Doting father, double Olympic and world champion; Mo Farah has a lot on his plate. But, as Joe Ellison finds, he’s just getting going
It’s 4 August 2012. Not since The Village People first graced the late-Seventies disco scene had a nation collectively cupped its hands over its head on such a scale. Why? Mo Farah, after rounding off Team GB’s most successful single day medal haul since 1908 by becoming the first Briton to win gold in the 10,000m, had set the Olympic Cauldron alight. Unlike his fellow medal-lugging heroes, however, there was no looking back for Farah. No photo opportunities next to gilded post boxes – instead, he thundered on, cementing his place in athletic history as a megastar with more victories at this year’s World Championships in the 10,000m and 5,000m.
It’s only now, with the publication of his autobiography Twin Ambitions, that he’s able to assess his skyrocketing fame, career glories and early life in Somaliland. That was the autonomous republic in Somalia, which he left in the grip of a bloody civil war when he came to the UK as an eight-year-old and, clearly, it’s a long way from the grand hotel suite ShortList finds the 30-year-old track star sat in when we meet him to chat about his journey thus far…
What persuaded you to write a book?
I’m very private. I like to keep things separate between the track and my family. For years the press asked me uncomfortable questions such as, “Why are your parents not here?” Being asked those questions felt like an attack, so I decided to get my story out there. I don’t want people to feel sorry for me, I just want people to know me.
So how has the extra celebrity after the Olympics affected you?
It comes with a little bit more work. You have to do certain things, such as this [points at ShortList before unleashing a megawatt grin], making my day-to-day training slightly harder, but I enjoy it. I’ve always tried to stay out of the limelight if it begins to affect my sport.
Do you feel comfortable with the tag of ‘national hero’?
In terms of my running, what you achieve is what you achieve. Beyond that, I have no control of what the public thinks of me, and if that’s what someone thinks of me, then it’s an honour. Yeah, it’s fine by me.
You’re currently training at the Nike facility in the US. Is it nice being less known over there?
It definitely makes it easier. I just wish they knew me at customs; I still have problems getting into the US. On my latest trip they scanned my passport and made a phone call to the UK. It’s been happening to me for the past few years. More people are recognising me over there – just not airport security.
And the New Orleans news anchor who famously asked if you’d “ever raced before?”…
Yes, but it wasn’t her fault. She just didn’t know who she was interviewing. I’d just finished [the New Orleans Half Marathon] when the camera guys grabbed me to talk, so the person whose job it was to tell her [who I was] obviously didn’t have time, and that was why I thought it was right to defend her.
Does anything get you angry?
When people have no respect, that’s what annoys me. I was brought up to respect everyone and to earn the respect of other people.
Has anyone we might know disrespected you?
Busta Rhymes really disrespected me once. I spotted him in an airport on my way to France, and I’m a big fan, so I walked over to ask for his autograph when his mates started laughing at me. I asked him again and they all mimicked me [high tone] “Could I have your autograph?”, and I couldn’t believe it! That’s when I realised I would never do something like that. No matter how big you are, no one has the right to make someone feel like that.
Have you ever encountered intimidating tactics during a race?
Elbowing isn’t a big thing, blocking is. I raced in Birmingham this year and three guys were teaming up to block me and put me out of my rhythm. Their tactics are nothing new to the sport – it’s just that I’ve had to put up with more of it over the past year or so because of what I’ve won. What they don’t realise is that it drives me even more.
Farah racing at school in 1997
What was tougher, the double at London 2012 or at this year’s World Championships?
Winning at the 2013 World Championships in Moscow was harder, definitely. When you win something major as an athlete, it’s harder to back it up, because there are a lot of eyes on you, which means I had to work twice as hard for that race. My rivals certainly see me differently now. They know what I’m capable of. I was beaten in a race earlier this year but, in hindsight, it was a good thing, because it taught me not to take my foot off the gas.
The summer’s World Championships in Russia were almost overshadowed by politics. How in tune were you with what was going on?
It was hard not to notice that the stadium was empty [laughs]. At one stage I had to ask myself if it was the World Championships. I’m not sure how much that had to do with the [anti-Putin protests], and we do hear about those protests and take them seriously, but I was there to do what I’ve got to do.
Are you still planning to race Usain Bolt for charity?
It will definitely happen. Right now, it’s just a matter of when. His type of race is very different to mine. We’re thinking 600m would be a likely distance to meet on, and I’m up for the challenge.
Bolt famously loves Chicken McNuggets – what’s your favourite fast food?
Nando’s – the half a chicken all the way. I love it. It feels a bit healthier than other fast food, or at least that’s what I tell myself when I’m necking it down my throat.
Did you get the VIP card?
They gave me one of those black cards, yeah – and it was great until it expired. I abused it!
If sprinters are the rock’n’roll stars of athletics, what does that make the long-distance runners?
The hip-hoppers, and I’m Dizzee Rascal [laughs].
Going back to the book, how lucky was the escape from your homeland?
It was never a ‘war-torn country’ while I lived in Gabiley, the city I was from. The main bombings started a year after I went to the UK. Fields were burnt, thousands were killed. We didn’t move away to escape those events, but we certainly missed the worst of it.
Did you remember any violence?
No, I was so young then that I don’t remember seeing violence. The memories I have of my childhood, before we came over to join my father in the UK, are good ones, such as running down the street with friends, hanging out with my twin brother [Hassan], having a laugh, causing trouble on the farm we were raised on, that kind of stuff.
At hospital with his newborn twin daughters, August 2012
What have been your favourite ‘Mobot’ impersonations?
Boris Johnson, he was funny. Cheryl Cole. Robbie Williams tried to do one in a music video, but messed it up – his suit jacket was too tight and he couldn’t lift his arms. No points for that. I just got a tweet, actually, asking if I’d retweet a picture of someone’s granny doing the Mobot, so I did.
Any other memorable fan experiences?
One lady came up to me and started crying. She couldn’t get her words out. I didn’t know what to say to that.
Gareth Bale trademarked his ‘heart’ celebration. Would you ever do the same for the Mobot?
I’ve already trademarked it. I’m one step ahead.
Is it true that you’re quite pally with Richard Branson now?
Yeah – he actually took me and my wife to Necker Island, which was crazy. I even got to use the same toilet that Mariah Carey has used! The resort has everything; there’s a bar hidden in every room, beds by the beach, loads of tennis courts and members of staff everywhere offering you anything you need. One evening, Richard even invited us to have dinner with him and his family. He was a brilliant host.
Did he show you his submarine?
He didn’t, but we always had cars to get around, because the island was so big. It was incredible – there is no better place than his island.
Lastly, as a father of three can you tell us the toughest aspect of fatherhood?
Saying ‘no’. They’ve thrown up on me more times than I can remember, but playing the bad guy is the hardest part of all.
Twin Ambitions is out now (Hodder & Stoughton)
(Images: PA; Hodder & Stoughton)