One of Wales’ most iconic international rugby players kicked off the 2019 events calendar for the M4 Business Network.

Gareth Thomas was at at the Celtic Manor Resort to give a heartfelt account of his personal and professional life, both on and off the pitch.

Addressing an audience of more than 160 professionals from leading businesses across the region, Gareth – Alfie to friends and fans – openly described how his battles to accept himself and be accepted by those around him, rivalled any opponent he faced on the pitch.

Today, in addition to his numerous sporting achievements, Alfie is recognised as the first openly gay rugby player in the UK and an inspiration to those seeking to address the stigma of homosexuality within the sporting world. Yet, the man who faced down the strongest of rivals in the game, explained to a captured audience how his personal struggles had once taken him to the very brink.

Alfie recalled how overcoming those challenges relied on the same values and determination that enabled him to become a star on the field. Yet, ultimately it was the support of this family, loved ones, team and fans, that finally provided the strength to reveal the person he’d kept hidden for so many years.

Paul Byett, chair of the M4 Business Network and the managing partner of it’s lead sponsor, UHY Hacker Young, said: “I thank Gareth for so openly sharing his deeply personal story. His bravery on the pitch was always remarkable, but hearing the courage that it took to be the person we know today is nothing short of inspirational.”

The event also saw the M4 Business Network introduce its latest sponsor, the Development Bank of Wales, an organisation that helps Welsh businesses with the flexible funding they need to start-up, strengthen and grow.

The event heard from the owner of the infamous Port Talbot Banksy, John Brandler of Brandler Galleries about his plans to feature the piece in a new gallery in the heart of the historic Welsh steel town, along with other Banksy works, in addition those of other international artists, including Swansea’s Pure Evil.

Mr Brandler welcomed the support of Welsh businesses to create a museum which is set to draw international media interest, with visits from the New York Times and as far afield as Japan already confirmed.

Welsh actor and activist Michael Sheen will be the speaker at the next M4 Business Network breakfast on the May 7. He will talk about the upcoming arrival of the Homeless World Cup in Cardiff this summer.