'If I want to find love again, I'll have to toughen up': How after failed romance Gavin Henson’s terrified of meeting anyone else

Gavin Henson is done with romance. All he cares about now are his kids and rugby, and he wants to make sure he can take care of himself and take care of them.

We saw a side of Gavin on TV dating show The Bachelor last autumn we hadn’t seen before – the nurturer. Then we felt sorry for him when he chose the wrong girl – Carianne Barrow. Inevitably, the relationship didn’t last and they broke up six months after the show aired.

Up till then no one really knew who Henson was, other than Charlotte Church’s ex, father to their two children Ruby, four, and Dexter, three, and a rugby player who sometimes liked to get drunk and often liked to get spray-tanned. He lives 30 minutes from his ex in the old family home outside Cardiff. It was Church who moved away. Talking about her is an uneasy process and one gets the feeling it was Gavin who suffered sorely.

'I still hope one day I'll get married,' says Gavin

'I still hope one day I'll get married,' says Gavin

Church and he broke up in 2010 after five years together and six weeks after he got down on one knee with a heart-shaped diamond and she said yes. She later told me, ‘The problem was we were such different people in every way. That was amazing at the start, as we were always teaching each other new things. Then we were just too different. Different beliefs in everything. His world was alien to me. All that training. He’s so strict with what he eats, what time he goes to sleep. And my life was alien to him. I don’t think it was about arguing. I think one day we just thought, “What are we doing?”’

By this time she had started a relationship with singer-songwriter Jonathan Powell, who she worked with on her album Back To Scratch. Henson was heartbroken. In The Bachelor he came over as a sensitive man. It made compulsive viewing for reality TV fans – 25 beauties with varying degrees of integrity hoping Henson would pick them to become his girlfriend, possibly his wife.

In fact, we’re still friends. And it wasn’t just me. We both decided it wasn’t going to work.

Henson has an endearing vulnerability, which made watching him fall for glamour model Carianne Barrow devastating TV. The more he liked her, the more viewers saw Carianne manipulate and alienate the other girls. She was accused of going off with one of the production team and we all hoped he’d choose Essex songwriter Layla Manoochehri. In fact, any of the finalists seemed a better choice.

So, was he seriously trying to find a girlfriend via a TV dating show? ‘Yes. I don’t go out much and I’d never really dated before Charlotte. I really wanted a girlfriend and I didn’t know where to find one, or how to go about it. I thought it was an opportunity any single man wouldn’t turn down. I’m quite closed off with most people unless I know them and I just thought I’d never meet a girl.’

When he says this he talks haltingly and from his heart. He is incredibly shy. Most of his socialising has been done with a rugby team. At 29, he seems inexperienced and, for the past few years, he’s been concentrating on how to be a good father – dating etiquette has passed him by. That given, you can understand his theory behind doing the show. Although not his choice of Carianne. She was glamorous, but what did a decent, well brought up boy like Gavin see in such a schemer?

Gavin with Carianne on The Bachelor
Gavin with Charlotte Church

Gavin with Carianne on The Bachelor (left) and Charlotte Church

He sighs, ‘What everybody could see on TV, I couldn’t. I understand now, when I watch the show back, but there was stuff I hadn’t seen and was never told about. [By this he means the accusations levelled at Carianne about her alleged infidelity.] I had to make my mind up based on the time I spent with the girls. I was a little bit disappointed. It would have been nice if the producers had helped me out a little bit, but they were there to make a TV show. I wore my heart on my sleeve.’

Henson is not used to such emotional tailoring but, while the show was clearly traumatic, he also doesn’t complain. ‘The producers wanted a TV show people would talk about and they encouraged me. Whenever I was feeling strongly for a girl they’d say, “Yes, she’s amazing.” I went into the show 100 per cent knowing that was likely to go on.’ At the end of the Channel 5 series, Gavin told Carianne she was The One and that he loved her. She told him the same. A fairy tale ending.

She never met my kids or Charlotte, and I never asked Charlotte what she thought about Carianne.

But not only did the relationship collapse, it was reported he ended it on Valentine’s Day this year. ‘That’s when it came to a head, on Valentine’s night,’ he says. ‘We hadn’t seen each other for a couple of months. It just wasn’t working.’

Many relationships break up on Valentine’s night because there’s pressure to be perfect amid other happy couples. ‘Yes,’ he agrees, ‘that’s kind of how it happened. We realised we shouldn’t kid each other any more. It just didn’t work between us. At first we couldn’t see each other at all because the show finished filming in August but was still on TV until October so we couldn’t be seen together as it would give away who won. After that we did see quite a bit of each other, as much as we could, as she lives in London and I live in Wales. That in itself was quite hard. But more than that, she’s got her career and I’ve got my rugby and my kids. I did like her. In fact, we’re still friends. And it wasn’t just me. We both decided it wasn’t going to work.

‘Carianne met my parents and sister on the show, but what went on with us was between me and Carianne, nothing to do with my family. She never met my kids or Charlotte, and I never asked Charlotte what she thought about Carianne.’ 

Is he in touch with anyone else he met on the show? ‘Not at all,’ he says, slightly recoiling from the idea. ‘I’m a single dad to Ruby and Dexter. They take up a lot of my time, which is great, and I’m trying to get my rugby career back on track. I have given up on girls for the minute.’

Gavin with Ruby and Dexter in 2010

Gavin with Ruby and Dexter in 2010

Now he’s concentrating on other things. He’s aligned himself with the Munch Time campaign for writing children’s stories. Reading has become an integral part of his routine with his children, who live with him half the time and Charlotte the other half. What kind of stories does he read to them? ‘I make up stories, although they like Disney books, such as Lady And The Tramp, and Ruby likes The Little Mermaid.’ Does he sing the songs? ‘No,’ he shudders. ‘I have 20 chickens and I make up stories about them and the dog. Ruby and Dexter are a great age, with brilliant personalities. I read to them in Dexter’s room with my arms round them.’ He also tries to share in Ruby’s other favourite activity.

‘All she wants to do is bake cakes. She doesn’t eat them all, which is a good thing. I don’t eat them. I’ve got Dexter a rugby ball. He plays with my sister’s boy, Evan. They’re both three. I make them rip the ball off me and tackle each other. I started playing at five, so I’ll take them to the local club in a couple of years.’ His demeanour becomes happy and excited when he talks about his children. ‘I’m hoping Charlotte is going to teach them to sing,’ he adds. ‘Hopefully they’ve got her genes for that.’

I’ve met Charlotte Church many times, on most of which she was madly in love with him. For a long while, I had a romantic notion they would get back together. ‘That’s just you thinking that. I know it’s sad, but that’s life.’ You can’t help but warm to Henson. ‘It’s going to be hard for me to find another girl and have a relationship. I’ll have to toughen up a little.’ He refuses to say anything bad about Church but the more he talks you realise how much the break-up affected him.

Dedication: Gavin says he'll continue his TV career as long as it fits into his schedule with rugby

Dedication: Gavin says he'll continue his TV career as long as it fits into his schedule with rugby

So now he’s trying to revive a rugby career that started off with such promise. He played for Swansea-based Ospreys, French club Toulon and for Wales. Then through various injures and other difficulties, his career as a rugby player seemed to lose its way. He’s trying hard to get back on form after being hired by Cardiff Blues in October. ‘I’m nearly 30. People my age have retired. I hope I can go for a while yet if I can look after myself.’ Has he seen Mickey Rourke is filming a biopic in Wales playing the part of gay rugby player Gareth Thomas?  ‘I haven’t. Gareth is a great guy, he was a great rugby player and a great captain. It’s a shame he couldn’t share with the boys until the end of his career.’

On the whole, rugby players don’t talk about their emotions. But for a sensitive man like Henson that’s tough. He says he only did TV because he needed to take time out of rugby. ‘My body couldn’t take it. I was getting so many injuries I needed a break. I have no plans to do more TV, unless something amazing comes up. Then I’ll do it as long as it fits into my schedule with rugby. Of all the TV I’ve done, I enjoyed Strictly the most [he got to the quarter-finals in 2010]. You’re learning a skill, it’s physical, it’s more my thing. The Bachelor is something I’ll talk about when I’m 50 or 60, saying I dated 25 girls. I’ll look back on that when I’m married – well, maybe I’ll be married – but it was nowhere near the calibre of Strictly.’

Does he believe in marriage as a concept? ‘Yes, I do, and I still hope one day I’ll get married, although I’m not even looking. It’s been hard you know. It’s been tough. I’m going to be so guarded the next time round.’ He questions the idea that a girl would want a man with two kids in tow. ‘And it would be a massive decision for me to have kids again. I would have liked my kids to be close together in age. I would hate to have more when Ruby and Dexter are say 12 and ten. People do, I know, but I wouldn’t like that for myself. Me and my sister are only two years apart and we are very close.’

Did he think he would end up married to Charlotte? ‘Yes. I wanted more than anything to keep my family together, but it couldn’t happen in that way. I feel so lucky I have Ruby and Dexter. Life makes sense with them. Just having your kids there and telling them stories, it calms you down and it calms them down. There’s nothing better than watching your kids fall asleep in your arms.’

For more information on the Munch Bunch story writing competition visit www.munchtime.co.uk.