Neil ‘Razor’ Ruddock is crooning huskily down the phone as he sits, feet up, in his “den” – a converted garage “with a big telly” – at his home in Kent.
“Forever in blue jeans…” lilts one of football’s most notorious hardmen, sounding a little more Del Boy than Diamond as he sings Neil’s classic, albeit with a sentimentality surprising from the hefty former defender.
And why is he treating me? He’s re-enacting the surreal “Neil Diamond sing-off” he enjoyed over Zoom during lockdown with none other than Robbie Williams, of course. The 77 million record-selling king of pop. But Razor’s not a man to let that put him off.
“I won. I have natural talent, I didn’t have to be in a band,” he chuckles.
The two old muckers catching up for the first time in 15 years was perhaps the most bizarre of 2020’s lockdown video calls. The Liverpool player turned reality TV fave and the Take That star were pals in the 1990s, bonding mainly over booze.
The lifestyle – escapism from the pressures of fame for Robbie and from those of football for Razor – spiralled. They lost touch when Robbie “was going mad” and the footballer could no longer get hold of him.
Robbie finally went teetotal but Razor continued drinking – at one point up to three or four bottles of wine a day, even after a stint in rehab following his appearance on I’m A Celebrity in 2004.
This changed last year, though, when a health check on ITV reality show Harry’s Heroes, with Harry Redknapp and old pros Matt Le Tissier and Paul Merson, revealed he had serious heart issues.
Robbie got back in touch when he heard Razor, 52, had emergency surgery early this year. “Robbie wanted to give me a good talking to, make sure I’m living my life right,” Razor says.
Recalling past antics, he says: “We was crazy – we’d have two half-pints of Peach Schnapps each before we went out, that got rid of your hangover from before.
“We’d be out drunk and find karaoke bars and I’d say ‘Robbie Williams…’ and he’d walk on. He loved doing Sinatra.”
Razor, Celebrity Masterchef runner-up last year, assures me with a belly laugh the rest “can’t go in the papers”.
Once, he and some pals “kidnapped” Robbie and took him to Marbella when he was meant to be in the studio with Take That. “But we wouldn’t have Angels, Knebworth or the Albert Hall concerts if we hadn’t!” says Razor. “Even Robbie said that on the Zoom call. So really I should be on 20%.”
Then, more quietly, he adds: “I showed him a picture of when we were drinking and he said ‘That’s when we didn’t know’. We didn’t know how bad it was. We know now.”
Razor’s partying anecdotes make for colourful conversation. One is most extraordinary. “I went on the p*** with Nelse!” he says. That’s Nelson Mandela.
Razor, who began his career with Millwall, was with Liverpool for a tour in South Africa in 1996 when he met the icon after a game in Johannesburg.
Mandela shook hands with players on the pitch and Razor claims he came to the pub with them. “We were in awe, amazed. We all got drunk with Nelson. On the p *** with Nelse!” Was he drinking too? “Course he was! He wasn’t falling over and shouting about like we were, he was just having a laugh. We were singing our football songs, talking absolute s***.
“Later we went to Cape Town and played and he turned up again. We were drinking black sambuca or something as well, it’s all a bit of a blur.” In his new book, The World According to Razor: My Closest Shaves, the anecdotes run on and on. There was the time he met Sean Connery on a golf course and, after a few pints, demanded to know which famous women he’d slept with.
The Bond star turned silent with, Razor supposed, rage and walked out – before returning with the killer line: “Zsa Zsa Gabor, in the rough, 1963.”
And there was also the time Razor and his footie pals were nearly caused a young Alan Shearer to lose his toes. Razor and Shearer played together at Southampton and he had been out boozing with Micky Adams, Matt Le Tissier and Barry Horne while sensible Shearer went for an early night.
They later decided to raid his mini-bar and when Shearer, who was in the bath, jumped out to chase them they dropped the bottles. They smashed and he ran over the glass in bare feet.
“That was a scary time,” says Razor. “It almost ended his career before it begun. His toes were hanging on by the skin. I thought, This ain’t funny any more, have to stop’. But course it didn’t stop.” Instead, his partying contributed to the end of his 16-year first marriage to Sarah, mum to his eldest two children.
Razor wed second wife, glamour model Leah Newman, 38, in 2013 and they have daughters Pebbles, 13, and Kizzy, 10. And although he’s been a dedicated husband, it was only his health scare that made him change.
He was found to have a resting heart rate of up to 130bpm – and it was also stopping for seconds at a time. “I could have dropped dead any second,” he says. Razor had surgery called cardioversion, where his heart was slowed, then “zapped” to regulate it. Then he was fitted with a pacemaker. He lost three stone but admits he has gained two in lockdown.
And while he isn’t teetotal, he’s cut down on alcohol. It was always, he says, a coping mechanism. “When I played, if you admitted you were a bit down, they would have told you to shut up and get on with it, it was a sign of weakness,” he says.
He believes some players still struggle to talk. “I’m a bit of a man’s man and a lot of players out there are, and it’s hard for them to admit something’s wrong,” he says.
He now advocates men speaking out about problems – and recently opened up about minor problems with erectile dysfunction before his op, caused by his heart issue. “If you’d have asked me to do this a year ago I’d have said ‘F*** off!’” he admits.
But new man though he is, Razor is still Razor. There are no regrets. “You look back and think, ‘If I didn’t drink so much, could I have had a better career…?’ Maybe, maybe not.
“But when you see each other you don’t talk about the great games, you talk about the drunk times. It was f ** brilliant!”
*The World According to Razor: My Closest Shaves is published by Constable and out now at £20.00
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