Hello Mark, how the hell are you?
Doing well thanks, mate.
Good, good. Actually, sorry about that breach of protocol.
Small Talk should have addressed you as Sir Mark, right?
No, no, no I'm not a Sir.
Oh right, so how should we address a CBE or MBE or OB1 or whatever?
I'm not any of those things either. I'm still waiting.
Really? But you've a box full of medals and smashed world records and cricketers get gongs just for taking tea on time …
[With mock fury] I know, I know. All those things I did while representing England and Britain for 23 years – you'd think there'd be something.
Presumably you've banged off an angry letter to Buckingham Palace about this outrageous snub?
No, I guess when it's time I might get something through the post. Or maybe not.
Right then, ordinary citizen Mark, you're plugging something at the moment. What is it?
We are England.
No, the question was ...
Yes, We are England.
It's the rebranding of the English Commonwealth Games team. Everybody's very very aware of the Olympics Team GB but the Commonwealth Games is also a huge mass participation event. I loved representing Britain but swimming for England is a massive honour too. I started my career at the Games in Edinburgh in 1986 and competed in six Commonwealth Games.
Will you be at the Games in Delhi next year?
At the moment no, but who knows? I might fall out of bed tomorrow morning and bang my head and be off on another journey. Never say never.
Speaking of getting out of bed, Small Talk is greeted virtually every morning by the sight of your near-naked body …
Yes, every morning on the tube we see that poster …
[Interrupting with relieved laughter] Ah, the Wellmann advert! I'm not in London very often so I keep forgetting about that. I often get mates ringing me up and saying 'I can see you on the bus in front of me' and I'm like 'I'm sitting in my front room, what are you on about?'
Do you get much feedback from strangers? One of Small Talk's colleagues is constantly jabbering on about how swoonsome your body is..
I don't suppose that's too bad at nearly 40 years of age. In all seriousness though, I'm quite happy to try to make people change their lifestyles and, you know, being conscious about your body is good to an extent. So many people are becoming overweight it's important that they think more about keeping fit. Not in an extreme way, of course, it's all about moderation.
You say you're semi-retired. When you hang up your trunks for good, any chance of you following in the footsteps of the great Johny Weissmuller and doing a Tarzan flick?
[With childish glee] Oh I'd love to do a Tarzan movie! Mind you, I'm not sure I have enough chest hair for it.
That's nothing the make-up people couldn't sort out ..
[Replicates cry of celebrated lord of the jungle] AHA-AH-AH-AH-AHHHHHHHHHHH! Tarzan, Jane, Ongowa - all that stuff! Brilliant! Who knows what's around the corner?
Synchronised swimming, Mark: a joke that's been taken too far?
The one thing you have to appreciate with any sport is the amount of time and effort that goes into it. I'd like to see any of the knockers try to go under water for a minute, do what are basically dance routines and then come up smiling. That's an amazing feat. The people who do it are very, very fit and they put in a lot of training and it's very competitive. I take my hat off to them. It's a lot harder to be a synchronised swimmer than, for example, a darts player.
Now then, Bill Sweetenham, how do you rate him?
Well he definitely isn't sweet. In fairness, he came in to do a job and he put a system in place which was a good thing. But the things he did badly he did really, really bad. The way he treated the senior team, for example. When you're 15 or 16 maybe you need to be told what to do but when you've won six world championships and broken eight worlds records I think you've shown you're not just there for a jolly so you don't need to be treated like a kid. He was very much a dictator. He had some success with one swimmer many years ago but had nothing since. Training methods have changed a lot in 20 years and the way he did it back then doesn't work now. When I found myself, at the age of 35, preparing to swim at the European Championships and being asked to do a poolside cancans it was, well, weird.
Small Talk hears you, Mark. On a totally unrelated note, what's the last piece of music you bought?
Depeche Mode's album. I'm a big 80s fans. A bit of Ska, a bit of Madness, a bit of New Romantic stuff, it's all great.
And your favourite TV show?
Damages. It's an American TV series with Glenn Close. Fantastic.
What's your vegetable of choice?
[With feigned grandeur] Petit pois.
You probably follow a ridiculously strict diet, right?
Again, it's all about moderation. I do eat a lot of protein, a lot of salad and vegetables, but I do generally eat very well but that doesn't stop me having an egg and sausage muffin now and again.
What is your earliest memory?
I can remember holidays, swimming pools, playgrounds at school. I've loads of early memories, most related to sport.
You're a football fan too, insofar as you support Chelsea, right?
Yeah, and Southend United because that's where I'm from.
So for whom did you cheer when they met each other in the Cup last season?
That was a little bit difficult but I was cheering for the underdogs. It was a win-win situation.
Is there life beyond Earth?
I've not got the foggiest. They're trying to find all sorts of weird and wonderful things down there but I don't know that they will.
Do you believe in ghosts?
No, but then again I've never seen one. I suppose that, like all these things, if I saw one then I'd be a believer. I believe in a little bit of spirituality but I'm not religious or anything.
Finally, Mark, please tell us a funny joke?
Gah, you should have told me beforehand that you were going to ask this. I can't think of any off-hand, at least not any you could use.
Fair enough, Mark. It's been a treat. Thanks for your time. Bye!
Bye Small Talk.
'We Are England' – Mark Foster was joined by Lawrence Dallaglio and Kelly Holmes to launch England's new brand identity for the Commonwealth Games in Delhi 2010. Find out more at www.weareengland.org'
Article courtesy of The Guardian on line.