Outsiders in London
All photographs: copyright © Milan Svanderlik - London - UK
HENRY FRASER (# 20) with his brother, Will
Henry Fraser ( with his brother Will )
Born in Watford, England
Father born in England / Mother in Germany
Ethnic heritage / Father: English / Mother: Greek Cypriot
Henry’s father, Andrew, runs a successful design company in Hertfordshire and both his parents have considerable artistic and design flair; however, for generations, the Fraser family has also been keenly engaged in sporting activity. It is therefore not surprising that all four sons of the current generation seem to excel in both, and Henry was no exception.
Henry started his schooling at Chesham Preparatory School, where he began playing rugby at the age of six. Staying at Chesham until he was 11, he then moved on to the Berkhamsted Collegiate School for boys. Boasting fine academic and arts traditions, the school also excelled in its encouragement of sport. Henry was there concurrently with his older brother, William (Will) and both of them proved to be natural rugby players: “I fitted into my new school extremely well,” says Henry, “I was always very sporty, a good team player, and enjoyed all sports really. Berkhamsted School had a long-established house structure and competition between houses was much encouraged, so every boy had lots of opportunities to participate in academic, cultural and sporting activities through the numerous house teams. Many boys formed strong bonds, sometimes life-long friendships, with their team-mates in these inter-house competitions.”
At the age of 16, again following in Will’s footsteps, Henry moved to Dulwich College. Both Henry and Will were weekly borders, so for Henry, that meant staying away from home for the first time. “I had an advantage at Dulwich, as my brother was there before me and he helped me to fit in; he also introduced me to many of his own friends. It was a tremendously enjoyable time, full of hard work and concentration, but above all it provided me with the opportunity to participate in a wide range of competitive sports.”
“I had also arrived at Dulwich with a second significant advantage: I was already playing rugby with their teams as a representative, before I actually joined the College - Dulwich had always offered outstanding opportunities for anyone with the talent, passion and determination to play rugby. That is how many future professionals are spotted and groomed. This was certainly the case with Will who now plays rugby professionally as a member of the Saracens Senior Squad and lately also as an England Saxons Representative.”
Henry became a regular member of the Dulwich College 1st XV and represented the County and London & South East Division, as well as playing in the Saracens Academy. “I enjoyed playing rugby very much but having seen what commitments Will had had to make to reach the professional level, I must say that there were times when I started to harbour some doubts as to whether this was the right path for me. I started to see myself perhaps as more of a sports coach or trainer, and continuing to play rugby but not to the exclusion of all other sports.” However, in view of his ability, others continued to see Henry as a potential professional rugby player until, that is, events intervened in a deeply shocking way when he was only 17.
“I loved Dulwich,” says Henry in happy retrospection; “It was simply the best place I could have been for the quality of teaching and support I got. It was also good to be in London itself and, as a teenager, the city seemed to offer so much one desired, found exciting and stimulating.”
Life was good for Henry - it promised so much. Then, in Portugal, during what was his first independent holiday abroad with some teenage friends, disaster struck: “On the fifth day there,” says Henry, “On 18th of July 2009, to be precise, my life was to change for ever. All I did was to run off the beach and dive into the sea, something I had done umpteen times before. I remember banging my head on the seabed and thinking clearly that I had misjudged my dive. Opening my eyes, I naturally expected to be out of the water, standing up, but this was not what happened.”
The impact had left Henry paralysed from the shoulders down. “Imagine being a 17-year-old boy who has everything going for him, a senior prefect, with full colours, and a good athlete: then imagine having all that taken away from you in a split second. It was a nightmare holiday.”
Henry’s parents, his brothers and his friends stayed next to him almost continuously during the traumatic six months he spent in rehabilitation at Stoke Mandeville Hospital. Once he was stabilised, his friends, together with the staff at Dulwich College, generously welcomed Henry back for a year, providing the help and support he needed to finish his exams. Two ground floor boarding rooms were found for his exclusive use - one for Henry and one for his full-time carer - and the College did a great deal in offering flexibility with lessons and facilitating access to these. His parents contributed too, finding him a highly organised, full-time assistant who spent the entire day with him in the classroom, taking notes, dealing with schoolwork, and helping Henry with everything he was physically unable to do for himself.
“This period was psychologically important to me,” recalls Henry; “It helped me to start to come to terms with my severe physical limitations but it was also important for me to know that I was able to finish my exams and that I could accomplish tasks I set for myself in the future. I have gradually started to learn how to manage resources around me and how to communicate with the outside world. I have started to learn and to understand what is possible.” Henry says he will remain eternally grateful for all those at Dulwich College who made this transformation possible. While the first year following the accident was critical, in that it was then that he won the fight for survival, the year which followed was crucial in terms of giving Henry the confidence to see that a worthwhile life was possible, despite all the limitations.
Henry now lives in the family home which has undergone some substantial adaptations. He needs a full-time carer who shares with his mother, Francesca, the task of caring for him. An iPad connected to the internet, which Henry operates using a special stylus held in his mouth, is his main connection to the outside world. He is able to send and receive eMails, he is able to write text and articles, listen to music, watch films, access the web and talk to his brothers, relatives and friends.
“When I returned home first, I continued with as much assisted physical exercise as possible; this was very important to me. This had been the source of great enjoyment to me before the accident and, while the nature of the exercises has had to change fundamentally, the enjoyment I derive from them remains unchanged. These exercises and ‘physio’ treatments maintain my muscles, which would otherwise wither, leading to other complications.” Henry spends normally 4-5 hours a day, 6 days a week doing exercises. They also make the day go faster.
Much of the rest of his time, Henry now spends watching rugby. He follows Will if the Saracens are playing at home and will follow any live rugby whenever distance, weather and practicalities permit. He now contributes online articles to the Rugby website and also to an American sports network. He is exploring the possibility of becoming an agent and rugby consultant/scout - after all, he has extensive, first-hand experience of the sport, a very considerable knowledge of the game, and he follows it with real passion.
Will Fraser, Henry’s brother, now plays rugby professionally for the Saracens and for the England Saxons. When he runs out, he always wears Henry’s initials on his wristband. At the kick-off, he looks down at these to remind himself that he is playing for his disabled brother too, knowing that though Henry may be in the stand, confined to his wheelchair, he will be out on the pitch with Will in spirit - there is between them a powerful, life-enhancing bond.
Henry is also associated with the Matt Hampson Foundation - ‘inspiring and supporting young people seriously injured through sport’. Many of the things injured youngsters need cost thousands, so the Foundation helps out with these costs. Henry met Matt during 2010 and he and Will are both now ambassadors for the Foundation - they attend events, give interviews, and speak to groups, clubs and potential donors.
Interview Date: 8th July 2013
Updated: 28th July 2013
To learn more about the Matt Hampson Foundation go to:
To learn more about Henry Fraser and his Trust go to:
Imagine a 17 year-old boy with everything going for him - senior prefect, good athlete and very promising rugby player - then imagine all that lost in a second. On what became his nightmare holiday, Henry dived into the sea, struck his head on the seabed, and severed his spinal cord, leaving him paralysed below the shoulders. Henry’s brother, Will, plays rugby for Saracens and for the England Saxons; when he runs out, he always wears Henry’s initials on his wristband. At the kick-off, he scans these, reminding himself that he is playing for his brother too. Though Henry may be in the stand, confined to his wheelchair, his spirit is out on the pitch with Will - there is between them a powerful, life-enhancing bond.
Photography: London 19th September 2013