James Cracknell reveals he tread on Kate Middleton’s toes in royal blunder and opens up on new girlfriend

It’s been 10 years since James Cracknell suffered a brain injury while cycling across America. His skull was broken in two places and doctors thought they would have to turn off his life support machine.

However, the Olympic rower managed to pull through and is now doing his fourth London marathon for Headway – a brain injury charity.

The 47-year-old – who has three children, Croyde, 16, Kiki, 10, and Trixie, eight – hasn’t let it hold him back. He competed in the Cambridge vs Oxford boat race last year and starred on the most recent series of Strictly Come Dancing. And he will soon be back
on our screens teaching celebrities to row for Sport Relief.

That’s not saying it’s been an easy recovery, as he claims his brain injury took its toll on his marriage to Beverley Turner – who he wed in 2002 and separated from in 2018. Last year, he went public with girlfriend Jordan Connell, who he met while they were both mature students studying at Cambridge University.

Here, James opens up about the hardship he’s overcome…

You’ve said your brain injury affected your marriage. How did the relationship with Beverley fall apart?

I guess I had a nasty accident and that changed her perception of me. What made me good at sport was arguably being pretty stubborn and selfish, which weren’t particularly useful traits in a relationship. Eighty-two per cent of people who have a brain injury get divorced and we fought, but we sadly ended up becoming one of the statistics. Bev was always viewing me through a prism of a brain injury and she stuck by how I was five or six years ago rather than how I am now. It’s understandable why she felt like that. It got to the stage where we were like, “What lesson are we teaching the kids about a relationship?”

Where do the kids live now?

I wanted Bev to stay in the family home. There’s not quite enough room where I’m living at the moment to have all three children over so I end up babysitting there, which is not exactly what I had in mind at my age. When we’ve got our finances sorted out, hopefully I’ll get a place that is big enough. We will share the kids jointly. Bev is reasonable about that as she has her career, and agrees they need a dad and they need a mum. Bev is an amazing mum and they are very lucky.

How did your family feel about the break-up?

It’s lucky that my mum doesn’t write articles because she would be stirring the pot. She doesn’t exactly sit on the fence with her opinions. But as good as she thinks I am, it’s not all one person’s fault.

How did your children cope with your injury?

I’ve tried to show my kids that you don’t need to be defined by what has happened to you. What kids need from a parent is consistency and the first few years I wasn’t as consistent as you would want from a dad. I wasn’t very well. Our relationship changed a bit but it’s all better now. Not waking up with the kids in the house is the worst thing.

Do you think you will always rely on medication now?

I haven’t had an epileptic seizure for a long time but I’m always going to have to take medication. I don’t have a temper problem now but I did when I first had my injury. When I came out of hospital they had to make sure that I was safe with my kids. The other long-term side effect is that I have no facial recognition. I don’t recognise them and that is probably the trickiest thing.

Why did you decide to study at Cambridge University?

Part of the reason was to prove to people, myself and Bev, that I could achieve something academically. It got to the stage where I was fed up of being stopped and asked, “Are you okay since the accident?” If you can do the boat race and do a Masters at Cambridge then you are probably okay…

Do you like being in the public eye?

The good outweighs the bad. There are two routes that I could go down – not speak about the injury so people forget, or use the platform. It might be nice for people who don’t have a voice to hear someone speak about it honestly and positively but also admit some of the hardships involved.

Why did you keep saying no to Strictly before eventually agreeing?

I knew that I would be rubbish! As a sportsman, you don’t really show any weakness and you almost try and take the emotion out of it for fear of looking stupid. I have only ever done stuff I’ve been good at. I ticked the retired, bad dancing sportsman box and I fulfilled
my expectation.

Have you always been a bad dancer?

Years ago, Ben Fogle and I went to his sister-in-law’s wedding. Ben’s other sister-in-law went out with Prince William and so he and Kate were there. Kate was like, “Do you want to go for a dance?” I trod on her toe and managed to knock her over and William said, “I think you may have just knocked the future queen over.” I said, “I told her I couldn’t dance. It’s her fault.”

What was the attention like from doing the show?

Strictly hasn’t changed my life at all but what it has done is made me realise what it’s like to be properly famous. I remember going to IKEA the day after I did my first show, and one person said, “Oh, you could have smiled a bit more,” and, “I thought you were hard done by.” I had more comments in one day than I had in 10 years of rowing.

Did your girlfriend Jordan know about Strictly?

She didn’t really know what Strictly was. She was in New York when she watched the first one in a bar with no sound. After I performed, she just saw three judges holding up a 2, 3 and 4 and asked her mum, “What do you think it’s out of?”

How did you and Jordan meet?

At the university induction. We were having our photos taken and were sitting in alphabetical order. She is Jordan Connell and I’m James Cracknell. The cameraman had some technical issues that took half an hour so we were stuck talking to each other but we really hit it off.

How has she slotted into your life?

She has met my kids and they were fine with her. I said to her that I’m going through a divorce. You’ve got to be careful. She’s cool and busy, which is helpful.

Was there any overlap between Beverley and Jordan?

We began dating just after Christmas when Bev and I were all over. It’s nice to have a fresh start and to have someone with a totally fresh perspective on everything.

Have you had any other relationships?

Bev and I got together in 2000 and Jordan is the only other person that I have slept with this millennium!

Do you think you will ever get married again?

There is something very special about being committed to one person. There is a difference between being committed and being married to one person.

Would you like children with Jordan?

It depends how serious it gets. She might want to have children and it would be unfair to her not to.

Why have you decided to run the marathon for Headway?

Not many people really understand the impact of a brain injury and it’s the most crucial organ. I have definitely undergone a personality change. Headway were really helpful to both Bev and I when I had my accident so it would be good to help raise money and to also take a bit of the stigma away.

For more information, visit headway.org.uk or sponsor james’s marathon run at uk.virginmoneygiving.com/james.cracknell

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