Gareth Thomas: Former Wales captain was close to suicide

Gareth Thomas, the former Wales captain
Thomas announced he was gay in 2009

Gareth Thomas donned his best grey Welsh Rugby Union suit and his finest patent shoes before heading for his swimming pool in the hope of becoming a "beautiful corpse".

The captain of Wales in both codes of rugby had wrestled with his sexuality for his whole career; now he had reached the end of the road.

His wife Jemma, a childhood sweetheart, had left Thomas three months after he told her he was gay. Suicide now seemed the only option.

He wanted to die, but he wanted to be remembered with pride rather than shame - and that meant wearing his Wales suit.

In a wide-ranging interview on BBC Radio 5 Live, Thomas - whose new book 'Proud' was released this week - says he contemplated suicide so he would "not be part of a horrible world I had created around me".

He said: "It is difficult for people to realise what is on the mind of someone who wants to die. For me, I had so much pride, but so much hatred for what I was.

"When I was found I wanted my parents to look at me and be proud of what I had created rather than the embarrassment of what I created. The rugby theme played a massive part of my life and I wanted it to be a massive part of my death."

Gareth Thomas, former Wales captain
Thomas was voted top of the 2010 Pink List, which identifies the 101 most influential gay people in Britain

It is now five years since the 36-year-old, who retired in 2011, became the highest-profile sportsman in the UK to reveal he was gay.

Thomas' glittering career was defined by the 200 points he scored for his country as he became the first rugby union player to earn 100 caps for Wales.

He was also selected three times for the Lions and when he switched codes the utility back scored three tries during four rugby league matches for his country.

Thomas, who played for Cardiff Blues, Bridgend and Toulouse in rugby union as well as Crusaders in the Super League, revealed that he hid his sexuality from everyone - until admitting his secret to his wife eight years ago.

He said: "My career life was very public, but behind what happened on television and wearing my Wales rugby jersey with pride I was slowly dying.

"I'm not sure if it was because I was gay that I felt such depression, it was just that I was lying to everyone."

Thomas is now in a happy relationship with Ian Baum and remains on good terms with Jemma, who has since remarried.

Gareth Thomas factfile
Born:25 July 1974
Clubs:Pontypridd, Bridgend, Cardiff Blues, Celtic Warriors, Toulouse & Crusaders (Super League 2010-11)
International union stats:100 caps for Wales (40 tries) & three Lions Tests (one try)
International league stats:Four caps for Wales (three tries)
Club and international honours:2005 & 2008 Six Nations Grand Slam, Welsh Premier Division (2004), Heineken Cup (2005)

He now works for a teaching company and offers educational talks in schools about his life.

He added: "I have a life now defined by my personality, not by my sexuality, defined by what I am capable of, and defined hopefully trying to make other people's lives better and give strength to others. I know what it is like to be one kid lost in the valleys, not in the big cities where people feel protected."

Thomas also admitted his first gay encounter as an 18-year-old working as a postman left him feeling "disgusted" and how he used away games and fake stag weekends to pick up men in London's gay scene.

Gareth Thomas
His 100th and final match for Wales was in the defeat to Fiji in the 2007 World Cup

Hiding behind 'Alfie'

Thomas was known in rugby union by his nickname 'Alfie', but to him it was an opportunity to hide behind an image he could create.

He said: "Alfie was an archetypal rugby player. I created him to be the macho man, the guy who never takes a step back, the last one drinking, the one who watches the back of his team-mates. He was a part of who Gareth Thomas was, but I expected him to be what everybody thought I was in real life.

"For the first 35 years of my life I was more a character of somebody else (rather than) who I actually am."

Gareth Thomas and actor Mickey Rourke
Actor Mickey Rourke has revealed that he is to play Thomas in a movie of his life

Impact on loved ones

Thomas revealed that he surrounded himself with his wife's clothes that were hanging in a wardrobe and sprayed her favourite perfume in his house after she left him. He says he did this to remind him of the one person in his life who "had been there for him all the time".

He explained: "It was a grieving moment when she left. I wanted that presence, I wanted her to still be there. I would even call out her name. They may leave, but a part of them is still left behind. I hoped to wake up and it was all a dream, but when the reality kicks in, it kicks in hard.

"I felt by lying and tying myself up in knots I had created a mess for people around me, people closest to me. I didn't care about myself, if I died or was hurt, it was irrelevant. Irrelevant. My wife, family, close friends and team-mates made my life great and were relevant, but I was managing to turn their lives into hell."

Gareth Thomas and David Cameron
Thomas, pictured here with Prime Minister David Cameron, is an ambassador for the fight against homophobia and transphobia in sport

'Coming out' to his Wales team-mates

Thomas says he was at his lowest ebb after leading Wales to a 29-29 draw with Australia at the Millennium Stadium in 2006, with the anxiety over his sexuality having caused him to lose 14 pounds in weight.

After the game Australia assistant coach Scott Johnson walked in to the dressing room to shake his hand and, holding back the tears, Thomas told the former Wales and Ospreys coach that his wife had left him. Johnson suspected what had happened, and arranged for long-standing team-mates Stephen Jones and Martyn Williams to comfort him at Wales' team hotel.

Thomas recalled: "I had dreaded it. I had been drinking and chain smoked over what the guys would think, but they tapped me on the back and said, 'don't worry, let's have a beer'. These guys I had respected so much had accepted me, it meant so much. It was a massive weight lifted off my shoulders to have the rugby world accept me."

You can hear the full BBC 5 Live podcast interview with Gareth Thomas here.