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Football hard man to Hollywood heavyweight and country gent: From labourer and midfielder to brushes with the law and the grief of losing his childhood sweetheart – how Vinnie Jones become a star of the silver screen (and unlikely farming champion!)

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He was once dubbed the ‘hardest man in the game’ after gaining a well-earned reputation for his bad behaviour both on and off pitch. 

But Vinnie Jones reinvented himself after ditching his footballing career for a life in Hollywood, swapping using his trademark aggression on the pitch to play bad guys and thugs on the silver screen. 

Adding another string to his bow, Jones has also become the latest champion for the farming industry, starring in a new documentary series dubbed the ‘next Clarkson’s Farm’. Vinnie Jones: In the Country follows his new life on a sprawling 147-acre plot on a farm in Petworth, West Sussex.

It comes after the tragic death of his wife, Tanya, who he was married to for 25 years before losing her to cancer in July 2019 at just 53 years of age.

Yesterday it was reported that the footballer-turned-actor was offered big bucks to star on the latest production of the Only Fools and Horses musical on the West End.

The lucrative offer comes after Jones received ‘rave reviews across the board’ for his role in Netflix’s The Gentleman.

But three decades ago, the thought of the former Chelsea star singing and dancing on stage in front of a crowd of people would have been laughed off as a ludicrous suggestion.

From the pitch to Lock Stock and Guy Ritchie's leading man: Vinnie Jones started his life as a footballer before ditching his boots for a life in Hollywood. Pictured: Jones starring in Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels in 1998

From the pitch to Lock Stock and Guy Ritchie’s leading man: Vinnie Jones started his life as a footballer before ditching his boots for a life in Hollywood. Pictured: Jones starring in Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels in 1998

In 2019, Jones lost his wife Tanya to cancer (the pair pictured in April 2013). They had met as childhood sweethearts aged 12

In 2019, Jones lost his wife Tanya to cancer (the pair pictured in April 2013). They had met as childhood sweethearts aged 12

Jones was known for his bad behaviour on and off the pitch. Pictured: Jones grabbing Paul Gascoigne's crotch during clash between Wimbledon and Newcastle United on February 6 1988

Jones was known for his bad behaviour on and off the pitch. Pictured: Jones grabbing Paul Gascoigne’s crotch during clash between Wimbledon and Newcastle United on February 6 1988

The footballer-turned-actor is starring in in Netflix's The Gentleman alongside Joely Richardson - pictured together

The footballer-turned-actor is starring in in Netflix’s The Gentleman alongside Joely Richardson – pictured together

The star has also become the latest champion for the farming industry, starring in a new documentary Vinnie Jones: In the Country

The star has also become the latest champion for the farming industry, starring in a new documentary Vinnie Jones: In the Country

Jones’ latest string of success and fame comes after he rebuilt his troubled life, after battling cancer, alcoholism and grief after losing childhood sweetheart Tanya, who died in 2019 after 25 years of marriage.

Born and raised in Watford, Jones, 59, kicked off his professional career in 1986, age 21.

Jones had been playing for non-league team Wealdstone Town, earning £150 a week alongside his job as a hod carrier when he signed a contract with Wimbledon. 

The midfielder soon became the unofficial leader of Wimbledon’s ‘Crazy Gang’, who famously geared themselves up for matches by playing heavy metal music. 

Throughout his Wimbledon career – which spanned from 1986 to 1989 – he was sent off a total of 12 times.

Jones had been responsible for a tackle that left Tottenham’s Gary Stevens with badly-damaged knee ligaments and in 1989 he was sent off for head-butting Everton’s Kevin Ratcliffe.

He was also fined £20,000 and given a six month ban, suspended for three years, for his commentary in a video that glorified football violence and dirty tricks. 

One of his most notorious moments – and now one of the most iconic pictures in footballing history – was when Jones grabbed Paul Gascoigne’s crotch during a clash between Wimbledon and Newcastle United on February 6 1988.

In 1989 he left Wimbledon to play for Leeds United before later joining Sheffield and Chelsea in 1991.

The footballer-turned-actor also opened up on his alcoholism and how drinking affected him

Jones shares a joke with Newcastle fans in the Gallowgate end after taking over the gloves during the Premier League match at St James’ Park 

Jones was renowned for his aggressive, uncompromising style of play on the pitch. Pictured during a match between Wimbledon and Man United

Jones was renowned for his aggressive, uncompromising style of play on the pitch. Pictured during a match between Wimbledon and Man United

Jones was part of the Wimbledon side that famously beat Liverpool to lift the FA Cup in 1988

Jones was part of the Wimbledon side that famously beat Liverpool to lift the FA Cup in 1988

Despite being born in England, Jones was able to join Wales’ team in 1994 as his grandmother was Welsh. He later captained the team in 1996.

Another infamous incident came on the night of the abandoned international match between England and the Republic of Ireland in Dublin in February 1995.

Jones sank his teeth into the nose of journalist Ted Oliver a few hours after the game was abandoned when England fans rioted at Lansdowne Road, leaving the reporter’s face bloodied and getting himself reported to the FA.

He explained to the shocked newspaperman: ‘I only do that to people I like.’

And early in his career Jones was hauled before the FA after reportedly threatening to rip off Kenny Dalglish’s ear and then ‘spit in the hole’. 

In 1997 he returned home to Wimbledon before starting a role as a player-coach at Queen’s Park Rangers. 

In 1998, Jones had a run in with the law and was sentenced to 100 hours of community service after being convicted of vicious assault by his neighbour and causing criminal damage. 

Timothy Gear said Jones had bitten, punched and kicked him after banging on the door of his mobile home in November 1997. He told magistrates in St Alban’s that after knocking him to the floor Jones had stamped on his head three or four times.

Jones married Tanya for 25 years before she died in 2019. The couple pictured in 1994

Jones married Tanya for 25 years before she died in 2019. The couple pictured in 1994

Jones has spoken of how he has thrown himself into work and has sought help from a psychologist  since her death (pictured at their wedding renewal)

Jones has spoken of how he has thrown himself into work and has sought help from a psychologist  since her death (pictured at their wedding renewal)

Jones married his childhood sweetheart Tanya in 1994. Both fought battles with melanoma

Jones married his childhood sweetheart Tanya in 1994. Both fought battles with melanoma

A year later after his court case, Jones hung up his boots and surprised many when he turned to an acting career seemingly confining his bad behaviour to the screen.

His first role was in Guy Ritchie’s  Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, where he played a taciturn criminal.

Jones made the move across the Atlantic with his wife, Tanya, who he met age 12 before exchanging vows with in 1994.

His decision to set up in California marked the start of his Hollywood success. He went on to star in Guy Ritchie’s Snatch before starring in the 2000 remake of Gone in 60 seconds.

Often cast as a villain-type character, Jones went on to appear in the car caper Gone in 60 Seconds, and Swordfish alongside Halle Berry and John Travolta. 

In the 2010s, he starred alongside Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 2013 Escape Plan and Madagascar 3 as the voice of Freddie the Dog. 

Despite his success as an athlete and an actor Jones had dealt with alcoholism off the pitch. 

‘I got into a terrible tear-up in South Dakota,’ he recalled previously. ‘Had 68 stitches in my face. All the situations I got in could have been avoided without the booze… You see it coming.

‘When I was in deep s***, handcuffs, she (Tanya) was more of my worry than the coppers or anything. It was her reaction. It was letting her down and disappointing her. Embarrassing her – they were the hard things.’

Jones (pictured in Oxfordshire in 2023) made the move across the Atlantic with his wife, Tanya, who he met age 12 before exchanging vows with in 1994

Jones (pictured in Oxfordshire in 2023) made the move across the Atlantic with his wife, Tanya, who he met age 12 before exchanging vows with in 1994

In 2013 Jones decided to ditch the booze and opted for a sober life. He has since become an advocate for mental health

In 2013 Jones decided to ditch the booze and opted for a sober life. He has since become an advocate for mental health

Jones has vowed never to remarry after losing Tanya

Jones married his childhood sweetheart Tanya in 1994. Both fought battles with melanoma

In 2013, however, Jones decided to ditch the booze and opted for a sober life.  His decision came after he was pictured kissing Russian singer Lama Safonova outside a Moscow bar.

The incident led to him issuing a public apology to Tanya and revealing he had entered therapy.

In his 2013 autobiography, It’s Been Emotional, Vinnie wrote: ‘That incident caused the biggest test of my 20 years of marriage. We’ve been through everything and this angel is still there for me through thick and thin…

‘I had risked everything that mattered to me over a stupid night out in Russia…

‘That is the lowest I’ve seen Tans in all the time we have been together… Now I know we have a lot of work still to do, but we both love each other more than anything on the planet and that is getting us through…

‘That is why, for the first time in my life, I have started seeing a psychologist. I have virtually given up drinking alcohol… I’ve been going to see (my psychologist) once a week for eight months. For an alcoholic to combat problems, he or she has to admit to those problems first.’

That same year, Jones and Tanya were both diagnosed with melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer that kills around 2,000 people every year in the UK. They fought the disease together with both being given the all-clear two years later. 

Jones had blamed his outdoor lifestyle for the cancer, aggravated by his move to Los Angeles with Tanya, while he claimed her cancer had been triggered by the drugs she took since having a heart transplant.

The actor, pictured in the 2007 film The Condemned, often plays a violent thug or a criminal in his roles

The actor, pictured in the 2007 film The Condemned, often plays a violent thug or a criminal in his roles

The former footballer made a name for himself playing gangsters and criminals in films such as Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch and The Midnight Meat Train (pictured)

 The former footballer made a name for himself playing gangsters and criminals in films such as Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch and The Midnight Meat Train (pictured)

The footballer-turned-actor's wife Tanya died aged 53 in 2019 after suffering from cancer (pictured in January 2019)

 The footballer-turned-actor’s wife Tanya died aged 53 in 2019 after suffering from cancer (pictured in January 2019) 

Tanya’s heart had collapsed while giving birth to her daughter at age 21. She was saved after being given a heart transplant, using the heart of a 14-year-old German boy. She later went on to become one of the longest-surviving heart recipients. 

Tragically it was cancer that ultimately killed Tanya. She had discovered her cancer had returned and spread to her brain in a phone call on Christmas Eve while the couple were celebrating with 15 family members in Palm Springs. 

Jones said it was the moment they realised ‘it’s beat us’ but Tanya had been determined to have ‘the best Christmas ever’ so kept it a secret from everyone.

‘The bravery of her is unfathomable,’ Jones added. ‘All’s she wanted to do was please people.’

She died age 53 in their Hollywood home on July 6 2019 following a six-year battle with cancer.

At around midnight on the night Tanya died, Jones was sitting outside in the darkness, and he said: ‘We always had this thing, Tans and I – when I was away I’d throw her a kiss and she’d catch it.

‘There was a star, very close and not very high. So I said: ‘Is that you, babe?’ Nothing. I went inside but thought… ‘I didn’t throw the kiss’. So I went back out, threw the kiss and the light went whoosh!’ I swear that happened.’

Since her death Jones – who is now 11 years sober – has been open about his grief and become a mental health advocate.

'Losing Tanya has been the worst thing that's ever happened to me and her family and friends, but I don't want her loss to be in vain', he said previously. Pictured: The couple in 2002

‘Losing Tanya has been the worst thing that’s ever happened to me and her family and friends, but I don’t want her loss to be in vain’, he said previously. Pictured: The couple in 2002

Jones released  personal memoir on his grief following the death of his beloved partner

Jones released  personal memoir on his grief following the death of his beloved partner 

Jones has encouraged others to go sober, branding alcohol ‘the worst drug on the planet’ and telling the sober-curious ‘if I can quit, believe me; you can and your life will be a million per cent better. I guarantee it.’ 

Speaking about his addiction earlier this month, he told GQ: ‘I was a party alcoholic.

I’d do it to be a laugh – it was like inviting the f*****g court jester. I’d be really funny and then there was a point where it levelled and came back the other way. I don’t think alcohol was my hook, I think it was the sugar.

‘The sugar got me to a f****g place, but once the alcohol kicked in, I was kind of paranoid. I was very defensive if someone was negative towards me.’

Opening up on the loss of his wife, Jones said he remained ‘broken’ inside and ‘struggles to comprehend’ going to bed on his own.

He copes with his grief by throwing himself into work and seeking help from a psychologist in a bid to stop him ‘drowning’ in his own despair. 

‘[Grief] is a ghost, it’s a blanket. It wraps around you and it pulls you down. You don’t know when it’s going to happen, why it happens. It just happens,’ he told Stuff.

‘You’ve got to try and get your head above water, breathe in as long as you can because you know you’re going to be pulled under again.

Commissioned by Netflix, The Gentleman is a spin-off of the 2019 Guy Ritchie film of the same name, and will also be directed by the star

Commissioned by Netflix, The Gentleman is a spin-off of the 2019 Guy Ritchie film of the same name, and will also be directed by the star

‘You got to give people what they want, or you f*****g drown. It’s f*****g exhausting [Sometimes I want to] build a 50 foot wall around to keep everybody out and keep me in… 

‘My spirit may be broken inside, but I think I’ve got enough knowledge and enough experience to cope with it.’

The actor previously wrote a book about his experiences , Lost Without You: Loving And Losing Tanya.

‘Losing Tanya has been the worst thing that’s ever happened to me and her family and friends, but I don’t want her loss to be in vain’, he said previously. 

In the year’s following his wife’s death he did not appear in any films or scripts but will now make his return to the screen as part of The Gentleman’s main cast.

Commissioned by Netflix, it is a spin-off of the 2019 Guy Ritchie film of the same name, and will also be directed by the star.

The film also star Theo James, Kaya Scodelario, and comedian Peter Serafinowicz.

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