for a night out, just normal things.”

Seven years ago, Tommy joined forces with Jim and Barry McArdle, from Monaghan, to launch Lloyd & Pryce footwear before creating the XV Kings clothing line. Their products are now stocked in more than 100 stores across Ireland.

He said: “You see a lot of (rugby) guys who open bars or cafes and they’ve been very successful, but I wanted to do something different and it’s definitely been a challenge.”

His team-mates are always quick to air their opinions.

“We have these new crimson chinos and they wouldn’t be to everyone’s taste, so I’ll take a raking when I’m wearing those,” Tommy said. “The changing room is a pretty brutal spot. If you come in in your casual clothes, you’ve got to have a thick skin.”

Shortly before our interview at General Merchants on Belfast’s Ormeau Road, fellow Ulster player Stuart McCloskey said he liked Tommy’s jumper, which is from the XV Kings A/W line.

“I take things like that as a compliment,” Tommy said.

“The guys would be the first to tell you if they didn’t like something, put it that way.

“We all like to help each other out though. Robbie Diack is involved in General Merchants, so we support him, but we’re a very fickle crowd too. If we don’t like something, we won’t go back.

“Darren Cave and Calum Black’s coffee shop Guilt Trip (in east Belfast) is another example.

“The guys go up there time and time again because they like the quality of the coffee and their doughnuts.

“The clothes are no different. Don’t get me wrong, they’ll all take a freebie, but if it falls apart or doesn’t look nice, they won’t wear it again.

“There’s 45 in the squad though, so if I kitted them all out there wouldn’t be much stock left.”

To check out Tommy's latest collections, visit http://xvkings.com/ and http://lloydandpryce.com/

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