There were plenty of picture and selfie opportunities when the Watford-born flanker Will Fraser celebrated with his jubilant and trailblazing Saracens teammates after adding the Premiership title to the European Champions Cup by beating Exeter 28-20 at Twickenham. It is doubtful, however, whether too many trophy shots or dressing room snaps would have done the occasion as much justice as the extraordinary mouth paintings of Henry Fraser, Will’s brother. That’s if, of course, he could have got everyone in the changing room to stand still.
If things had worked out differently Henry, once a promising centre who came through the Fullerians youth system to play for the Saracens Academy, could have been playing alongside his brother in Saturday’s final. Instead, a diving accident at the age of 17 in 2009 paralysed him from the shoulders down. His life would never be the same again. “In that moment, my whole life changed,” said Fraser in an interview with CNN. “I completely misjudged the dive and went into the seabed. I hit my head and blacked out for a few seconds.”
Fraser was flown by air ambulance to a Lisbon hospital, where doctors attempted to realign his vertebrae. It didn’t work. He was told he’d never be able to use his legs or arms again. If that wasn’t bad enough, he contracted pneumonia and MRSA and his heart stopped beating seven times. After eventually being made stable, he was able to undergo a seven-hour operation to screw the vertebrae back into alignment.
Fraser’s attitude to his plight has been inspirational. He’s not felt sorry for himself or moaned about his lot, putting plenty of us to shame. He’s just got on with making the best of things. You suspected he would when he return homed from hospital a year earlier that doctors were expecting. While bed-ridden, Fraser took up mouth painting, doodling on an iPad app. It’s now so much more than doodling. One brilliant painting fetched £12,000 at auction. Another, of Rory McIlroy, touched the Irishman to such an extent that he donated items to the charity golf day which the drawing was originally commissioned for and sent Fraser the two 18th hole flags from his major wins. Thierry Henry, Usain Bolt, Jonny Wilkinson and David Beckham are admirers of Fraser’s work.
“Henry had his accident seven years ago and since then he’s gone onto achieve incredible things,” Will told BBC 5 Live last week. “His mouth drawings have become internationally known and he’s doing public speaking. He’s a very courageous young man and it’s not really until talking about it in situations like this that I really sit back and think ‘wow’. It’s pretty incredible. He’s an inspiration to me and my family but he’s an inspiration to people he’s never met, which I think is the biggest thing.”
Separated by two years, Will and Henry are two of four Fraser brothers. Tom is the eldest, Dom, who kicked Dulwich College to Under-18 Daily Mail RBS Cup glory in 2012, is the youngest. Will has played for England and plays for the best non-international rugby union team but Henry is the most famous of the quartet.
“I think, for about two months, he was my brother and I’ve forever been his brother since,” joked Will. “I think he’s on nearly 40,000 followers [on Twitter]. Me and my two other brothers just sit on his coat tails and wait for some good things to happen.”
Will was visiting Tom at university in Bournemouth when his dad called to relay news about Henry’s accident.
“He’s had his dark days,” said Will. “Once he got through it he thought: ‘This is what’s happened, there’s no point being sad about it, I’ve just got to crack on and make the best of it.’ One great thing is he wouldn’t talk to anyone beforehand. He was the most boring, shy kid you could ever wish to meet. Now, because of the situation, he actually has to talk to people, so he can hold a conversation and he’s quite funny off the back of it. At social events we don’t have to cover for him, we can throw him in and let him crack on. I don’t think we’ll ever appreciate how bad it was for him having not gone through it ourselves. Probably to look out for us, he’s never really told us how bad it’s been, which speaks volumes for his character.”
Will draws huge inspiration from his brother. The 26-year-old writes the initials HF on the tape around his left wrist before every game and the eight injuries (including a broken foot, tearing the tendon off his shoulder bone and major back surgery) he has already suffered in a hugely promising but stop-start career are nothing when he considers that it can take his brother two hours to get out of bed and dressed and that he needs an elevator to transport him between his bedroom and the downstairs.
“I think after what Henry has been through that it’s been second nature for me, with every injury, just to crack on with it,” Will said. “When you’re told you’re going to have major surgery and miss the rest of the season you’re gutted. So I will go home, have my ten minutes of rage, throw some cushions about and hit a few walls. Once that’s out of the system I do everything I can to crack on and get back as soon as possible. Having seen my younger brother go through something pretty horrendous, it’s become second nature for me to deal with things in that way.
“One of the big reasons for me doing what I’m doing is to make my family proud, make my girlfriend proud and make her family proud. Henry was a huge rugby player. My family are close anyway but it’s nice for my family to get together and come to watch a rugby game and have a few beers afterwards.”