Alfie shares his turmoil and triumph

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Gareth Thomas.

 Rugby legend and gay icon Gareth Thomas spoke movingly about how he contemplated suicide rather than tell his mum and dad the truth about his sexuality.

The former Wales rugby union captain and North Wales Crusaders rugby league player told a packed audience in Wrexham he was in utter turmoil about coming out six years ago.

Thomas, affectionately known as Alfie by his legion of fans, was the star of the opening event of the Carnival of Words, the first ever Wrexham literary festival.

He gave a talk about his autobiography, Proud, at the Catrin Finch Centre at Glyndwr University.

Struggling to control his emotions, Thomas, 40, explained how he sat on the edge of a swimming pool with a half-finished bottle of vodka in one hand a box of tablets in the other and came close to dropping into the water to drown himself.

And he explained how would walk along the South Wales cliffs, close to the edge, and hope the next gust of wind would blow him over and onto the rocks below.

The Carnival of Words is being supported by Eagles Meadow shopping centre where a series of free events are being held.

The festival was launched by a group of literary figures, including writers and poets, who teamed up with Wrexham Council’s library service, Glyndwr University, the Waterstones book store and Eagles Meadow.

Other highlights include a special session for crime fiction fans at 7pm at Wrexham Library on Wednesday evening.

Six top crime writers have got together to form the Murder Squad and three of them, Martin Edwards, Kate Ellis and Margaret Murphy – who writes under the name A D Garret – will be in attendance and explaining how to write the perfect crime novel.

Then next Saturday between 11am and 2pm there will be a treat in store for Doctor Who aficionados at the Catrin Finch Centre.

Justin Richards, creative consultant with BBC Books will be there along with Mark Wright, who is a freelance writer and author of several Doctor Who books, and a Doctor Who trivia expert. There will be a reading and a Q&A session for fans of the hit sci fi series.

At the first event, Gareth Thomas was given a guard of honour made up of young players from Mold Rugby Club and Wrexham Bradley Raiders Rugby League Club.

And a choir of young singers, Dragon Song Wrexham, gave a rendition of Calon Lan before he began his talk in which he shared his innermost thoughts about his life’s journey.

He recalled: “I was so lonely yet I was surrounded by people, I was so sad but always had a smile on my face and I was such a liar yet never meant to harm anyone.

“I would look my family, my friends and my team mates in the face yet a small part of me was always lying. Being gay I lived in fear of being found out.

“However, I eventually decided I couldn’t go on lying any longer and decided the first people I had to tell was those closest to me first, my parents. Then I had to tell the rest of my family followed by my closest friends.

“It’s strange how we find it harder to tell the people closest to us, like our parents, the truth about ourselves.”

He added: “But eventually I sat my mum and dad down and told them. Nothing was said really until I called a few days later and there were three Champagne glasses on the table.

“Mum told me to get the bottle from the fridge and when I asked why my dad, who was pouring the champagne into the glasses, told me we were going to toast the start of the rest of my life.

“That was a defining moment in my life and a huge step toward my being the happy and content person I am today.

“I then told my brothers and they told me I was still the same brother I had been the day before, then I told my nephews and nieces, who just thought it was cool, and then I told my team mates and they treated me exactly as they had before.”

Thomas says that after he publicly came out as gay in 2009 he hoped that if it helped just one youngster struggling with their own sexuality to call ChildLine then it would have been worth it.

“It’s not all about elite professional rugby players or footballers or any other top sportsmen and women. It’s about people enjoying sport whatever the level they play at and whatever their sexuality.

“So many people have told me they are participating in their chosen sport without being concerned about their sexuality as a direct result of my speaking out. The simple truth is my sexuality never defined me as a rugby player.

“I became the player I was through hard work, dedication and sacrifice. Sexuality had nothing to do with it.”

For more information on the Carnival of Words or to be added to the mailing list for updates and notification of ticket sales, email: wrexcarnival@gmail.com. The event is also on Facebook at Wrexham Carnival of Words and Twitter @WrexCarnival #wrexwords. Contact: Debbie Williams or Ann Hughes at Wrexham Library on 01978 292090. Ticket booking through Eventbrite, Wrexham Library and Waterstones: http://bit.ly/WrexCarnivalEvents