Gabby Logan's frank and funny midlife memoir is the half time team talk we all need

Gabby Logan looks back on the highs and lows in her life story, The First Half

BBC One sports presenter Gabby Logan. Pic: David Venni/PA.
BBC One sports presenter Gabby Logan. Pic: David Venni/PA.

Broadcaster and sports presenter Gabby Logan was never going to write a linear memoir, when she sat down to start The First Half, starting at birth and finishing with her delight at England’s women’s footballing glory.

A fixture on our TV screens and a trailblazer for female presenters, she began her broadcasting career while still at Durham university with a weekend radio show on Newcastle’s Metro FM before landing a TV job with Sky Sports at 23, then moving to ITV and now the BBC. At 49 and with recently launched Podcast, the Midpoint already at over 2.5m downloads, she is well placed to give us what she calls “a half-time talk, covering what went wrong, what worked well and how I might change things in the second half.”

Logan’s method is to gather the turning points, “the important moments in my life that have brought me to where I am today”.

Gabby Logan's The First Half is available in hardback eBook and audio now, £20,Piatkus, Little, Brown Book Group

“I think life does have moments where you could go in one direction or the other and it’s perhaps only afterwards when you look back that you can fully understand,” she says, on the phone from her home in Buckinghamshire where she lives with husband former Scotland rugby player Kenny and 18-year-old twins Reuben and Lois.

Sport was always going to feature, woven through her life, as a teenage Commonwealth Team GB gymnast, marriage to Logan, and former Leeds United player then Wales manager as a father.

“Sport does weave its way through big turning points, but actually what became more apparent as I started writing was that it was about owning up to mistakes and not projecting a perfect life. Nobody has a perfect life. And also I was thinking about my kids and wanting to try and convey to them the sense of you will make mistakes and disappointing things will happen and you will come back. Even if it’s a wrong decision you can move on, do something else, it’s not the end.”

Logan starts the book with the turning point that was the death of her brother Daniel when she was 19. A fit and healthy 15 year old, he collapsed in the garden while playing football with her father and younger brother and died from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, sometimes called sudden death syndrome. After this nothing was the same for Logan, and she made a vow to achieve something, to have something, that would make the pain of his death worthwhile.

Gaby Logan bungee jumps off a 500 feet high bridge in BBC's Freeze the Fear with Wim Hof. Pic: BBC/Hungry Bear Media/Pete Dadds

Other serious turning points included are the 1985 Bradford City stadium fire where 56 people died, and as she and her mother and three younger siblings escaped the ground, her father, the team manager, stayed inside to help, and she touches on the breakdown of her parents marriage and her father’s relationship with alcohol.

Yet for all of the darker episodes in her life, Logan’s ‘half time talk of a book’ isn’t of the boot throwing ‘hairdryer treatment’ variety and there are plenty of laughs along the way and it’s particularly evocative of her happy Seventies childhood when footballer’s wages weren’t of the eye watering scale they are now and family holidays were spent at the Holiday Inn in Slough and her first job first job was at her Nana Sheila’s greasy spoon café opposite Elland Road, shelling eggs at 6am, washing the concrete step with boiling water and serving grumpy truckers cups of tea.

Fun and bubbly on the phone, she’s a straight talker, who displays an unexpected ability in mimicry - she does a mean Liam Gallagher and BBC athletics co-host, double world record holder and multiple gold medal winning Olympian sprinter, Michael Johnson.

The former is when she’s recounting how she and husband Kenny met the Oasis singer at a bar in Barbados on holiday, an evening which saw the rugby player demonstrating a friendly but firm head lock on the Gallagher in a discussion over the merits of football versus rugby and the singer deciding that Gabby was the reincarnation of John Lennon.

Gabby Logan (far right) with her parents Terry Yorath, mother Christine, sister Louise, brother Daniel and family dog Sadie.

Sounds like a good night, as witnessed by a photograph in her book..

“Liam was going on about, ‘oh yeah, I’m not sure about rugby’ and Kenny was saying how strong a rugby player is and said ‘well I could put you in a headlock and you wouldn’t be able to get out’ and Liam said ‘yeah I would’, so he did. Luckily they were on the right side of being too drunk at that point because you can imagine having a scrap at the Sandy Lane bar with Liam Gallagher would probably have ended Kenny’s public life,” she laughs.

And if she were John Lennon reincarnated, what would she do?

“I’d get Paul McCartney round and say ‘right, let’s write some other amazing songs and hand them on to the next generation’. It was the most surreal evening,” she says and laughs.

Gabby Logan with husband Kenny on the Lorraine TV show in 2018. Pic: Ken McKay/ITV/Shutterstock

At the mention of husband Kenny, it’s a good time to ask about his health as the 70 times capped Scotland player was diagnosed with prostate cancer in February and had his prostate removed and is now on the road to recovery, declaring himself "95% back to normal".

“He’s doing really well,” she says. “The summer was the physical part of the recovery and he’s back training, exercising and looks great. I say he looks great, but he had a sailing holiday with his mates recently and came back really brown but also with a few kilos of rose wine - so he needs to get back into the gym, for his mental state too, and he’s on that mission now.

“I think it takes more time emotionally than he realised to deal with it and he’s still on that road and he’s doing good. He’s up and down. Some days I think it just makes him feel quite sad and he thinks about his friends as well, with Doddie, and Tom Smith - that was a big thing for him this summer. He knows he’s very lucky to have found it when he did.”

A fit 50-year old, with no symptoms…

“Yeah, and that's why he wanted to talk about it as well, because he thought how many other fit men think they’re invincible?”

Logan is very candid in her book, talking about the lows and laughs, the successes and challenges, and it takes a brave person to be so open, even when it’s amusing, such as recounting how her mother presented her with a bill after she was paid her first wage, detailing everything ‘borrowed’ from tenners to tampons.

Gabby Logan with her MBE in 2021. Pic: PA

“Well my mum loves the book and had absolutely no problem sharing that,” she says. “When she read it I hadn’t shown my dad yet and she said, ‘I think you’ve been really generous and not shared things you could have done.’ My aim was not to humiliate my father or be condescending, it was to try and share the frustrations - and people know if they’ve lived with anybody with addictions - that you can’t ever sort it out. They have to sort it out. It took me a long time to work that out and it was very freeing when I decided I couldn’t do anything any more.”

“I talk about my dad leaving home at 15 and I always had massive admiration, still do, for his early life. I also think it’s a really important factor in what happened to him later because I think he saw the darker side of life quicker than my mum and maybe if he was growing up in the world of football now there would be a sports psychologist who would take him aside. But he had to be the tough man and that helped me understand his reliance on alcohol as something to take him out of his moods.”

“So my dad didn’t love the chapter on him but he didn’t stop me putting it in the book. I’ve got nothing but love for him and respect for him as the man that he was as a child, but obviously I regret we don’t have him in our lives. At the same time he has also written about this in a book, talked about the accident he had where he knocked somebody over drink driving, so this is stuff that has been in the public domain. This is my take on our family situation and how that affected our family.”

Since Logan’s days as a gymnast women’s sport and its coverage has been completely transformed but she’s unwilling to acknowledge that she’s helped along the way.

“No, I don’t think I’ve helped. I think I’ve been lucky enough to be part of an incredible turning of the tanker and whoever was doing my job was going to be lucky enough to see that. I think I’ve talked about how important it is that we had that visibility for women’s sport ad nauseum,” she laughs. “And part of the reason I was awarded an MBE was for services to women’s sport and that absolutely thrilled me. I was really proud of that.”

I think Logan is being too modest and since they gave her an MBE for it, maybe she’s allowed to take a little credit, to which she responds with a somewhat bashful, and uncharacteristically pauciloquent “Oh OK.”

Her Michael Johnson impression comes later when she’s describing his advice on handling social media criticism, of which she’s had plenty, when she was on Strictly Come Dancing, and when she responded to allegations of an affair with co-host Alan Shearer, her denial creating a story in itself.

Logan now equates engaging with Twitter to try and explain herself as “like tangling with an octopus”, saying “there is no point”.

“Michael Johnson, had obviously seen something I was doing on social media and said “Gabby I don’t understand why you let a guy with four followers engage with your half million Twitter followers. You’re just giving him oxygen’, and he’s right, although it took me a few years to fully practise it.”

Of the Shearer story she says: “That was a real lesson. If I’d not replied there would have been nothing. Instead we had weeks of aggravation and feeling cynical and that you can’t trust. It blew up all kinds of emotions that it didn’t need to. I didn’t make that mistake twice.”

Anyone who has watched Logan host live sport with its unpredictabilites will know she’s good under pressure and as a former athlete, in good physical shape, so a reality TV show like BBC’s Freeze the Fear with ‘The Iceman’ Wim Hof would seem a good fit, but she could never have predicted how it would put her in touch with her more vulnerable side.

“It’s quite a raw, exposing environment and it had been a long time since I had found myself so close to my emotions. The breathing was just so powerful it blew my socks off. I felt like I could see my blood going through my body, it was weird, like a life force and I was getting strong images of men in my life, my dad, my brother, my son and that was emotional enough. Then when I stood up I felt love was just pouring out of me and saw Tamsin and realised I had to give her this because it was from her mum. When you look at it now it feels insane even saying it, but it was so powerful and real, there was no doubt in my mind what was happening and of course Tamsin and I had a real bond from then.”

“It was one of the most extraordinary things I’ve ever experienced and a real eye-opener. A lot of our answers, I think we’ve got them inside us already. We know. I think we just lose connection with ourselves and that was one of the big lessons from the whole experience. Not that I’m going to go around getting myself into a deep transcendental state giving people messages from the other side, but I feel like we could all be a bit more connected. You’ve got to put yourself away from all the trappings and things that take up our attention.”

“After that it was about overcoming fears or irrational boundaries that we set ourselves. I wasn’t scared of the cold things because I thought I’ll just get warm after, but I was scared of heights. So to get through those things - it’s not that I want to become somebody that regularly jumps off a 500 foot bridge - but knowing you can get rid of those blockages, no matter how old you are or what you’re doing in life, that it’s possible to change your mindset, that was a really brilliant thing to come home with.”

“It’s not that Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway thing, it’s much more about social things. I think mid-life women shy away from certain social situations so it’s keeping that attitude of saying yes to chances and opportunities and bringing along my mates the same age as me, supporting each other.”

Being ‘middle aged and beige’ is something Logan addressed in her podcast Midlife and it’s not something she’s ever likely to be accused of being in ‘The Second Half’. Whatever’s ahead she knows that so far she’s made good on the vow she made to her brother Daniel back when she was just starting out.

“I hope he would think so,” she says. “I think I’ve done my very best. I don’t feel like I haven’t given it my best shot. I don’t have any regrets on that promise.”

The First Half, by Gabby Logan, available in hardback eBook and audio now, £20,Piatkus, Little, Brown Book Group

On Freeze the Fear with Wim Hof. Pic: BBC/Hungry Bear Media/Pete Dadds