Single Gary Lineker bored of sitting in restaurants on own but 'not on look-out'
As one of TV’s most affable and popular presenters, it’s hard to imagine Gary Lineker sitting alone in a restaurant night after night.
But that’s exactly what happened when the football pundit found himself single.
So the dad-of-four did what every modern man should and learned to cook – though he says he won’t be seen on Masterchef any time soon.
“I started cooking when I became single again,” says Gary, who split from second wife Danielle Bux in 2016. He was married to first wife Michelle from 1986 to 2006.
“I got fed up of sitting in restaurants on my own or getting takeaways and I thought I’ll just learn to cook.
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“I love it now. I’ll do anything; Indian, Chinese, Italian, English. I’ve studied it as well, online and reading books. I’ve worked hard, it’s become a real passion.”
While he’s tried his hand at a lots of things – he’ll even take a turn as a quiz show host later this year with upcoming ITV show Sitting on a Fortune – Gary says a career as a celebrity chef isn’t something he fancies.
“No,” he says. “I’ve been asked to do cookbooks, I’ve been offered TV cooking shows, but I’d feel like a fraud.
“It would be like someone who has taken up football later in life and thinks he’s alright, but compared to the Michelin star guys? No. I don’t want to be a TV chef!”
Gary says he’s “happy and relaxed” being single, laughing: “I’m not on the look-out like some weirdo!”
With all he’s achieved, even a reputation as an amicable ex, Gary insists there are some things he’s “really, really c**p at” though explains what he’s got in bucketloads is the ability to cope under pressure.
“I don’t get nervous,” he says. “OK, I get nervous maybe watching Leicester City or England play, but as for being nervous myself when I’m on television or when I played football? No.
“Genuinely, I just loved it. I love the big moment. We’re all different and mental strength was definitely my biggest asset. I could deal with pressure.”
Which explains a lot. One of England’s greatest scorers of all time, Gary netted 48 goals during his eight-year international career. Only Wayne Rooney and Bobby Charlton scored more for their country.
If that wasn’t enough, he earned a squeaky-clean reputation through his 17 years in the English leagues, never sent off, never booked.
And while the million dollar smile might make it seem like Gary hasn’t a care in the world, he says there’s one concern he and other footballers of his generation can’t ignore – the potential for serious health problems that could be waiting in the wings.
A growing body of research suggests a worrying link between footballers heading the ball and neurodegenerative disorders.
Studies on dementia show ex-players are 3.5 times more likely to die from the illness than the general population.
Former footballers Denis Law and Terry McDermott’s dementia diagnoses were recently confirmed publicly, and Gary was among 60 former players calling on football authorities to provide financial support for those diagnosed with neurodegenerative diseases. “I think it’s a concern for most footballers of my generation,” says Gary, who turned 60 last year.
“I headed the ball a lot as a teenager in training. Then I made a decision in my early 20s to stop heading the ball in training unless it was absolutely urgent, but I used to think it was like getting hit on the head all the time.
“I used to watch central defenders, the goalkeeper would kick the ball miles in the air and they’d do 50, 100 of them on the bounce. That cannot be good,” he says. “Would players have not played if they’d known? I don’t know. Footballers have passion.”
Now committed to regular health checks, the dad to sons George, Tobias, Harry and Angus says things have remained steady for him so far.
“I don’t think there’s much you can do,” he says. “As time progresses, science is incredible and hopefully they’ll come up with some fixes.”
After a tough 18 months for all in the shadow of the pandemic, not to mention a full-on summer of sport, there’s plenty to reflect on from the fallout from Covid to the huge impact made by Gareth Southgate and the England team, both on and off the pitch.
“I think sport has come into its own,” says Gary, who fronted the BBC’s coverage of an eventful Euros.
“I’m proud of what football has done, and how the young players have done so much. Normally every four years we get the old, ‘footballers could learn so much from the Olympians’ and I think it’s the first time in my lifetime where that’s not been the case.
“People have seen how impressively the footballers have handled things both on and off the pitch.
“During lockdown and this period, football has got the respect and reverence it deserves for the other side of things that it does. Yes, they get paid extraordinarily well, but these are working class lads and they remember their communities and where they come from.”
With his latest eyewear edit with Vision Express featuring six pairs of glasses handpicked by the star out now, Gary says discovering varifocals has been a big breakthrough for his work with Match of the Day.
After a long time taking his spectacles on and off to switch between his notes close up and the autocue in the distance, figuring out there was a fix-all came as a lightbulb moment. “It’s made such a difference,” says Gary.
“I don’t lose my glasses anymore because I’ve always got them on. It helps with the cooking too. I’m not constantly trying to find multiple pairs of glasses throughout the house.
“That makes things much simpler, and prevents me from being late. Same goes for my sunglasses. There have been times in the past I’ve resorted to wearing a pair of sunglasses over my reading glasses, so ridiculous. Now I have everything I need in one pair.”
Gary had so much on, he recently took a step back from one of his many jobs, giving up covering the Champions League with BT Sport.
“I wanted to free up my life a little bit so I can enjoy it as I get a little bit older, as I approach middle life,” he laughs.
“I did it for six years, I loved it, but it was a lot of weeks and it was very tiring. There are lots of things I want to do, whether it’s travelling or doing things with the boys – although I’m not sure they’d agree!”
Just weeks away from his 61st birthday, the star says he feels lucky – and is glad he’s still able to enjoy a sense of the camaraderie he enjoyed in his days on the pitch through his work Match of the Day.
“It’s one thing that’s difficult about finishing football, regaining that camaraderie you get in a dressing room,” says Gary.
“We sort of have that. It’s a smaller dressing room, but we still have that football banter as they like to call it now.
“So we have that between ourselves, the mickey-taking and a lot of fun.
“Sport should be fun and I feel incredibly fortunate to have managed a lifetime in sport – and football in particular. I’m totally aware of how lucky I’ve been.”
Gary Lineker’s new Vision Express Varifocals Edit, containing six pairs of handpicked glasses, is available both in-store and on the Vision Express website now.