Bruce Mouat: Before coming out I was unhappy and I was scared. But everyone’s been brilliant

The teddy bear has never been more notorious. Prince Andrew owns 72 and a former royal maid has just revealed how she had to undergo special training so they could be arranged before him as if for parade-ground inspection. Bruce Mouat, who’s stuffing just the one ted in his case for Beijing, knows nothing of these revelations, which probably tells us how determinedly he’s shut out extraneous noise while bidding to fulfil the promise of being Britain’s best hope for a gold medal at the Winter Olympics.

Bruce Mouat in action at the World Curling Championships in Calgary last year. Now he's bidding for double Olympic gold.
Bruce Mouat in action at the World Curling Championships in Calgary last year. Now he's bidding for double Olympic gold.

“This is Ollie,” says the 27-year-old curler. “He’s a good-luck present from my mum and this wee shop near her home town of Balloch have managed to kit him out in a ‘Team GB 2022’ jumper.”

Ollie is being packed as we talk, along with a couple of phantasmagorical novels for Games Village downtime – The House in the Cerulean Sea and Luckenbooth, the latter set in Edinburgh, where Mouat was born and began the rise to the top in his sport. And as he bids for glory as the men’s team skip and partner to childhood friend Jen Dodds in the mixed doubles, the bear looks like being his only supporter at rinkside.

“I don’t think there’s going to be any fans at all at the Olympics,” adds Mouat, whose mother Marie, father Bob and big brother Colin will have to be content watching on TV. “It’s a shame they can’t be there but, you know, ultimately I’m going to the Games to medal. This isn’t a family holiday and while I’ll miss them, maybe it’s for the best that I won’t have the extra distraction.”

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Raul Mee/AP/Shutterstock (9991517m) Mouat with Hammy McMillan and Bobby Lammie celebrate Scotland's victory over Sweden to win gold at the 2018 European Championships.

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See what I mean? This guy wants to win. Currently in a holding camp at Crieff Hydro, he’s talking on Zoom because just before departure along with the rest of Team Mouat – Grant Hardie, Bobby Lammie and Hammy McMillan – the risk of Covid must be avoided. It’s all about the Games and asking him what he thinks about “Partygate” is probably pointless.

But how refreshing is that? The politicos’ shenanigans cast as an irrelevance as a self-confessed “Olympics nerd” contemplates the realisation of a dream he can date back to Primary 6. “This is so exciting,” says Mouat. “I’m having to peel myself off the ceiling daily.”

His story is a good one, all the more so when he relates his struggle with his sexuality. Coming out as gay has been the best thing he’s done. It’s been liberating and emboldening for a young man who’s reached the summit of his sport at World and European level and now aims to become the first Brit to claim two golds at the same Winter Games.

“Back in 2013 I was finding life really difficult. Who I was and the fact I was having to hide away. The team I was playing with at the time, we were getting really high in the junior leagues and travelling to European events, weekends in Switzerland and Norway, and they were lads who all wanted to talk about girls and I didn’t. I wasn’t able to be honest with them and I was really unhappy.”

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With Jen Dodds Mouat hopes to add Olympic gold to their World Championships success in the mixed doubles.

A chat with a sports psychologist persuaded him to come out, first to family, then old school friends in Edinburgh and finally his fellow curlers. “It was such a massive relief and made me wonder why I hadn’t done it earlier,” he says.

“I came out to my buddies as a kind of security blanket in case things were to go badly with curling. I can’t say I wasn’t extremely nervous about telling people in the sport for I couldn’t think of another gay British curler. Going way back to when I started playing seriously, it had seemed to me that a lot of the curling community was wrapped up in farming and there were many whose families had been curlers for generations. Suddenly not having any of that in my background scared me.

“But they were just accepting as my buddies had been. My team and everyone. That was important because curling was and is such a big part of my life. I see more of the guys I play with and against than I do my family. Everyone was great. They instantly said how much they were going to support me and how they would always have my back. That was exactly what I needed to hear.

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“Honestly, I expected some folk to go: ‘Oh, we knew!’ I don’t know why but no one seemed to have a clue. When the current team got together I did wonder for a moment: how will they react? But it was comfortable from the start, banter straight away. We’ve got a great dynamic between us and I think the success we’ve had proves that.”

Mouat, Grant Hardie, Bobby Lammie and Hammy McMillan - the fab four who're Beijing-bound

Courier company boss’s son Mouat’s first experience of curling was immense frustration. “Dad saw a notice in the paper for [capital club] Gogar Park: junior members needed. I was six, too small and not allowed on the ice, but Colin who’s two and a half years older could play so I had to spend 18 months nose pressed up against the glass being deeply jealous of him because right away I could see that curling was fantastic fun.”

Fun for the whole gang. “I started and Dad was next – we’ve won competitions together. And when Mum found out there were family bonspiels she got involved.” His grandfather played his part in Mouat’s development, too. “He found out about a curling video game called Granite and bought it for me. I sat on his knee so we could play against each other. Then later I’d practice on my own so I could beat him the next day.”

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Mouat loves the sociability of curling although appreciation of this would come later. At first he just wanted to win, and beat his brother. “I played a lot of sports when I was younger but curling seemed to be the one where I could get on top of the strategy. Rugby at that time didn’t make much sense to me. In curling you could have ten ends and they’d all be different. I liked the combination of having to be physically strong and needing to use your brain.”

Another of Mouat’s sports when he was at George Heriot’s School was swimming. He’d be training in the pool before lessons and on the ice after they were finished and as a result would fall asleep in class. “My English teacher complained. Mum and dad had to sit me down and make me choose. It was always going to be curling.”

It was always going to be the Olympics, too. His primary teacher when he was ten organised a prediction project in which Mouat vowed to make it to the Games. “My friends would be there with me and we were all going to win medals. This was to be my future, when I would also have ten cats, four dogs, two horses and a gerbil. Still time for all of that, I suppose, but I’m thrilled to be going to the Olympics. I like that it was my original dream, inspired by all the athletes who’ve gone before me.”

He was too young to be allowed to stay up for Rhona Martin’s “Stone of Destiny” in the Salt Lake City Games of 2002 – “But I watched that winning shot a thousand times later.” By 2006 he was “totally obsessed” with curling and rooting for another Scot, David Murdoch, twice a World champ, but who was just forced out of the medals in Torino. And Eve Muirhead’s bronze in Sochi in 2014 was “inspirational” to him.

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Now it’s all about Mouat. In the mixed doubles he and Dodds are the current world champs, the flowering of a friendship which dates back two decades. “It’s wonderful to think back to when I was eight and Jen was ten and we were wee rivals at Gogar Park, competing against each other in Scottish events. Now, having started out in the club’s Young Curlers, we’re teaming up at the Olympics. Jen is bubbly, energetic, full of life and so easy to play with. Every time I go on the ice with her I know I’m going to have a laugh. But while we like banter we’re desperate to win.”

In his other bid for gold Mouat and his posse – who’ve twice medalled at the Worlds and are two-times European champions – are a marketing department’s dream: four smiley, personable lads happy to post YouTube clips where “Mouat the Bruce” solemnly intones how, “before it was a sport, before it was a game” curling was a rock hewn from a Scottish mountain – and then sets down the challenge: “Sweden, Switzerland, America and Canada, you may be talented and strong, but on the road to glory you’ll have to get past us.”

They get on well away from competition and golf together with Mouat accepting of his place as the target for McMillan’s gags – “He’s the biggest wind-up merchant you’ll ever meet.” Relaxing in the Games Village, he expects the others will be Netflix and chillin’ to Peaky Blinders while he watches the docuseries Cheer following a US college cheerleader troupe. Music-wise, Mouat listens to Adele when he’s off the ice and a Spotify “Big Bootie Mix” when he’s about to grab his brush.

I joke that Simon Cowell, who was always striving for the perfect boyband combo, would be envious of the all-Scottish quartet. “Funny you should say that,” chuckles Mouat, “but we’ve examined our personalities using a colour-coded profiling system and it was no real surprise to learn how we compliment each other: Bobby is instinctual, determined, fiery. Hammy is happy, bubbly, full of positive energy. Grant is extremely analytical, lots of percentages and numbers, a great guy for keeping me calm to focus on the key decisions.” And Mouat? “I just want everybody to be happy!”

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For him, the Games, the gold medals and the fulfilment of his dream are all-consuming. Everything else is being shut out and that includes politics. China has scant regard for the rights of sexual minorities and even less for freedom of speech, and while the British Olympic Association have stated they’ll back athletes who wish to make political statements while in Beijing, Mouat will not be among them. He says: “I support those who feel they want to protest but it’s not for me. These are my first Olympics and I want to be concentrating fully on curling.”

On his separate but connected journeys, towards the Olympics and being comfortable in his own skin, Mouat has followed the careers of other gay sportsmen and been galvanised by their stories. “Adam Rippon, Gus Kenworthy, Tom Daley – they’ve all been inspirational. Their success in their sports, and their openness, honesty and pride, have been very moving. Tom winning bronze in London 2012 then having the disappointment of Rio and coming back to finally get gold last year is just a brilliant story, full stop. Fantastic resilience.

“I watched him win in Tokyo and everything our athletes achieved in those Games is inspiring me for Beijing. It would be great if some of them will still be up at stupid o’clock cheering for us.”

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