After his performance for England in the 2007 Rugby World Cup, the Telegraph described winger Paul Sackey as “a beautifully fluid and devastating runner with a nose for the try-line… brave and secure under the high ball [but] also highly competitive and physical in the tackle”. Yet, despite his successful club and international career, Sackey actually came to rugby fairly late in life – at the age of 14 – when he was sent to John Fisher School in Purley, described by sports journalist Brendan Gallagher as a “perennial nursery of rugby talent”.
Forced to play, Sackey found little enjoyment in the game at first. “I was Number 8 – a forward – so I was getting hurt a lot, which didn’t help the love develop,” he laughs. “But, as I got older, I started to notice that my friends were playing on a Saturday and going out afterwards and then talking about it on Monday in school. I saw the camaraderie and I started to think that maybe I should get involved.”
So, Sackey gave rugby a chance, started to enjoy it and, with the added advantage of being fast, his game started to improve. He finally got his break when someone in the John Fisher first team was injured during a tournament and he was put on as a sub, scoring three tries.
After his impressive debut, Sackey became a regular first-team member, going on to play for John Fisher in a victorious National Sevens Tournament squad – a game that was witnessed by Wasps’ then-captain Lawrence Dallaglio and a talent scout who decided to take Sackey to Wasps for summer training. “There was no academy at the time, so I was training with the first team and playing for the second team,” says Sackey. “For an 18-year-old, it was immense.”
Mentored by England scrum-half Andy Gomarsall, Sackey went on to play his first professional rugby at Bedford, all the time building his speed by training with elite sprint and fitness coach Margot Wells (wife of Olympic sprinter Allan). He eventually moved to London Irish on the advice of Gomarsall where he stayed for four years, before returning to Wasps.
Sackey spent 16 years playing professional rugby, retiring at the age of 33, after a stint playing in France. Having played with and against some of the game’s greatest names, he cites Stuart Abbott and Danny Cipriani as two of his greatest team-mates, saying: “In my position it can be hard to get the ball, but they could pass with both hands, so they were amazing both defensively and in attack. Rugby can be very dull on the wing if it is not an attacking game, but they always looked for their winger and then supported him. On the reverse side, small, wiry, fast players like Christian Wade are great opponents. Big and powerful is easy to take down, but small and wriggly is a nightmare.
“Equally, there are certain teams that are not fun to play against. South Africans are the nicest guys in the world in the dressing room, but on the field, they just want to hurt you. All you can hear when you play them and you have the ball is: ‘Kill him!’ The All Blacks are a headache for another reason: they are simply the best team on the planet. It is effortless and they make it look easy. I would rather play the Kiwis than the Springboks any day, though!”
Beyond rugby, Sackey’s interests include cars and watches. “I love cars,” he laughs. “If I hadn’t played rugby I would have sold exotic cars. I’ve owned a few, but I’m being sensible at the moment as I’ve just started my new business, so I only have a Range Rover and my baby, my 355 Ferrari – I push her out of the garage now and again, clean her up and put her back in. I used to drive her on a Sunday but not anymore. My favourite cars are Mercedes AMGs and I’ve owned most of them – C Class, CLK, S, ML. And the car I lust after is the Pagani Zonda – it’s hand-made and just stunning. Like anything that great, each model is a true one-off.”
The new business that Sackey refers to is his design agency onefour HQ – the name referring to both his old jersey number of 14 and the fact that he is now one for design. He says that his love for things creative developed several years ago when, while still playing rugby, his passion for cars led to him sourcing vehicles for friends – and then friends of friends. Clients always wanted them to be customised, so Sackey began to explore the idea by working with car modification companies. “I designed a couple with them and then it got to a point where I wanted to do it myself.
“I learnt about structure, textiles and lighting. I hired a team and we started working on vehicles and I became obsessed. I had a client from Dubai, he loved what I did on his car and wanted me to do his yacht and from there it grew organically from cars to yachts, planes, interiors. That’s how I first met Sunseeker and they have been so supportive. The owners, David Lewis and Chris Head, have become colleagues and great friends – even giving me office space as I start the business.”
Coincidentally, Sackey first met Head at an Audemars Piguet trunk show, an event he remembers well because it was the first time he really looked at a Royal Oak and, immediately hooked, he persuaded UK Sales Manager Daniel Compton to sell the model to him on the spot. “I love beautifully designed things and watches fell into that,” he says. “I’ve always been into fashion and style and I had developed a liking for bespoke tailoring. For rugby players, it is often hard to find clothes that fit well because of our body shapes, so bespoke is a good way to go.
“Unique and luxury are hand-in-hand today. No one goes into a car dealership and says, ‘I want that standard’. Bespoke is becoming the new standard. But I believe you should only change things if they need it and changes should be subtle and enhancing; it is about being discreet and well-built. When it comes to watches, I hate customisation – why would you blacken or stick diamonds on an Audemars Piguet? I always imagine how the watchmaker would feel, creating something so perfect for someone to dip it in crap and disrespect it like that. If something is beautiful, why go out and kill it?”
In the Beginning
Sackey remembers his first watch – a diamond-set Rolex Datejust – and shrugs. “I know I am contradicting myself but I was only 19 and very impressionable,” he says. “The more I understood craftsmanship the less I liked it and on my first England cap I bought myself a Cartier Pasha. It is so understated – like most of my watches – if you saw it you wouldn’t know what it was, you would just think it was another watch. I have a skeletonised Tank, too, and that has the same vibe.”
A decade ago Sackey bought himself a TAG Heuer Carrera, which became his constant wrist companion for the next few years, wearing it everywhere including to training sessions. Although impressed by its robustness, Sackey retired the TAG as his tastes became more sophisticated. “I don’t wear the Pasha any more either but that’s more to do with how important it is to me – that moment in time,” he says. “It is the same with this TW Steel [Sackey pushes a watchbox across the table]. It is a ‘Man of the Match’ watch from when I played with the Barbarians against England. I’ve never worn it but it has sentimental value.
“As I started to develop my own taste, my confidence grew and I become less influenced by advertising and the so-called taste-makers out there. I’m not one for crazy complications – in fact I own just one chronograph. I like simple pieces and my heart is currently set on a Jules Audemars with brown dial. I found one recently but it was already sold and I’m now trying to source another. I love Audemars, it has always been my perfect brand, but in the early days, I just couldn’t justify the cost.
It’s weird how we all gauge value – I can easily justify £100,000 for a car or £2,000 for a pair of shoes but my girlfriend laughs that I won’t fork out £50 for lunch. Understanding more about watchmaking means I am now happy to spend large amounts on a timepiece because I can see and appreciate the value. There are a few brands I’m looking at at the moment, but for me Audemars Piguet is number one in terms of style, quality and desirability.”
Something Old, Something New
To date, Sackey has no vintage models in his collection although he says that he is starting to dabble. “I’m looking at vintage cars, too,” he says. “It’s the way things are going: old school. I think to a degree it’s modern design that is making people look back. Sometimes it feels like the present is directionless and vintage is still so well-made, it is timeless, whereas so much new stuff becomes redundant so quickly. I love the passion and the time that goes into an Audemars Piguet, it is a constant struggle to make enough and the pride, at all levels of the company, when it is done is amazing.”
And if the watch world was his oyster, what would Sackey’s next buy be? “I’m quite considered in my buying – I buy because I love a particular watch, but I research the brand history quite thoroughly before I commit because I like to know what’s behind the design and the concept,” he says. “If I had all the money in the world I’d buy so many pieces. I love last year’s Chopard LUC GMT One and the IWC Portugiesers, and at some point before old age I have to get a Patek Philippe Calatrava.
“There are so, so many beautiful timepieces out there.” And with a smile and a wink he ends the interview with: “But next time I see you I’ll probably be wearing my new Jules.”
Portrait & Watch Photography by Justin Hast