How 4th XV rugby tour was the downfall of Nick Clegg

BELLA BARTOCK went “Up West” last night, for the opening night of a new stage comedy from a Croydon writer who has managed to harness some of the excitement, and a few of the skills, of the Rugby World Cup

We're in a ruck, we've got to get out of it... political hooker Steven Gauge

We’re in a ruck, we’ve got to get out of it… political hooker Steven Gauge

Finally, more than five years on, the real reason behind Nick Clegg’s broken pledge on student fees has been revealed.

On the day when Lord Cashcroft gave a whole new meaning to the expression “pork barrel politics”, an insider from the Liberal Democrat side of the David Cameron-led Coalition Government was spilling his guts on the West End stage about how Clegg came to make an offer he just could not fulfill.

According to a new play being performed in the West End this week, it was all because Clegg’s election campaign manager was hung-over, and maybe still just a little bit drunk, after a weekend of debauchery “on tour” on the south coast with the third worst rugby team in Surrey.

In 2010, Steven Gauge, a sometime LibDem candidate in various elections in this part of south London, was living a double life. By (week)day, the manager of the LibDem politicial campaign which somehow captured the imagination of millions of people across the country; while at the weekends, he was captaining the Warlingham RFC 4th XV.

Juggling the two onerous responsibilities would prove a stretch too far in April 2010, when the rugby team set off for its end-of-season tour to Sussex. The phrase “Bugger Bognor” would come back to haunt Clegg, as Gauge re-tells the episode in his new play, My Life As A Hooker, which had its opening night in front of a packed and chortling house at the Museum of Comedy in Bloomsbury last night.

After a successful weekend tour with his rugby friends – successful in the sense that no one was permanently scarred, and no one could remember the results of any of the matches played – Gauge reported for duty on the campaign trail, clearly still the worse for wear. “Now about this Pledge, Nick..? It’s a really popular policy with the young people, and there’s no chance of you getting elected anyway, so…”

"Stamp on his effing foot": painful memories of Mitcham for playwright and author Steven Gauge

“Stamp on his effing foot”: painful memories of the playing fields not of Eton, but of Mitcham for playwright and author Steven Gauge

Gauge has brought to the stage some of the episodes of his 2012 book of the same title, this time accompanied by a small cast of enthusiastic and versatile players – not just actors, but rugby players, as a ball is frequently sent whizzing though the middle of the auditorium. Director Ellie Gauge – daughter of the author and leading man – has ensured there’s no staid “third wall” in this light and entertaining trip through her father’s midlife crisis.

The first night’s audience in the small theatre squeezed into a corner of the undercroft of a grand Bloomsbury church was made up of a large group of chaps, wearing bespoke City suits, most of them the height of Redwood trees and with shoulders that looked as if they could be used as bookshelves for entire sets of Encyclopaedia Britannica. They were, at a guess, from a rugby club. Probably a good one.

Steven Gauge's new play is being performed at the Comedy Museum until Saturday

Steven Gauge’s new play is being performed at the Comedy Museum until Saturday

But when Gauge delivers his captain’s speech at half-time in a match where the Warly 4s are being given a thrashing by Mitcham, and tells his team that, “Nobody gives anyone shit for being shit”, a cheer of fellow-feeling went up from the stalls louder than anything from those on stage.

My Life As A Hooker probably establishes a West End first, with the on-stage drinking of a yard of ale, a routine part of the rugby culture. There are songs, too. Rugby songs. Cameron Mackintosh is unlikely to come calling any time soon, and what Olivier or Sheridan (that’s Richard, not Warlingham’s Phil Sheridan, fellas) might have made of it all, one can only guess.

The cast of Sophie McQuillan, first-time performer and long-time Warlingham team mate John Waghorn and Doug Keithley perform a sterling service in a range of roles supporting Gauge as he relays the ups and downs of his rugby career.

Only those “in the know” would realise this, but the production also includes probably the worst miscasting since Donald Sinden played Othello for the RSC: casting self-confessed No9 Russell Park as gritty northerner Dave Halliwell – who is actually the size and demeanour of a rugby-playing Hagrid – takes some getting used to. 

Those of a delicate disposition should be warned that the play does contain some mild nudity. But then, those of a delicate disposition probably wouldn’t “get” this play if they watched it a hundred times. It is all more haka than haiku.

As Gauge suggests, being part of a team sport, going out and proselytising each week, seeking to “convert” new recruits, is much like being part of an organised religion. Or, he could have added, a political party.

Except that Gauge’s rugby team and the play about it is a lot more good, honest fun.


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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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