Meet Mr England

In March 2007 IRN met up with the man you always see on the TV at Twickenham. During the week he is known simply as Peter Cross, but on international weekends he dons his red and white top hat and tails and becomes Mr England.

So, Peter, how did you become Mr England?
It started in 1996. I dressed up for the Olympics in Atlanta and went round supporting our athletes at lots of different events.
I got lots of publicity from that, but I am a rugby man really so I decided to dress up for Twickenham. It took a lot of balls to do it to start with because back in 1996 everyone was in barber jackets. People weren’t dressing up but it’s quite common now at lots of sporting events.
I went to virtually every England game home and away and just got known really by everybody including RFU officials. In the summer of 2000 they phoned me up and asked me if I’d like to become the first ever official England mascot. I’d never really dreamed of it to be honest because I was just dressing up to support my team like every other supporter does.
The first game I did officially was against Australia in the Autumn of 2000. Dan Luger scored that controversial try in the last minute and it was the start of England’s dominance over the southern hemisphere sides. I don’t think we lost another game against them until after the World Cup. It’s just got bigger and bigger.

Who designed your outfit for you?
I came up for the idea and got my friend Irene, who is a really talented tailor, to make it for me. I started off with a Union Jack outfit for the Olympics but I realised at Twickenham that it wasn’t really appropriate for games against the other home nations and the RFU even had letters written in about it. I had it changed to the St George’s cross and that was when things started moving on for me.

And have you got to know many of the England players well since becoming the official mascot?

Right from the early days I got to know a few of the players’ parents over a period and they have said to me that the players love it. I’m passionate about my country and my rugby as they are.
In the earlier days before I was made official, people like Lawrence Dallaglio and Roger Utley would always come up to me and shake my hand and say well done. They are people who wear their heart on their sleeve like me.
Being official now I get access to areas like the tunnel and I just got to know the players more and more through being around
As the youngsters are coming through, they know me before they get in the team because they’ve seen me on TV. I go to the reception afterwards with them and have a drink and a meal.

So who is your favourite player?
That’s a tough question because I love them all but Dallaglio was always a top man, not just to me but to other people I’d see him talking to. He was really articulate, friendly and had time for everybody. Charlie Hodgson is another lovely bloke and you can tell he loves his sport. Phil Vickery is a brilliant bloke aswell. He’s a country boy from down my way and he was brought up in the same rugby I played many years before him.

Tell us about your own rugby career
I played wing and centre for Exeter and Torquay 1st XVs until I was about 25 then I moved to the back row. I was actually brought up in Rugby League in Oldham until I was 19. I was a rugby league loose forward and when I came to Devon I had never played Union. I grew up in the same town as Phil Larder and Mike Ford, but I’m Devonian through and through now, that’s where my heart is.

What do you do when you’re not waving the flag as Mr England?
I was a freelance sales agent in the gift trade, just working in the south west, but I retired from that about seven years ago. I’ve now got a couple of gifts shops with my family. I’m semi-retired now because I want to have more time to do my rugby work. Last summer I missed the Australia games because I just couldn’t get there, but if you retire it cuts your income down and I have to pay my own expenses. I get a couple of tickets for every game home and away but other than that I pay my own way which costs a few bob. It is something I need to address but I do it because I love it and that’s what it’s all about really. I’m 63 years old now and if I can retire I’d love to watch every game of England rugby from U16 up.

Have you got any counterparts from any of the other nations?
I’ve become good friends with the French mascot Jean Claude Massard. He’s about the same age as me and he’s been doing it for 25 years. He organises for us to go onto the pitch at the Stade de France and do a circuit and we do the same at Twickenham. It’s brilliant because all the crowd stand up and clap us. It really shows that typical rugby camaraderie. It would be great if other nations did it but I can’t really see myself going round the Millennium stadium on my own, but when we do it in Paris and Twickenham its fantastic and the French supporters are brilliant towards me. I’m going down to Marseilles for the game in August. When I stay in Jean Claude’s village and they give me the honour of the town!

What’s been your greatest moment since becoming the official mascot?
The 2003World Cup was absolutely fantastic. What got me most of all was the game against South Africa in Perth. There were so many English fans there all dressed up – some of them put what I wear to shame! It was magnificent atmosphere and it just went on all through the tournament.
The Australians wouldn’t allow me on to the pitch for the final, they’re not so keen on that sort of thing I think. I’m not a quiet sort of guy at games but at when we won the final I just sat in my seat and collapsed with fatigue I guess.