It took James Botham a while to realise who his grandfather was — but he found out in typical style.
‘We were all playing cricket in the garden,’ says the 22-year-old, plucking out a childhood memory. ‘He’s got a cigar in one hand, a glass of wine in the other with a cricket bat!
I asked my grandmother, “Was he any good at cricket?” She said, “He was all right at some point!”’
James Botham (middle), grandson of the legendary Sir Ian (left), is set for his Wales debut
The Cardiff Blues flanker is set to be one of three debutants to face Georgia on Saturday
A glorious understatement from Kath, wife of one of England’s greatest sportsmen, let alone cricketers.
So how does the grandson of Ian Botham — first Sir, now Lord — end up playing rugby for Wales? ‘Everyone gives me grief about it, saying, “Your grandad couldn’t be more English if he tried!”’ laughs James, known to his mates as Jim and his family as Jimbo.
‘But I was born down here and since I was a kid I had the Welsh flag painted on the wall in my room. I always wanted to play for Wales.’
Botham was born in Cardiff in 1998, while father Liam played rugby for the capital’s club having given up his own cricket career.
When he was two, the family moved to the North East. At Cundall Manor School and then Sedbergh School in Cumbria, Botham tried cricket — naturally as an all-rounder — and it dawned on him that people knew his background.
‘I realised people would try to get into me when I batted,’ he says. ‘That all just goes over my head.’
Ian Botham is one of England’s most iconic cricketers and one of the greatest all-rounders ever
While in Sedbergh’s sixth form, dad Liam made contact with Cardiff Blues and Botham had a trial. ‘He came down in a half-term holiday,’ recalls Richard Hodges, then in charge of the Blues academy but now the senior team’s defence coach.
‘He was 13st soaking wet, so we spoke to him about physical development and nutrition.
‘We put him into a second-team school game and he had a hat-trick in 20 minutes. There was obviously something there!’
The trouble was Botham spent his life travelling from Cumbria to Cardiff, driving 500-mile round trips twice a week. He would leave at 5pm on a Sunday for 7am Monday training.
‘Jim must have been up and down that M1, A1 100 times,’ Hodges says.
James, aged nine-years-old, poses with his grandfather after Ian received his knighthood
‘When he was on a £5,000 academy contract he’s just wanted to make it.’
The young flanker rose through the Wales under-18s, under-20s naturally, then had another reminder of who he was on debut for Cardiff RFC at Neath.
‘He got a red card for a tip tackle,’ explains Hodges. ‘I had to go to a disciplinary hearing and managed to get him off. The first question they asked was about his grandfather, so you know you’re on a winner!’
James is certainly a Botham. ‘He’s blessed with some God-given ingredients,’ says Hodges.
‘There’s genetics in there, a winning mentality, an athleticism. He doesn’t care for anyone or anything when it comes to rugby — it’s just about striving to reach the top. He’s a cracking kid with a big future.’
Botham, now 6ft 2in and 16st, will bring physicality as one of three starting debutants against Georgia.
Botham is touted for big things in rugby thanks to sharing his grandfather’s winning mentality
Grandfather Ian often inspired England to get out of holes. Now, after six defeats in seven, it is Wales’s time to turn to a Botham when desperate for a win.
There is no surprise Jim has made it this quickly. Grandfather Ian made his debut young too, aged 21 against Australia in 1977.
Lord Botham told the BBC: ‘If I was in Outer Mongolia I would find some way of watching him.
‘I’ll be absolutely delighted when he gets that Wales cap. I’ve been on the wagon for four weeks and my next drink was going to be Christmas Day. I might sneak one on Saturday!’
James was set to play for Cardiff on Monday, but found out while in bed the night before he would be joining Wales training instead.
‘I was in shock,’ he says. ‘Then they announced the team and my name was there. I was just looking at it thinking “this can’t be real!” but it is.’
The Cardiff Blues flanker will hope he can help his Wales team recover after a slump in form
While no family can support him at Parc y Scarlets, James’s greatest regret is that his great-grandad never lived to see this day. Gerry Waller, father of Ian’s wife Kath, was his biggest fan but died a few years ago.
‘He was there every game and would come up afterwards with his packet of Jelly Babies,’ says Botham.
‘Before he died I did promise I would try to play for Wales. Hopefully I can do him proud.’