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'George's fashion sense is a bit like an explosion in a pizza shop' Why rugby pundit Brent Pope is on a mission to help Irish men get stylish

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Brent Pope on his scooter at Stillorgan

Brent Pope on his scooter at Stillorgan

Brent Pope on his scooter at Stillorgan

Brent Pope is full of surprises.

The much loved rugby pundit is well known for his expert commentary, quick wit and soothing influence on what can often be quite a volatile RTE panel, but it is the variety of his interests outside of the rugby sphere which are perhaps the most intriguing.

Not only has he written seven children's books, but Brent does a huge amount of charity work. He supports Outsider Art projects, plays the clarinet and has now added another string to his bow with the launch of POPE Shirts, a line of high-quality tailored shirts.

"I always loved clothes, going right back," Brent tells me in the Merrion hotel, looking dapper in one of his own creations.

"I'd always be looking around the shops for things that were a bit trendy or a bit different. People would come up to me after a rugby match and say 'I love that shirt' or 'I love that tie, where can I get one?', and I was directing them to the shops and to other brands. So about two years ago I started thinking 'Well, why can't I have my own?'. So that set things in motion then to create my own range."

However, Brent was not happy to simply put his name to the line, he wanted to be involved in every aspect of the process.

"People are very loyal and I think they appreciate that even though I am not Irish, they do recognise it now as a little Irish brand. The first season sold out and the second season is already sold out before it has even hit the shops, which is amazing," he tells me.

Brent hopes to inspire, particularly older Irish men, to put a little more thought into their attire.

"I think something gets lost in translation, which makes people think that men over 35 or 40 don't still want to look stylish," he says. "But they do."

So how about his fellow RTE rugby analysts? Has he been giving George Hook style advice?

"No, as you can tell," he smiles. "They have all got their own different styles. George by his own admission is colour blind, so you don't know what he is going to come out with at any time because he can't see it himself," Brent chuckles.

"George's description of his own fashion sense is he looks a bit like an explosion in a pizza shop, which I think is quite apt, but he has certainly upped his style over recent years. The only advice I would give him is that the tie is supposed to match the other things around it. It can't just be all about the tie."

Rugby players today tend to be quite fashionable but for a long time it was an elitist and conservative sport.

"When I started playing rugby at university level, because I was always dressed a bit like Dexys Midnight Runners, I remember turning up at training and people being gobsmacked that I should even be thinking of playing rugby," Brent laughs. "Now it is acceptable for players to spend time looking good and have interests outside of the game, be it restaurants or whatever.

"The players are superstars now, they are on TV all the time so they become fashion role models as much as they do general role models," Brent adds. "When women vote for the best-looking or most stylish Irish guys, a lot of the rugby players are on those lists."

Perhaps, a little too enthusiastically, I find myself pointing out that Brent has featured quite high up on a couple of those lists himself.

"I have," he smiles, cringing at the thought. "The funniest was about four or five years ago, I came out of an interview and the receptionist said 'you must be very pleased you were voted fourth most attractive man in Ireland' or something like that and I thought it was a wind up.

"I went home and a friend of mine in New York had found it in a small article and they all had a description - so it was like 'get lost in the smouldering eyes of Colin Farrell' or something and then it got to me and my description was 'somewhat surprisingly'," he laughs. "My mum was very proud, but that was it!"

Brent began writing children's books in 1987 to help a little girl who has since sadly passed away from Leukaemia. All of the proceeds from his books have gone to a variety of children's charities. His latest, The Hip-Hop-Opotamus, tells the story of a shy hippo who becomes a hip-hop superstar after he wins Jungle's Got Talent.

"All the stories have an empowering ending," Brent explains. "They all have a common thread, which is the lonely guy who comes good at the end."

There is an element of art imitating life in the adopted Irishman's tales. Brent has spoken very openly over the years about his own battles with extreme anxiety, panic attacks and low self-esteem.

"I will never be rid of it; that is just part of me and it has taken me over 40 years to accept that. It's something I am not particularly grateful that I have," Brent flashes a reassuring smile.

"But I am always trying to do things for myself or other people and that lessens it for me. It's probably why I keep pushing that comfort zone because by doing little things then the next thing may not seem so scary. That's my way of survival."

Brent is looking forward to a Christmas with his family this year. It will be the second time he has been home for Christmas in 30 years.

"I am really excited because I am going home on the 22nd, which I think is a lovely time to go home. I love Christmas time in Ireland; I love the lead up to Christmas, I love walking around the streets.

"It's funny going home for Christmas in the summer because Christmas belongs in the winter, but I am really looking forward to it."

Brent's eyes twinkle at the thought. "My father is 85 and my mother turned 80 this year. I come from a small rural town, so we'll go down to the local pub in Ashburton there and perch up. I have got some lovely friends over there too.

"My mum loves Christmas, she's the one who gets everyone to wear the silly paper hats and really gets into the spirit and my brother will be home from Wellington, so it will be great."

For more information on POPE Shirts visit www.popeshirts.com. Brent's new book The Hip-Hop-Opotamus is available in Tesco and all proceeds go to Pieta House


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