He arrived four months ago to recover after a knee operation, but the English cricketer Andrew Flintoff and his family have fallen for the UAE in a big way. Whether he's collecting the children from school or riding a camel, the star says he feels right at home.
DUBAI // The England cricket star Andrew Flintoff spoke yesterday of his "great" new life in Dubai and disclosed that he and his family are looking to set up home in the emirate.
Flintoff, 32, who has been plagued by injury, said what began as a six-month rehabilitation stint when he arrived last September was about to become more permanent and the family was looking to settle in the UAE for the foreseeable future. The all-rounder spoke as he took up his new role as a sports ambassador for Dubai. He and his wife Rachael said they were loving life in the sunshine, and it was helping him back to fitness.
Flintoff, who retired from Test cricket after England's triumph over Australia in the Ashes last summer, has signed a contract with the newly formed Dubai-based freezone company Falcon and Associates, which aims to position Dubai within key global markets. The company comes under the umbrella of the Dubai Government Media Office, established by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, this month.
Although details of Flintoff's contract have not been revealed, he will take part in activities to promote Dubai worldwide, especially to countries associated with cricket such as Britain, South Africa, Australia and India. Until now, the Flintoffs have been living in a serviced apartment in Festival City. Now, they are looking for a villa with a garden for their three children - Holly, five, Corey, four, and one-year-old Rocky.
Flintoff, who is confident of being back to full fitness by August, when he will start playing four-day cricket for Lancashire, has spent six months recovering from an operation on his right knee. He hoped to be back on the cricket pitch by now, but two weeks ago had another operation "to clean up some scar tissue left by the first op". He is walking with a pronounced limp, but said he was relieved that he was not back on crutches.
"It's all going great, which is good news," Flintoff said. "I was trying to come back from an op in six or seven months which was always going to be tight. We need more time." The upside of his enforced break from cricket is that he has been spending more time with Rachael, 31, and the children. Speaking on the terrace of The Address hotel, he said: "I take the kids to school and then I go for an hour's physio, followed by the gym. I pick them up later and spend the afternoon with them, which is the good thing about being injured.
"We've seen a lot of our friends and family. My parents have been out here twice and Rachael's folks have been out too, and I've been back home three times. My older brother is coming out in March and my mate Steve Harmison [the Durham and England bowler] and his wife were here on holiday recently. "We've rented the family house in Altrincham out and for the past two years we have been building a house in Cheshire, but that's going on the market. The kids are settled here now."
Flintoff, who acquired the nickname "Freddie" because of the similarity of his name to that of the cartoon character Fred Flintstone, said he was back to being Andrew again. He said: "Our social life revolves around kids these days. You meet the parents at the school from different nationalities and most of them don't know about cricket. "At home, everyone calls me Fred but here I introduce myself as Andrew so it's all Andrew now. Or 'Corey's Dad'.
"It's great. We went on a camping trip for a night in the desert, just Corey and me and some of his friends and their parents. We lit a fire and slept in a tent. And we spend most weekends on the beach." Flintoff is friends with the golfers Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke, who were playing in Abu Dhabi last week and are due in Dubai next week, and meets up with them when they are here. "I was sitting on the beach with Lee and Darren the other evening and one of them said 'It's nice here'. I said 'Yes, we come here every weekend'."
Flintoff has ridden a camel - "very slowly" - and been to all the major sporting events, but says he draws the line at Ski Dubai because of his injuries. He is exploring opportunities for when he eventually retires from cricket altogether. "At the forefront of my mind will be getting fit, but I realise I'll not be playing cricket forever," he said. "But I've seen a lot of cricketers come to the end of their careers, naturally or through injury, not having prepared, so that's what I'm going to be doing."
He and Rachael were due to attend the opening night of the Meydan Racecourse last night. "I've got a share in two horses here, one called Our Giant and the other is called Wonder Lawn, being trained by Mike de Kock, so that's another interest," said Flintoff. Rachael has embraced the Dubai lifestyle with enthusiasm. She said: "After the Ashes, when Andrew was injured, he couldn't face trying to get himself back to fitness in the cold.
"When he was down and everybody was talking about it he just wanted to get away. "Corey is the homey one and he was the one we were worried about, Rocky really doesn't know where he is anyway, and Holly is used to travelling and has been doing it since she was three months. "Now, every weekend, there seems to be a party for Holly. The parents have been lovely to us. When I first came here we tried to do everything at once. Now we have slowed down a bit.
"We're going to the theatre to see Blood Brothers, there was the panto at Christmas, all the big sporting events, and the kids went to the opening of the Chipmunks movie. It's been great." Both parents feared that their children would not settle in Dubai. They need not have worried, said Rachael. "We were preparing to go home to the UK for Christmas, and Corey said, 'That's not home Mummy, this is home'."