It seems so long ago now, but in the print media age the crispest insights we gained into the mindset of sportspeople often came via the humble magazine Q&A.
Thus we learned the favoured tipple of Australian cricketers was either their home state’s major brand of lager, or, if they were a little bit edgy, rum and coke. Entirely anomalous fast bowler Geoff Lawson didn’t drink at all, so his team-mates sprayed the aforementioned beverages all over him.
Once you’d processed the fact that every male athlete in Australia thought The Shawshank Redemption was cinema’s high water mark, the funniest answers were often in response to that classic hypothetical: who are your three dream dinner party guests? Were an Australian cricketer to exclude any of Elle Macpherson, Greg Norman or Nelson Mandela they stood alone as a maverick (and their name was probably Greg Mathews).
Many settled for that exact formation – not exactly a triumph in social dynamics, unless Mandela was having previously undocumented trouble with his short game or Macpherson had some particularly searching questions about the South African justice system. Sadly, this table formation never actually occurred outside the fever dreams of Sheffield Shield dressing rooms.
Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that having yearned to know more about the interior lives of these men, once we had, we were often confronted with childlike internal monologues. Which brings me to Shane Warne, whose soap opera life is now set to be turned into an unauthorised telemovie by Australian TV network Seven.
Bless him, Warne has never hidden from the fact that the pleasures he derives from life are simple and, thanks to social media, they’re as achingly transparent to the general public now as at any point of his life. We no longer need the Q&A, we can just scroll through Twitter and check which z-grade celebrity he’s currently nattering away to, or which drinks are scattered around his poker table.
We already know Warne’s favourite movie is American Pie because he never stops tweeting about Stiffler, a character who would also presumably end up spearing a rissole at Warnie’s dream dinner party, which would also be attended by Bruce Springsteen, Chris Martin, a topless Angelina Jolie and the rest of the gang from the infamous Warnie mural.
Which is not to say Warne is happy about being the butt of condescending jokes, a philosophy some would say is at odds with social media stream in which he posts topless photographs of himself looking up from bed into a full length ceiling mirror. In the last 20 years Warne has variously been described as a “genius” by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and also been openly mocked by former team-mates, but nobody has ever accused him of being enigmatic.
To explain why Warne isn’t happy with his life being turned into scripted television, one should step back in time a little to his playing career, when a publishing cottage industry developed around the Australian leg-spinner. That genre produced Spun Out, Paul Barry’s excruciating 540-page opus of tittle tattle and pop psychology (“sneering and priggish”, one reviewer called it), on which the new TV production will be based.
In short, and not just because of books like Barry’s, Warne came to the firm view that the genre of biography should not exist at all. He’s on record, in fact, for saying that it should be illegal to write a book about a figure such as himself without permission. For much of his playing career he accepted the tabloid media scrutiny that came as part and parcel of what some saw as indiscretions in his private life, shrugging his shoulders at the headlines, but the books enraged him.
Shane Warne is actually many good things, and in a lot of respects his enduring vanity has served him well in life, but his decades-long aversion to other people telling his story is something he’s never let go and doesn’t quite fit with his 2016 persona. Australians have always tended to take Warne entirely seriously when he’s discussed leg-spin or had a cricket ball in his hand, but not so much otherwise.
The problem here for Warne is that having spent most of the last five years exposing every social and romantic happening of his waking life for all to see, he’s not in a strong position to oppose a sensationalist TV series. How could it possibly be any stranger or more embarrassing than his actual life?
The TV production basically writes itself, and if it’s only movie-length, you sense the main problem for producers (and a relief for Warne) will be the process of omission. “OK, we need John the Bookie in there, yep, and the diet pills, for sure, but when will the inflatable penis scene take place?”
In a poignant artistic flourish, maybe they’ll start at the scene of Warne’s first day job, delivering beds for Forty Winks, and perhaps end at his aborted rendezvous with Brynne Edelsten in May. “Brynne then invited me back to her place around 1am for a nightcap, when I arrived, paparazzi were conveniently waiting outside her home to get the pic,” Warne complained at the time. “I left instantly and thought how sad is that!”
Yet hovering awkwardly here is the possibility that no matter what the script-writers come up with, this new small-screen re-telling might not be anywhere near as “sad” as the snippets we’re so often fed by Warne himself.
The cricket writer Christian Ryan once hit on a solid theory about Warne: maybe he’ll always be more famous than he is loved. Maybe, one day, he’ll assume a level of comfort with that fact. Whenever this telemovie airs, surely he’ll also admit deep down that with respect to his own triumphant, turbulent and occasionally gobsmacking life, truth is far stranger than fiction.
This article was written by Russell Jackson, for theguardian.com on Thursday 27th October 2016 03.01 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010