THEY were only 54 words, but they made me happier than any text message I’ve ever received.
For eight months, I’d sent my old mate Freddie Flintoff regularentreaties asking how he was getting on since the horrific car smash that he suffered while filming his hit show Top Gear.
It was fantastic to see Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff back in public after his horrific Top Gear crashCredit: Rex
There is something special about Freddie, who has been through a terrible experience
Piers received a text message from Freddie about what he has been through
And for eight months, there was no reply; just a constant, increasingly unsettling silence from a guy who I’ve known for 20 years, texted with very often, and who I consider a great friend.
The longer the silence went on, the more worried I grew about what exactly had happened to him in an accident I knew he’d been lucky to survive.
Watch Piers Morgan Uncensored weekdays on522, Virgin Media 606, Freeview 237, Freesat 217 or on Fox Nation in the US
And my increasing anxiety wasn’t helped by the fact that even the people closest to him, like his wife Rachael, and members of his management team, weren’t saying a word about his condition either.
I was simply told he was ‘periscope down’ which did nothing to allay my concerns.
Many of Freddie’s former Ashes-winning teammates were also in the dark about how he was, also not getting replies to messages, and as desperate as me for some goodabout the big man who holds such a special place in sporting .
Then, this, I heard rumours that he was secretly attending some days of the recent Ashes series against Australia, but doing so strictly incognito, covering his face, and watching play from stadium back offices with his best friend Rob Key, the managing director of the England men’s cricket team.
But the word was that he was still in a bad way, both physically and mentally, and not yet ready for any wider audience.
Finally, last Friday, with no fuss or announcement, Freddie appeared in public for the first time, on the pitch with the England team in Cardiff as they prepared to play New Zealand in a one-day international.
His famously handsome face still carried quite shocking visible evidence of the terrible wounds he suffered in the crash, but otherwise, he looked like the old– laughing and joking as he helped the players practice.
I texted him, and Rachael, to say how happy the photos had made me, and to my amazement, Freddie replied.
I won’t say what he wrote in his message because he’s said nothing publicly yet about what happened that fateful day last December, and it’s for him to choose what he wants to say when he decides to say it.
But he sounded very positive, and said he was loving being back around the cricket world again.
To understand exactly what Freddie’s been through, we need to go back to the Dunsfold Park aerodrome in Surrey where Top Gear does much of its filming on a specially designed test track.
I was watchingNews on December 14, 2022, when I heard breaking news that Freddie had been ‘hurt’ in some kind of crash but that the BBC said his injuries weren’t thought to be life-threatening.
However, his 16-year-old son Corey told a newspaper later that day that it had been ‘a pretty nasty crash’, Freddie was ‘lucky to be alive’ and added rather ominously: ‘We are all shocked but just hope he’s going to be OK.’
Only now do we know just how nasty the crash was, and just how close he came to dying.
Freddie wasan open top three-wheel Morgan Super 3 car, inexplicably without wearing a helmet and with no airbag to protect him, when it suddenly flipped over in treacherous icy conditions and flew along the track on its side, causing huge damage to Freddie’s face and ribcage in the process.
It’s not been disclosed exactly how fast the car was going but the Morgan Super 3 can do 130mph, and fearless Freddie was never shy in slamming down his accelerator on Top Gear.
Scandalously, as The Sun first reported, he had to spend 45 minutes writhing in agony after the incident because BBC staff couldn’t find a stretcher.
He was eventually air-lifted to afor a four-hour operation, and that was the least the public saw of him until last week.
When Freddie finally did emerge again, it was met with a joyous response that is entirely unsurprising given his national treasure status that he earned with his iconic heroics in the 2005 Ashes series and has fuelled with a series of fun, heart-warming TV shows since he retired.
Freddie is a generous, big-hearted, and loyal man who has been through a lot in his lifeCredit: Rex
I was just so glad to see him alive.
There’s something very special about Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff.
He’s an exceptionally charming, honest, intelligent (he was a county standard chess player), generous, big-hearted, and loyal man.
We’ve dined and partied together all over the world, from Antigua to Beverly Hills, both in his drinking and teetotal days – he quit booze nine years ago – and he’s always been equally entertaining company.
And whenever I’ve asked him for a favour during the two decades of our friendship, he’s always said yes immediately – whether it’s been agreeing tolike our memorable Life Stories encounter, donating personal to myriad charities, or coming down to play for my annual family side game against my village cricket team (which he’s done three times).
To give you some idea what he’s like, when my younger brother Rupert turned 50 two years ago, I asked Freddie for a message I could read out to him at his party.
The two bonded back in 2005 when England clinched victory at The Oval and went on a massive team bender until 6am.
Freddie had invited me to join them, but I had to do a bloody book-signing in Birmingham, so Rupert went instead, and I woke up to a voicemail message from him saying: ‘Bruv, I’m completely smashed. Been with Freddie and the boys all night. Best party ever! They can’t believe you went to Birmingham instead?’
Nor could I. And nor could Freddie.
‘The night after the final Ashes test in 2005 was the best of my life for many reasons,’ read his birthday message for my brother.
‘Obviously beating the Aussies for the first time in 18 years, and I did alright, but mainly for having the correct Morgan brother at the celebrations. Although Piers has put 100s of hours in over the years buttering various players’ a*ses to try and be part of the inner sanctum, that night he was nowhere to be seen.
‘Instead, there was the great man Rupert Morgan, his younger, far better looking and more charismatic brother, leading the charge – as any self-respecting cricket fan would – while we celebrated the finest Test series intogether with fine champagne, even finer French wine, beer, and cigars. Meanwhile, Piers was in Birmingham signing copies of his latest book about the comings and goings of a plethora of Z list celebrities.
‘I can only thank the good people of Birmingham for taking one for the team, I will be forever in your debt. Happy birthday Rupes, can’t believe you’re 50 but if you’re ever feeling down about that, cast your mind back to 2005 and that night will neverto make you smile. If that doesn’t work, then just be happy in the knowledge you’re not Piers. Love Fred.’
It was as hilarious as it was crushing, and of course brought the house down when I read it out.
Freddie was driving an open top three-wheel Morgan Super 3 car when it suddenly flipped over in treacherous icy conditionsCredit: Reuters
Freddie Flintoff had a turbulent time with cricket, secretly battling bulimia and depressionCredit: Rex
On Thursday, Freddie texted me again from my favourite London restaurant, Cambio de Tercio in, asking if I was going to the England match at Lord’s yesterday.
Ironically, I’d been at the restaurant myself on Tuesday and found myself on a table near current England stars Joe Root and Jos Buttler, and we’d chatted about how thrilled we all were about Freddie’s re-emergence.
(What Freddie didn’t know as he ate his Spanish dinner was that he himself was diningto a fellow Lancastrian who’s also been to hell and back – Martin Hibbert, who was paralysed in the Manchester Arena terror attack as he attended an Ariana Grande concert with his teenage daughter who also suffered terrible injuries.)
Freddie Flintoff had a turbulent time with cricket, secretly battling bulimia and depression, as well as a series of eventually career-ending injuries.
But when it came to getting his life back on track, he turned once again to the sport he still loved, and which gave him his nickname.
As former England captain and commentator David ‘Bumble’ Lloyd, another great friend of his, said: ‘Andrew is home. He’s Freddie again.’
Welcome back mate!
Freddie had described the wild 2005 Ashes celebrations as the best night of his lifeCredit: PA
He later went onto inspire England to win the Ashes in 2009 tooCredit: Times Newspapers Ltd
Freddie has been supported loyally through his ordeal by wife RachaelCredit: Rex Features
The future of Top Gear is now in doubt after Freddie’s life-threatening crashCredit: Alamy