British rugby players keep on surprising us. Since he came out publicly as gay in 2009, after he retired, Gareth Thomas remains as visible as ever thanks to competing on Celebrity Big Brother and a forthcoming film biography. Then Ben Cohen retired last year to launch a foundation to end antigay bullying. Now comes Bedford RFC's Sacha Harding. Last year 28-year-old Harding was named Britain's Manliest Man in a poll voted on by 140,000 people and was the proud ambassador for the Movember campaign, a month-long celebration of top-lip fuzz to raise awareness of men's health issues -- specifically prostate and testicular cancer. He is the face of The Bluebeards Revenge grooming products, and he raised eyebrows and gained respect when he agreed to pose
nude for the cover of Britain's Gay Times magazine's Nude Issue to support Elton John's AIDS foundation. Harding offered to answer questions submitted by The Advocate via email; he shares his thoughts on the honor, advice for athletes thinking about coming out, and how he felt posing nude for a gay magazine.
The Advocate: What was your reaction when you found out you'd won the title? Sacha Harding: I was quite surprised and flattered, to be honest.
Why do you think you won this title over your competitors? I guess being a professional rugby player helped a lot. There are not many sports which are more manly.
What was the reaction of your Bedford teammates? Did they tease you about being a pinup for gay men? No, not at all. The team are actually very supportive of everything I do.
Have you witnessed homophobia in sports? I personally have not.
Do you think that after Gareth Thomas came out as gay and the antibullying campaign that Ben Cohen works on that professional sports will be more accepting of openly gay players? I hope so. Someone's sexual preference shouldn't have any effect on whether some can be professional sportsmen. They should be appreciated for their talent.
You're obviously very open-minded about your gay fans. Do you foresee yourself becoming involved in a campaign like Ben Cohen's to help end homophobia and antigay bullying? Ben has his own very personal reason for starting his charity and doing all the hard work he does. If people feel like I can help in any way, then I am more than happy to.
What advice would you give to a teammate who is deciding whether to come out as gay? I would say that the only people that matter will understand anyway. Life is too short to worry about what people think and let that dictate your life. Do what makes you happy.
How do your rugby teammates feel about your strong stance on gay rights? My team, the club, and its supporters have always been behind whatever I have done.
How do you feel about having a gay following? Flattered.
What was the experience like posing nude for Gay Times? Very enjoyable. The GT team are very professional. Gay Times' Nude Issue also raises awareness for Elton John's AIDS Foundation. Why was it important for you be involved in this project? AIDS is a massive problem. If there is anything I can do to help, I was more than happy to. You were also the ambassador for the Movember campaign, which raises awareness for prostate and testicular cancer. Why is it important for you to be involved in these campaigns? The Movember campaign is close to my heart. I have personally seen people affected by the disease. I have been fortunate enough to be able to work closely with the charity to do my bit and try and make a difference.
What is something about you that your fans would be surprised to know about you? I don't like watching rugby, only playing.
What are you looking forward to most in 2012? The opportunity to try and win the championship with the Bedford Blues, and my first surf of the year!
Follow Harding on Facebook here. Watch video of Harding's photo shoot for Gay Times below.