Nigel Owens MBE is recognised as one of the world’s best rugby referees and is the first openly gay man to come out in professional rugby. Born and bred on a council estate in Mynyddcerrig, West Wales, and a fluent Welsh speaker, he first picked up the referee whistle aged 16 after he was told he wouldn’t make it as a player. Owens officiated his first international game in 2005 between Ireland and Japan in Osaka and he made his World Cup debut in 2007 in France.
Nigel retired from international rugby in 2020 after becoming the first person to officiate 100 test matches. Undoubtedly, his career highlight was the 2015 World Cup Final between New Zealand and Australia at Twickenham, but he is also the only referee ever to be appointed for three consecutive Heineken Cup finals (2015, 2016 & 2017) as well as refereeing another four in 2008, 2009, 2012 and 2020 making it a record seven European Cup finals.
Awarded an MBE for services to sport in 2016, Owens is admired and beloved across the world, particularly known for displaying a dry sense of humour and sharp wit when dealing with players. However, as his critically acclaimed and best-selling memoir “Half Time” recalls, Nigel’s career was almost over before it began, suffering eating disorders and a suicide attempt as he struggled to come to terms with his sexuality.
His bravery and campaigning work in equality, inclusiveness and mental health since has seen Nigel named ‘Gay Sports Personality of the Year’ and ‘Gay Sports Personality of the Decade’ by gay rights group Stonewall, awarded Honorary Doctorates at both Swansea and South Wales University and Honorary Fellowships at Cardiff University and Cardiff Met University. In 2011, Nigel was made a member of the Gorsedd of Bards at its National Eisteddfod in Wrexham for his services to the Welsh language.
Despite retiring from first-class rugby, Nigel Owens is as busy as ever. As well as coaching the next generation of referees and being an in-demand speaker and media personality, he has realised a boyhood dream of owning his own farm, breeding Hereford cattle.
"We’ve had great feedback about our employee conference last Friday. Everyone thought Nigel’s session was amazing and you could have heard a pin drop when he was telling us his story."
Richmond Housing Partnership
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