James Small in 2009: 'I'm not a bad boy any more'

2019-07-10 16:56
James Small. (Photo: Getty)

James Small. (Photo: Getty)

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The devastating news that rugby legend, James Small, sadly passed away on Wednesday has shocked South Africans.

According to a statement released by SA Rugby, the 50-year-old was rushed to hospital in Johannesburg on Tuesday night after suffering from a suspected heart attack.

At the height of his career, Small was labelled the “bad boy” of South African rugby.

But that all changed when he welcomed his daughter, Ruby, James told YOU during a 2009 interview.

“What do you want, Pumpkin Pie?” he asks in a deep, gravelly voice.

He holds out tattooed arms and the little girl leaps into them. The tattoo son his bulging biceps and his neon pink T-shirt are the first things that strike me about James Small. His left arm bears the cute child’s name in curly script: Ruby.

Below are her date of birth and a string of dainty flowers.

For years he was known as the bad boy of South African rugby; more recently he was branded a womaniser.

But when the former Springbok wing puts his four-year-old daughter down and takes her hand he’s as gentle as a lamb.

The man who used to make headlines for night club brawls melts in the presence of young Ruby.

For the first time in years James Small has granted an interview. It will also be the last time he’ll speak on the subject, he vows. He wants to make it clear: the man who attempted suicide and assaulted Ruby’s mom, the celebrity model and actress Christina Storm, no longer exists.

He adds his transformation should be attributed to his daughter, who has been the centre of his life since she was born.

“No, I’m not a bad boy any more. That was the image I presented, and I made it work for me financially. But all of a sudden it spun out of control,” he says.

James Small and daughter Ruby

He’s 40, the rough years are behind him and he’s happier than ever before. The only thing still bothering him is public condemnation – some people still have an image of him as a woman-abuser, he says. It surfaced again recently when Christina and her new boyfriend, former Idols finalist Munro du Toit, posed nude for Marie Claire magazine as part of a woman-abuse awareness campaign. She once again mentioned she’d been in an abusive relationship.

James has previously admitted beating Christina in the course of their eight-year relationship which ended in 2004 – but he’s never talked openly about it.

He was actually relieved when he saw the Marie Claire article, he says. Although it reflected him in a poor light he thought it would be an opportunity for him to address the issue and he hopes doing so now will close this chapter of his life.

“I’ve blamed myself for a long time and I want to talk about it. I want the public to judge for themselves. These things affect my daughter.

“I was hiding away for a long time. I did something wrong and I’ve been man enough to stand and be counted for it. I’ve been through therapy for years and the public shame of it. I’ve lived with my head in the sand for a very long time.”

Boxes and tog bags clutter James’ new rented home in Parkhurst, Johannesburg. He and Ruby are in the process of moving from a house elsewhere in the suburb, he says.

Three years ago he sold his restaurant in Cape Town, packed up his life and followed Christina to Johannesburg so he could be near his daughter. They share custody of Ruby and she spends half of the week with him.

“I’d happily sacrifice anything in the world for her,” he says.

“I don’t want to sound pathetic but I’ll be with her for the rest of my life. If they move to Australia I’ll move into the house next door.”

He doesn’t want to say anything negative about his former partner, who plays Bienkie in M-Net soapie Egoli. “She’s a good mother – but I want to go on the record for my child’s sake. I’m teaching her to stand up for herself. One day she’s going to ask me, ‘Dad, why didn’t you defend yourself?’”

James Small

He did some silly things in his youth, he admits bluntly. “Like hitting a woman – that’s stupid and I’m really sorry about it. I received help and fixed the things in my life that were wrong. I can’t do more than that.”

He raised his hands to Christina twice in the time they were together.

“You can’t call two isolated incidents in eight years – after which she also had a child with me – an abusive relationship,” he says.

“But you can never excuse violence towards a woman. It’s not right. Once is once too often.

“It’s something I have to live with for the rest of my life and I’ve punished myself more than anyone else could. I couldn’t look in the mirror for a very long time.

“But I’m tired of saying sorry. When have you paid enough for your actions? When is enough enough? I’m not ashamed any more. I’m 40. Now I just feel: to hell with this. You can’t destroy a man’s life of hard work and sacrifice for his country over this.”

James declines to elaborate on the two incidents but he feels both of them were to blame and alcohol was involved.

His eyes fill with tears as he recalls that time. “Sorry. It’s all a bit emotional,” he says.

“But I’m tired of the strange looks I get when I walk into a room. What must Ruby’s teachers think when I drop her at her school group – that I’m a woman-beater? I’m not!”

He spent two years in therapy and the healing process wasn’t easy, James says. He had to delve deep into his childhood to gain insight into the way he reacted to situations.

“I had to learn to respect myself and others and move on. I had to identify the catalysts and learn to avoid them,” he says. Then he adds reluctantly: “Unfortunately I was exposed to violence in my parents’ home.”

He doesn’t want to say more. Alcohol, a poor relationship with his parents and “the person he was with” all contributed to his aggression, he says.

James Small

He had to become completely vulnerable, own up to his mistakes and weaknesses and gradually rebuild himself. And throughout it all Ruby was his beacon of hope.

He has since met a “fantastic woman” and they’ve been together for 18 months, James says. Ruby gets on well with her, he adds.

He finds it difficult to accept there’s another father figure in Ruby’s life. “I’ve told her I’m her dad and she will always have only one father. As long as he doesn’t lift a hand to her I’m happy.”

He had dreamt of raising his daughter in the Camps Bay home he and Christina shared.

He had a relaxed lifestyle in Cape Town for 11 years but that’s in the past.

“Now I have to adapt again. I’m still finding my feet; it’s not easy.”

He earns a living building and restoring houses and is thinking of opening a sports bar but the long hours would eat into his time with his daughter.

“I’m a good father and Ruby loves me. We have a fantastic relationship and that makes me feel good about myself. Children don’t judge, and she loves me unconditionally. And while that exists there’s hope for tomorrow.”

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