Craig Gillies, AAR-UK Ambassador
AAR-UK is thrilled to announce Craig Gillies as the Charity Ambassador.
Craig, 37, is a former English Rugby Union Player only retiring form his final club, Worcester Warriors, late last year after making an incredible 288 appearances during his loyal 11 years with the club.
Jayne Waddell was privaledged to interview the rugby legend when he accepted his role as AAR-UK Charity Ambassador.
Craig’s early career began with Richmond, London at the age of 21 before he joined Llanelli Scarlets in Wales at the age of 24. It was during his time at Llanelli Scarlets that Alopecia Areata struck as a small patch on his moustache area. Over the course of several months these patches progressed to his beard, legs, torso until eventually alopecia presented itself on his scalp. In the New Year of 2003, whilst playing for Worcester Warriors, Craig’s alopecia was in full swing and Craig told a story of his team mates and himself shaving their hair off at a drunken New Year party!
“A lot of the lads were just telling me to shave it off and I guess it was nice to have that bit of support; reinforcement that the lads had acknowledged it and were backing me. I didn’t like what was happening and I wondered why it was happening to me but I guess a part of me just has to put a brave face on it”
Craig Gillies towers above most mere mortals at a whopping 6’8″ tall and cuts a pretty mean figure on the rugby pitch –
“To be honest alopecia probably gave me a bit more of an edge on the playing field, being 6’8″ and having the appearance of a shaven head was pretty daunting for most oppositions!”
During the interview Craig went on to speak of how alopecia has affected his life.
“Alopecia has been bitter sweet for me, it gave me a certain edge on the playing field and now, making my career transition from player into the business world it has also had it’s positives. I have a certain trademark look which is beneficial, alopecia has made me recognisable….. unforgettable” – he jokes …..”but I can never forget what I used to look like and to this day I still see myself as that person. Ironically before alopecia struck, it was my very dark, thick hair which was my then distinguishable feature.”
For a person with alopecia the psychological aspect of it can be one of the most challenging. Craig spoke of how he became unrecognisable to some of his friends.
“Alopecia changed how I looked to others so dramatically, even friends found it hard to recognise me if they had not seen me for years. You only need to look at the before and after photographs to see how much it changed my appearance. That part of this disease or condition is what can be so harmful, the psychological side of how we perceive ourselves.”
When I asked Craig whether alopecia has taught him anything he replied.
“Yes, there is an element of life where certain things are going to happen which you have absolutely no control over. What I have learned is that you can control how much you let these things affect your life.”
It is apparent whilst talking with Craig that this type of attitude has taken him to the highs of his professional career and will continue taking him to new highs. Whether this strength and depth of character was present before developing alopecia is one to be considered, however it is obvious it is a huge part of his grounded, focused and determined nature.
Craig is married to Tina and together have two beautiful children Ossian and Niamh. They live in Worcester where Craig now runs his own successful business as a coach, mentor and health advocate. Craig has been extremely busy since his retirement where he hit the ground running working with a world renowned health product called Forever Living.
Speaking of his new career Craig said,
“Being a professional sports person a combination of diet and training were imperative in keeping myself in peak physical fitness. Forever Living sports specific products helped me greatly throughout my playing career. Setting up my own business in this area was a natural progression for me; one which I am extremely passionate about. Having an autoimmune disease makes me doubly aware of keeping fit and healthy and it is a lifestyle I take great pleasure in promoting and passing on to my young family.”
We are so delighted to have Craig Gillies as our ambassador as he is everything an inspirational figure can be. Craig is very passionate about research and often wonders why alopecia happened to him as do most people with the disease.
“Research is so important now and for our future generations and that is why I support AAR-UK, I am thrilled to be ambassador and look forward to working with the charity in the future.”
Craig finishes by telling me something I hear a lot of people with alopecia say.
“Occasionally I have a vivid dreams of having a full head of hair again”
Only with research can this ever be a possibility.