Max Evans’ voice is calm, but he speaks with the authority of someone that has been there and done it. Which, to be fair, he probably has. With over 40 caps for Scotland rugby (including playing at a World Cup), experience as a professional golfer and a performance on British ITV’s Dancing on Ice, it is fair to say that his career has never been dull. Now a permanent Algarve resident, Max speaks to David Lugg about how life has taken some recent unexpected twists and why he’s welcomed them with open arms.
With a combination of rugged good looks and natural sporting talent, Max Evans has never been too far away from both the sport and gossip columns of the press. Add in a couple of high-profile relationships and some eye-opening appearances on Saturday night television, and you have all the ingredients for a libertine lifestyle. Yet, talking to Max on a balmy evening in late May, you get a sense that he may have found his inner peace.
Max’s journey to this point has hardly been straightforward. During the pandemic, he found himself “stuck in lockdown” in the Algarve after his return flight had been cancelled. This, as it transpired, turned out to be a blessing in disguise. He promptly met his partner (professional dancer Debora Casimiro) and the couple announced the birth of their baby girl in 2021. On a sporting front, he became player-coach of local rugby in Loulé and recently oversaw them winning promotion at his first attempt. Life in the Algarve, it seems, has turned out pretty well.
“It’s been a dream of mine that I would meet someone that wanted to settle down in Portugal,” he tells me with sincerity. “I see myself being down here now for the rest of my life.” On the face of it, Max’s ‘dream’ might appear a little capricious, but dig a little deeper and you’ll find that the Algarve has long been on his periphery.
“My Mum and Dad moved to Portugal when I was a one-year-old, in 1984. My Granddad bought one of the first villas in Vale do Lobo. Although it’s a different house, it’s on the same plot where my Mum and Dad live now. So I grew up in Portugal.”
© Getty Images EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND – FEBRUARY 07: Max Evans of Scotland in action during the RBS Six Nations Championship match between Scotland and France at Murrayfield Stadium on February 7, 2010 in Edinburgh, United Kingdom. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
Despite his prime-time television fame, rugby was always his first love. But how did playing rugby fit into early life in Portugal? “Andrė Coelho (director at Rugby Clube de Loulé) was a lifeguard on Vale do Lobo beach, and he saw me play touch-rugby with my brother. This is how I ended up playing some games for Loulé when I was 19.” Max went on to play sixty-three times for Glasgow Warriors before a successful stint in southern France for Castres (where he helped them win the French league title).
Back to the present day, life is a little more tranquil in southern Portugal, but he certainly hasn’t lost his competitive edge as the coach of Loulé. A long season culminated in a 12-5 victory in the play-off final against Belas, which ultimately saw them promoted to Division One. “It’s a special feeling,” he admits. “It’s the second rugby title that I’ve won in my career, but it was pretty memorable, especially as it was my first time coaching.”
I pose the question of whether coaching Loulé might feel a touch anticlimactic after, say, playing at a World Cup in New Zealand, but Max is adamant that the experience has been as exciting as it has been rewarding. “I‘m the head coach and one of the more experienced players, and I’ve been able to find my voice again. I can honestly say that coming back from the final (in Lisbon) was the best bus journey I’ve ever had. It gives me goosebumps.”
Max reveals that he often views life from the perspective of the plucky underdog. “I’m a huge movie buff,” he explains. “My brother (fellow Scottish international Thom Evans) and I grew up watching them all the time. We would quote all the classic movies like Rocky – the zero-to-hero films. This experience (winning promotion) has genuinely felt like being in a movie.”
A movie appearance probably wouldn’t feel too far-fetched as notoriety seems to run in the family. After Thom suffered a devastating career-ending injury on the rugby pitch, he transferred his skills into acting and modelling. He now dates pop singer Nicole Scherzinger (of Pussycat Dolls fame). The family connections don’t end there as his cousin is radio and television presenter Chris Evans.
Max’s own celebrity status rose considerably in 2018 when he and dance partner Ale Izquierdo skated their way to third place on the TV series Dancing on Ice. I ask how the nerves of playing international rugby compared to ice skating live on national television (the final was watched by more than 6 million people).
“Oh my god! Like anyone, I get nervous or anxious, but I have a medical condition that makes me start shaking. After ten minutes of any rugby game, you’re not going to be shaking, whereas on ice, your knees are trembling and you know that you’ve got to pick up your partner…and it’s live on television and everyone is watching…, especially your rugby mates! But dancing and sport are a combination of rhythm and timing so by the time I got to the final I was confident. But to answer the question, it was the most nervous I’ve ever been in my life.”
Photo © Dancing on Ice
So now that Max is a family man and settled in the Algarve, I’m intrigued to know what’s next on his timeline? “When I finished playing rugby, I was lucky enough to pick up a padel racket with (ex-England football captain) John Terry and we loved it.” (If you’re new to the sport, padel is a cross between squash and tennis). “I knew as soon as I played it that it was going to be huge. I started a company in the UK (PadelXO) where we provide courts, covers, racquets – all Portuguese products. I want to be part of trying to get padel to the Olympics in Los Angeles in 2028. That’s six years away.”
But what about rugby? After a marvellous debut, surely a season in Division One beckons? “I feel like six years is also a good goal for Rugby Clube de Loulé to win the Honours League (the elite rugby division in the country) and be champions of Portugal. In six years’ time, you look at some of the kids who are 13 or 14. These are the kids that I’m going to be excited about being part of the team.”
There is a steadfast belief about the way Max operates – steely determination, self-assured, but always charming. He tells me he’s a big believer in the power of the mind, which is most likely where he finds a connection to his beloved action movies.
In truth, I’m not convinced that Max has ever been a true underdog, but we could do well by taking a leaf out of the Max Evans guide to life. The Algarve has a new permanent resident. As John McClane from Die Hard would say – ’Welcome to the party, pal.’
Main image: © Getty Images