The only openly gay man to be a rugby union referee at the highest level of the game has revealed he tried to kill himself because he did not want to be a homosexual.

In his new Welsh language autobiography Hanner Amser (Half Time) Nigel Owens talks about the fear he had about coming out.

It was several years after his suicide attempt that he finally told family and friends.

“Actually saying those three little words “I am gay” was the most difficult thing I have ever had to do,” he told BBC Wales.

“I would rather referee in front of a passionate 80,000 crowd and give a last minute penalty than do that again. I told my mum – we both shed a tear but nothing changed.

“They are obviously going to be disappointed – not disappointed in me as a person but disappointed that I was an only child and the realisation that maybe there would be no grandchildren.

“Obviously it was difficult for them.”

Mr Owens was nominated for a Stonewall Award for Sportsperson of the Year in 2007.

When he eventually came out to his colleagues at the Welsh Rugby Union and players and was surprised that they were so accepting. He officiated at the Rugby World Cup in France last year.

“I think it shows that, especially in Wales, how close a community rugby is,” he said.

“This is not against football in any way because I like watching football.

“But I think when you think of spectators in football – if I was a football referee it would be more difficult to go and referee in football matches than it is in rugby matches.”

Mr Owens spoke candidly to BBC Wales about his despair as a younger man trying to come to terms with his sexuality.

“It was in an era when it was a difficult thing to be,” he said,

“It got me down so much that I just could not cope anymore. I thought there was only one way out of this and that’s foolishly what I tried to do.

“I got up early in the morning – left the house – left a note for my parents – and I walked and walked for ages. I landed up trying to take an overdose.”

He was discovered after his parents raised the alarm.

“I was airlifted to hospital, spent four or five days there, and then coming out I was embarrassed about what I had done and ashamed.

“When I saw my parents crying from what I had done it made me so ashamed to put them through that. When you are in that frame of mind there is nothing you can do – I think the only way out of it is to tell people, talk to people and friends and family can help you out of it.

“I think it was a turning point – it made me realise it’s time you grew up, accepted who you were and got on with your life and make the most of it.”

Hanner Amser (Half Time) is published in Welsh by Y Lolfa.