Inside the mind of the man inside Harry the Hornet…

Date published: Thursday 14th November 2019 7:18

This is an edited extract from ‘Dance Like Everybody’s Watching: The Weird and Wonderful World Of Sporting Mascots’ by Nick Miller.

Watford’s Harry the Hornet is among the most notorious mascots in English football, and came to prominence after landing in the middle of an argument between his club and rivals Crystal Palace. Gareth Evans has played Harry since 2008, despite having very little intention of being a mascot at the start…

 

Harry the Hornet has been going for quite a long time, but you’ve been Harry since 2008: how did you start out?
It was a running joke to start with really. My understanding at the time was Watford Football Club were looking for someone to be Harry consistently, rather than a different person every time. There was no real love for the character, people wear it for one game, wave to the crowd then someone else would do it at the next game. I just heard that they were after someone to do it more permanently and I said “Yeah, I’ll do it,” just as a laugh mind. I was purely joking, I really just wanted to see what the reaction would be. After a few weeks the club said “We’ve put your name down”. I said “….what? No, I was joking!” but true to my word I done it.

The first game was a bit weird, a bit surreal, but by the second or third game I grew into it. I thought, if I’m going to do this, let’s do it properly. Let’s not be a normal, standard mascot, let’s give it a character. Let’s let it grow. And we have what we have today, which is probably the No.1 mascot in the country. Not my words… [Harry is regularly ranked as among the best mascots in the Premier League].

 

You’ve even put your body on the line to be Harry…
I was doing a charity game, and we were having a half-time penalty shoot-out. The pitch was soaking and when I took one I tried to just put a little bit of spin on it, but my legs went up in the air. I came down on my arm and it just broke in half. Eight weeks in a cast, completely broken elbow.

Fortunately it was at the end of the season so I had the summer to recuperate. It’s something to laugh about now…but not at the time. The pain…I can’t describe. I picked myself up, went straight down the tunnel, took off the costume and went straight to hospital. The hospital got me turned around in 45 minutes, into a temporary cast and was back in time for the post-match meal.

 

You and Harry got quite a lot of attention after a game when some fans accused Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha of diving, and you had a bit of fun with him. It was all over the papers that you pretended to dive at his feet…
First and foremost, I dived about six metres behind him, not at his feet. In all honesty I didn’t really know what had gone on, I heard it from some fans. Zaha is a fantastic footballer, no doubt about it. He’s gone past me as he’s walking down the tunnel, the fans are calling him diver, so I’ve just dived on the ground. Nothing more, nothing less. I’ve walked away, and got a reaction from the Palace fans, so I did it again – why wouldn’t I?

I had no idea what was going to play out. It was my friend’s birthday that night so I went out, I was watching Match of the Day in the pub, and they zoomed in on Harry. I was laughing, Alan Shearer was laughing, Ian Wright was laughing – they were all laughing.

 

But some people took it a bit more seriously…
I didn’t understand what would happen the next day, with all these newspapers saying I’d dived at his feet. I contacted someone at the club saying I hadn’t, and they said “We know.” I sent a message to [Watford striker] Troy Deeney and said “You scored your 100th goal for the club and I’m getting the attention – I’m so sorry.”

My life certainly changed a little bit after that: social media lockdown, Instagram private. Some journalists called me, I said ‘no comment’ and they respected it. But I opened up one of the papers the next day and there were pictures from my Facebook, naming where I worked – that was difficult to take. It was worrying, because then you think: what is going to be posted about me/private life etc? That’s very daunting because I’m not in the public eye: usually people are reacting to Harry, but now they were reacting to Gareth Evans, and that’s quite difficult.

 

It was brought up a few times and Sam Allardyce, who was Crystal Palace manager at the time, and Roy Hodgson who took over from him, both reacted…
I felt sorry for Sam Allardyce because he didn’t see it. He would have just been told that the mascot dived. And then it rolled onto Roy Hodgson. A journalist said to him, completely out of the blue, ‘What about Watford’s mascot?’ Hodgson’s response [he called Harry ‘disgraceful] was correct: if I had thrown myself at a professional footballer’s feet, I would deserve to be banned. But I didn’t do that. The whole thing got totally blown out of proportion. Now everyone was looking at Zaha diving since that episode…

 

…but he actually reacted pretty well. He tweeted you a picture of some diving judges giving scores out of ten, and you responded in kind, and that was all very good humoured…
It probably took a bit of time for Wilf to process what had happened because a man in a giant hornet costume had kind of shown him up – or his reaction did. He tweeted, I responded, then that gets seen 250,000 times. I had support from the club because they knew I had done nothing wrong verses the media circus.

I learned a long time ago that when you put something on social media it’s then not yours, but that time it really hit home. But I’ve kept the newspaper clippings.

Nick Miller

Dance Like Everybody’s Watching! by Nick Miller (HarperCollins, £9.99) is available to order here.

 

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