IT was Harry Redknapp’s cheerful personality and down-to-earth attitude that helped him land a new generation of fans to win 2018’s I’m A Celebrity.
Even lockdown could not get him down. He took the time to rekindle friendships with the boys he grew up with in London’s East End and looked forward to a daily walk on the beach with Sandra, the wife he is still besotted with after 52 years.
Harry said: “I am happiest just being with her. We don’t have a secret — I was just lucky, had a result. I know when I am well-off.”
But in an interview to mark his arrival as The Sun on Sunday’s brilliant new sports columnist, we discovered a very different side to the 73-year-old.
Harry spoke to us candidly about son Jamie’s love life, his new reality TV projects and views on the Royal Family.
And he opened up about the sadness and abuse he suffered during his time managing some of England’s biggest football clubs.
He said: “Depression wasn’t even a thing back then. I don’t know if I was — I just know I felt very low at times. If it had been these days I may have had to go and see someone and talk it through.
“I am a worrier — I worried if we lost a match. It was like a bereavement, I couldn’t cope with it.
“I was so low — I didn’t realise how low. I couldn’t pull myself out of it.
‘SHE'LL SCREAM AT ME’
“When things went bad I felt responsible for the club, the supporters. I didn’t cry but I didn’t want to see or talk to anybody.
"The feelings I felt, the lows, only stopped when I left football. I had abuse too, which was horrendous at times.”
Harry met me at Rick Stein’s restaurant, a short walk from his luxury home in Sandbanks, Dorset.
He heads there most mornings for a coffee and the staff greet him like a long-lost friend.
But Harry instantly whispered to me: “Sand doesn’t know I am here, I have to be quick. We’re in the middle of moving house and it is chaos.
“You cannot believe what Sand is having to pack up — I think we could find Lord Lucan before long.
“The amount of sorting out is ridiculous. She and my daughter-in-law Lucy are doing it, non-stop. They are amazing.
“We are moving just ten minutes away, off the coast, a bit more into the country.
“I like feeding the birds and robins instead of seagulls all day s**tting on your head.
“I keep going back and forth to the charity shops, dropping car-loads of gear off — suits and Sandra’s clothes, all sorts.
"If I’m too long she’ll scream at me when I go back and give away my golf clubs.”
The pair are still blissfully happy. The previous night Harry says they went out for pasta and wine, and the only thing they missed during lockdown was their family.
Son Mark, 50, and his wife Lucy have five children and live nearby while footie pundit Jamie, 47, has two children with ex-wife Louise — Charley 16, and Beau, 11 — and lives near London.
The couple split in 2017 after 19 years and we revealed Jamie is now dating Swedish model Frida Andersson-Lourie, 37.
Harry said: “Lockdown was fantastic. We walked on the beach with our bulldogs, nobody around, the weather was amazing. We looked forward to it.
“The kids and grandkids would come and stand outside the house. Sandra FaceTimed them too — I’m useless at that stuff. My granddaughter does my Instagram account but I don’t really know what Instagram is.
“We did meet Frida and she is lovely, very nice, but I don’t want to talk about Jamie’s new relationship.
“The last thing I want to do is upset Lou. It is upsetting that Jamie and Lou aren’t together. It was a complete shock.
“We love Lou, we still speak to her of course. Sandra speaks to her mum.
“She is the mother of our grandkids and she’s still part of the family. But Jamie seems happy.”
Harry and Sandra’s bulldogs Lulu and Barney are also part of the family and his face drops as he recalls an incident during lockdown that left 11-year-old Lulu deaf.
He said: “Sand and I went for a walk and I bought a big ice-cream, then somebody stopped to chat.
“When I looked round, Lulu had eaten two balls of ice cream — bosh, straight down. For the next ten days she was really ill and then she couldn’t hear anything.
“She lost all her energy and wouldn’t eat. The vet said it might be because she was old but I said, ‘No, this ice-cream has changed her.’ She can’t hear a thing.
“She is fine. She follows Barney around and we were both home to look after her all the time.”
Without a busy schedule Harry was also able to trace long-lost pals he grew up with on a council estate in Poplar, East London.
'OLD MATES ARE THE BEST'
He said: “I had time to look through old photos and albums and got in touch with mates I hadn’t spoken to since I was 14. Covid helped me rekindle friendships — I love that. Your old mates are the best mates.
“One hadn’t been well and he was in hospital with the Covid. I rang his wife to see how he was.”
Despite his working-class roots Harry is able to mix with all walks of life, and he laughs as he recalls meeting Princess Beatrice — though he says: “Well, I think it was Beatrice. She was a friend of a pal of Jamie’s and they were having dinner and I came along.
“She told me about her nan who liked horse racing and I told her about my nan who was a bookie’s runner when we were growing up and would take bets off Cyril the paper boy and get arrested.
“Beatrice said, ‘My grandmother loves racing,’ and said she’d won the Gold Cup the last year at Ascot. I was thinking, ‘She must have a good horse.’ Then I thought, ‘Who won last year?’
“Then I realised it was the Queen and I was thinking, ‘What’s she got to do with the Queen?’ I eventually sussed it all out and said, ‘Do you reckon she took bets with Cyril the paper boy, your nan?’ She started laughing. She was lovely.”
Harry also bumped into Prince Harry before he and Meghan moved to America.
He recalled: “I thought he was a real great character, one of the lads. I loved Harry. I am sorry they’ve left the country now. But I suppose he has to get on with his life.”
Last year there were calls for the football veteran to be knighted but he shakes his head and adds: “No chance, no. Doctors, nurses — they should be knighted, not idiots like me doing I’m A Celebrity.”
But he loves his new-found TV fame and has no plans to retire.
He said: “During lockdown Jamie and I did six episodes of a new Sky chat show.
“We had four guests for each show including Robbie Williams, Rory McIlroy and Tyson Fury.
“It was good fun working with Jamie. I’m doing a new series of Harry’s Heroes too. I really enjoyed it, they’re great lads.”
Sport is clearly central to Harry’s life and he said: “That’s why I can’t wait to be your columnist again. We have always read the paper.
"I live and breathe sport — I go to the football every week. I just watch it now though, I’ll never be a manager again.”
But before he gets up to rush back to Sandra he stops, giggles and admits: “Well, unless I get asked to do the England job.”
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