Mr England: rugby union's number one fan
PUBLISHED: 16:01 21 November 2016 | UPDATED: 16:01 21 November 2016
Few people can claim to have been personified as a best selling soft toy, but Peter Cross from Dawlish (aka Mr England) is one of them. The first and only official RFU mascot, Peter is rugby union's number one fan and he's written a book about it, Laura Dale writes
A NATURALLY upbeat man, Peter answers the door of his Dawlish home with a beaming smile and waves me inside. In the flesh he looks younger than in his photographs – his bubbling enthusiasm and trim physique defying his 73 years. Peter (or Mr England as he is otherwise known) has been the official RFU mascot since 2000. His role has made him a familiar face – to fans and players alike – at England rugby matches as he walks around the pitch in his England suit and top hat waving a flag, warming up the spectators.
“The proudest moment of every game for me is standing ten metres away from the team facing them and singing the national anthem – it makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck,” Peter says.
A keen sportsman, Peter played rugby in his youth for Lancaster before moving to Devon at the age of 19 to join the police. He played for Torquay then Exeter and finally a local rugby club in Teignmouth when he joined Teignmouth CID. Peter explains: “I have always been mad keen on sports, but rugby was what I was best at. In 1996 I followed the team out to the Olympics in Atlanta and I followed all the events including the lower profile ones – I needed to be there supporting the boys and girls.
“I have always been patriotic and I had an outfit that supported Great Britain – my sister had made me a Union Jack Arab outfit because it was so hot out there. I was quite nervous about wearing it because I had never been a dresser upper. “I sat there watching the ladies hockey game and then I went out to the toilets and came back; I sat down and suddenly the cameras were on me. For the next two weeks of the Olympics I had people coming over and talking to me – I really enjoyed meeting so many people.”
On returning to the UK, Peter wore his outfit at Twickenham. He recalls: “I went to where the team arrives to meet them and Will Carling was the captain, he just stopped and looked at me and said something like, ‘excellent my man’. That’s what kicked it off – that was in 1996.”
About two years later was the Lions Tour to South Africa in 1997 and Peter had a top hat and tails made, emblazoned with a Union Jack, which he wore on the tour. He says: “I was interviewed by Sky and when I got back I started wearing my top hat and tails to Twickenham – I wore it for a couple of years.”
But it was Peter’s third and current outfit which saw him propelled into the spotlight – a St George’s Cross outfit. He was photographed by Getty images and his face was all over the media. Peter enthuses: “The rugby union phoned me up and asked me if I wanted to be the first ever official union mascot in 2000. I said ‘yes’ and punched the air. I went up to Twickenham and sat in the office with the head of security and the director of communications and said, ‘I am proud and honoured to be offered it’. Then we figured out what my duties would be.”
Since then Peter has been to every single England game – six nationals and all the autumn games, both home and away. He gets two tickets for every game and he sits in pride of place right behind the England bench. “I get an invite from the president for all the home games to a reception and dinner with the teams and honoured guests and I can take a guest in with me – it’s more than money can buy,” he smiles.
He adds: “It’s like I’m living the dream. I do it because I am passionate about my country and about rugby. What I do really suits my personality – meeting people and being nice to people, and getting to mix with so many people.”
As the interview draws to a close, it’s clear to me that Peter and ‘Mr England’ are one and the same person; sure ‘Mr England’ is a role, but Peter isn’t playing a character. He is the same genuine, personable, beaming man, who makes the most of life whether he is waving the St George’s Cross flag on the pitch or sitting in his Dawlish home.
Things you may not know about Peter:
Peter left the police force at the age of 26 when he and he wife Pam started a family. A salesman in the gift trade, Peter currently owns Presents gift shops in Dawlish and Sidmouth, and he rents out one in the Widdecombe-in-the-Moor.
In 1999 Peter and Pam’s son, and their daughter Ali’s brother Simon, died of a brain tumour at the age of 30.
Peter and five of his ‘rugby mates’ did a series of bike rides for an epilepsy charity – something Simon suffered with because of the tumour. One bike ride was 500 miles right through Spain. Peter has raised about £80,000 for charity through bike riding.
In 2003 Peter got involved in the Wooden Spoon charity, which helps disadvantaged children in Devon.
Peter is an Exeter Chiefs fan and he used to play rugby with some of the current trustees back in the 1960s and 1970s.
Exeter Chiefs chairman and chief executive officer Tony Rowe asked Peter to do a lap of the Sandy Park pitch in his ‘Mr England’ outfit for the team’s semi-final game against the Wasps.
Peter celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary to Pam during the Rugby World Cup missing a live match – something he doesn’t regret.
Peter has met a host of national and international rugby players and honoured guests at matches, including Prince Harry.
Peter’s book about his role as RFU mascot They Call Me Mr England was published in November 2014.
A lot of Peter’s best rugby moments have been at rugby games with his best friends.