James Taylor on living with a heart condition, his new cricketing adventures and social media's many benefits

Chris Stocks
The Independent
James Taylor was diagnosed with Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy a year ago: Getty
James Taylor was diagnosed with Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy a year ago: Getty

James Taylor has thanked the millions of well wishers on social media who rallied round him when a rare heart condition forced him to give up playing professional cricket last year.

Wednesday marked a year from the day the former England batsman was diagnosed with Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy (ARVC) after he fell ill during a pre-season match for Nottinghamshire.

Taylor's heart was beating at 265 beats per minute for five hours – the equivalent of running six marathons. Doctors later told him it was a stress on the heart that would have killed most other people.

That fact, and the overwhelming response from the public that he likened to tributes for someone who had died, helped Taylor come to terms with the devastating news that turned his life upside down at the age of just 26.

“The last year has been an absolute rollercoaster and pretty scary to be honest,” he said. “But I’ve also enjoyed it and there’s been some amazing people that have helped me – my family, my friends, my fiancée.

“But people forget about social media as well. They always say actions speak louder than words but at this time these words on social media have been amazing.

“It’s been so positive and I’ve read every single word and that makes a difference – especially when you’re lying in a hospital bed. But even after that it’s just meant the world to me.

“It is truly amazing and it really kept me going in hospital. I had over 20 million Tweets about me in the first two hours of it [the news] coming out and if you ever wondered what it’s like to die, I effectively died such was the response I had. It was absolutely amazing.”

Taylor played the last of his seven Tests against South Africa at Centurion in January 2016 – just three months before his career was prematurely ended. The timing was particularly cruel given he had just begun to establish himself with England five years after he made his international debut in an ODI against Ireland in Dublin.

The disappointment of having the dream of playing for his country ripped away from him overnight was crushing. Taylor, though, feels lucky just to be alive.

“Ever since the doctor told me the majority of these cases are found in post-mortem that made a big difference to me in terms of my outlook,” he said. “It’s a massive blow not being able to play professional cricket again and play for England, which is what I always dreamt of doing and loved doing for years.

“But at least I’m still here to tell the tale and can make a difference to other people’s lives. Having life itself is a good option.”

Taylor had an internal defibrillator fitted last summer which brings his heartbeat back to a normal level if he has another attack.

Taylor is pursuing a new career in coaching and the media (Getty)
Taylor is pursuing a new career in coaching and the media (Getty)

And while life has changed irrevocably, the fondness for exercise that meant his raised fitness levels effectively kept him alive 12 months ago can no longer be indulged, Taylor has embraced his circumstances with a positivity that is inspirational.

The goodwill that followed his retirement, plus a sharp insight and knowledge of the game, has allowed him to stay involved in cricket.

A new career in the media has got off to a promising start, being used as an analyst for BBC’s Test Match Special and Sky as well as writing a column for the London Evening Standard.

Taylor has also started coaching, working with Nottinghamshire’s academy and second XI players and this month landing a first-team role with Northamptonshire as a batting consultant for their Royal London Cup campaign this summer.

“Staying involved in cricket has massively helped,” he says. “It’s what I know and what I’m good at. I only want to do things that I’m good at and what I can make a difference at and those are the two areas [media and coaching] I can do that in.”

There is also a wedding to look forward too later in the year, Taylor marrying Josephine Naylor, his fiancée who forced him to go to hospital last April when he fell ill and who remained by his bedside when his life hung in the balance.

“I’ll have a nice little summer wedding which I wouldn’t have been allowed to do before,” he says.

As well as working on several projects with the British Heart Foundation, Taylor will act as an ambassador for the Chance to Shine cricket charity this summer, giving inspirational talks at schools across the country.

“From everything I’ve gone through it will be nice to put a positive spin on it and help the kids deal with and learn about setbacks,” he said. “My message will be don’t worry about the things you can’t do – just worry about the things you can do.”

It’s a sentiment Taylor has embraced admirably over the past 12 months.

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