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Page last updated at 07:47 GMT, Thursday, 5 February 2009

Ref Owens reveals troubled times

Referee Nigel Owens
Referee Nigel Owens speaks to Sport Wales which returns on Friday

Nigel Owens has revealed how his failed suicide attempt proved the turning point towards becoming the top rugby referee in Wales.

Owens, who officiates Saturday's Six Nations Ireland v France game, is one of only four of the world's referees to get two games in the tournament.

But 13 years ago, he took an overdose of sleeping pills.

"I left a note for my parents and left the house. I didn't think I was ever going to return," said Owens, 37.

In a frank interview with the BBC's Sport Wales programme, Owens has spoken about the shame he felt following his overdose.

Owens, who came out as one of sport's few openly gay personalities last year, was then a 24-year-old amateur referee who was battling against depression, bulimia and an addiction to steroids.

He said: "When I was about 19 or 20, I was very overweight. I decided to try and lose some of it because I didn't feel or look healthy.

"So, I started to make myself ill. I would eat food and then make myself ill afterwards.

"I went from 15-and-a-half stone down to 10-and-a-half stone.

"Whereas before I looked unhealthy because I was overweight, now I looked unhealthy because I was thin.

"I decided to go and do weights. One thing led to another and I started taking steroids.

Preview clip: Welsh referee Nigel Owens

"I went from 11st up to 15st but this time I was big and muscular rather than fat. I felt confident because I looked good."

But he added: "It then started to scare me because I couldn't stop taking them.

"I was stuck in a cycle, I couldn't stop taking them and couldn't get out of where I was.

"I just sank lower and lower and eventually thought the only way out was to take my own life.

"I'd got to a stage where I couldn't talk to anyone about things - I didn't want to talk, I didn't want to be gay but I was, I didn't want to take the steroids but I couldn't get off them, I was still making myself ill after eating, but I was then craving the food because it offered some comfort.

"It was an eating disorder, I was making myself ill and then it all came to a head.

"One morning I woke up and felt I couldn't take it any more.

"I left a note for my parents and left the house. I didn't think I was ever going to return."

Owens, whose autobiography "Hanner Amser" (Half Time) was published last year in Welsh with an English edition due this year, was discovered on a hillside near his Pontyberem home and flown to hospital by police helicopter.

He said: "When I look back and think what I put my parents through, it made me feel very ashamed.

"I was ashamed at what I'd done, what I'd become, and the fact that I'd tried to take my own life when there are thousands and thousands of people who are fighting against illness every day.

"Here was I, as a relatively healthy person, trying to take my own life."

*Sport Wales returns on Friday, 6 February on BBC TWO Wales at 2100 GMT

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see also
Sport Wales: The TV programme
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BBC Sport Wales coverage
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European Challenge Cup
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Rugby union positions guide
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