I was born in Calcutta, my mum’s Indian, my dad’s English. So I came over when I was one. I lived in Ecclesfield all my childhood life. I live on the outskirts of Rotherham right now but I’ve been here since I was one-year-old. Growing up was quite a challenge. Because back then, it’s not like it is today.
I didn’t have a lot going for me as a kid. Believe it or not, I was small. That seems to have stuck with me for life. So I got s**t because I was small. My dad didn’t have a job all the way through school so I was on dinner tickets and wearing hand me downs. Trousers that were too short for you and everyone taking the p**s. Shoes and trainers that had holes in them so water just comes in.
Every time I’d go to the park there’d be a group of kids and you’d be getting ‘P**i go home…’ They’d chase you down the street. So I had all that sort of stuff. That was my life as a kid. I’d get picked on at school, absolutely ridiculed at school and bullied at school. I’d go home and didn’t get on with my mum. My mum and dad were both alcoholics. When my mum would have a few drinks in her, then she was pretty nasty.
All I had as a kid was kids at school saying you can’t do nothing, ridiculing you, beating you up, then going home getting the same at home and having your mother tell me that I’d never do anything, that I was s**t, worthless, a mistake. When you have that, you don’t believe you can accomplish anything. It takes a long, long time to get over that.
I’m a patron for NACOA, which is the National Association for the Children of Alcoholics. I know what it feels like. I know what it feels like when people that are supposed to be building you up and supporting you, helping you grow as a person, as a little individual, tell you you can’t do anything.
As long as I’m a good dad to my kids and as long as I can bring my kids up to believe that they can achieve anything with hard work, I’ve cracked it. I’ve learned what not to do. Because I know what it feels like. All I had to do was flip the switch and make them feel the exact opposite to how I felt as a kid. That’s all I’ve done really.
I left home at 15 but I had no choice. It was a bad time. I had to get out of the house… I had the biggest beating again over nothing and I thought, that’s it. My life wouldn’t be what it is today if I had stayed in that house.
I started boxing at 15 because I finally got to the point where I couldn’t allow this to carry on going, to be scared of everything, to not believe I could do anything. I remember the kids at school locked me in a metal cupboard. It had no back just bars at the back. They locked me in there and were lobbing paper towels in the back of it. The next minute, the towels at my feet were on fire and, boom, my head just blew, I started smashing the door. It was only a thin door. I broke the door through and I remember thinking, I can’t do this anymore. I’ve got to get some confidence. Then I started boxing. I went on the hunt for Brendan Ingle’s gym.
Being in that gym environment, Brendan, Johnny Nelson, Clifton Mitchell, guys like that, they did a lot for my confidence. Naseem Hamed, that’s what you dream about becoming. But he was that unattainable dream, whereas with Johnny Nelson, Brendan had told us stories about Johnny being scared in sparring and being scared going to fights and made you look at how he came through; he lost his first few fights. I associated myself with him. I would watch Johnny and do what he was doing in the gym.
This sounds stupid but I remember Clifton Mitchell bought me an ice cream. I just thought, wow. I felt accepted because Clifton Mitchell bought me an ice cream and I was walking through Sheffield city centre with this professional prospect and Paul “Silky” Jones who was a good fighter as well. Clifton, he probably won’t even remember that day but that’s what I’m saying, you don’t remember what you’ve done just buying the kid an ice cream. You don’t remember the impact.
Brendan was a character who took me under his wing. He’s like a father figure. Just somebody that shows some interest in you. That’s the thing about amateur boxing coaches all over the world; the impact that they have on these kids, these kids that don’t have the attention at home, the impact that they have on kids that have no belief. Just people that nobody has an interest in. Nobody wants to sit and talk to them. Nobody gives them the time. But boxing coaches do.
If Brendan would take me on the pads, I felt like a million dollars. Even if it was just a round, he’s giving you the time that you don’t get anywhere else. Somebody giving you attention in a positive way and building your self-esteem.
Things like boxing gyms and boxing coaches, again I’m not talking about myself, now I just work with professionals, I’ve got a minute impact, I’m talking about unsung coaches, amateur coaches. The impact that these guys have is phenomenal. You can’t measure that.
So the influence of that gym changed my life. Without that I was just a terrified little boy. If a stranger spoke to me, I would just start sweating because I didn’t have the confidence to speak to them. So when I look at what I do now, if I work on TV for Sky, I think to myself I can’t believe I’ve just done that because I still remember how I felt before.
That gym and this sport has done everything for me. That’s why when you see stuff like the government not helping boxing it is so very frustrating. Forget about the sport and the financial side of things at the top end, what it does for kids like me is unbelievable. It’s the kids that just haven’t got the confidence, the kids that would not have gone on to do anything in life, it’s made such an impact on people like that. Because if it’s done that for me, it’s done that for thousands and thousands of people.
It never happened for me as a boxer, the success came years on as a coach. But what I’m doing now I get more satisfaction out of because I’m impacting more people.
There was a time I was skint. I was broke. I just had journeymen. I was struggling to put shows together as a promoter. I said to Spencer Fearon, ‘You know what, I think I’m just going to have a stable full of journeymen so I can make money.’ He said you can’t aim for that. He just started teaching me about how to be more positive. I struggled with everything, Spencer helped me start switching my mind.
I’m 45 now, I was in my overdraft until I was 40. So I will not apologise for enjoying my life right now. I remember I just wanted to get to a position where I’m not bothered when the postman comes. Because I can afford my bills. No debt collection letters coming through. I just wanted to get to that position.
The Jamie McDonnell-Tomoki Kameda fight paid my overdraft and the feeling… That was a good feeling. People think I just popped up with Tony Bellew. I didn’t. I used to drive to Scotland with Daniel Thorpe or James Tucker for four-rounders, for 12 minutes work, driving four hours, five-and-a-half hours to Scotland. Back then I was back on my way, no one was putting me up in hotels. Get home at five o’clock. Knowing he’s going to lose on points. Doing that and you’re getting 80 quid for it. And you’re training him and you’re the manager. That’s part of boxing. Some of us have actually gone through the s**t. I wouldn’t change it because my beginnings as a spit bucket man, working as a house second for Frank Warren shows, I learned a lot. In the corner you’re listening to Jimmy Tibbs, Pete Defreitas, people like that talking to their fighters. Working as a cut man with Billy Nelson and Ricky Burns and things like that. Just working with different coaches. Just sat there, holding the bucket, praying to God they don’t spit on you, listening and seeing how these coaches are dealing with everything. I wouldn’t change anything.
I appreciate every day. I don’t take my life for granted. I was at Peter Fury’s gym with Tony Bellew sparring once. I had this immense pain in my head and I dropped to the floor. Literally it dropped me. I went to hospital and it was a dispersed aneurysm. It was dispersed so I was lucky but that really, really made me think. You could just pop off at any time.
’ve got no time to be bitter. I’ve got no time to regret. I’ve seen people being bitter over the past and it affects the future. If one segment of your life was an absolute nightmare, it almost destroyed you but it didn’t destroy you, why let this segment of your past destroy your future? We have choices. You have a choice to dwell on what went wrong. But if all that was so s**t, why would I want that to stain what I’ve got now? That’s the way I look at it.
I don’t waste my time being bitter because your time can be up. I love working with the fighters that I’m working with. I love that every single day. I come home, I love every minute I’ve got with my kids. I love my life.
You’ve got one crack at it.