Fern Britton meets boxing legend and two-time world champion Nigel Benn. He charts his glittering career but also shares his more troubled personal journey.
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My guest this week
is counted amongst the greatest of British sporting heroes.
Introducing Nigel Benn!
Known as the Dark Destroyer,
he was a two-time world champion and in a glittering career,
he first put on his boxing gloves when he was serving
for the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers.
Nigel Benn went on to win 42 out of 48 of his professional fights.
..Takes this fight by the scruff of the neck...
35 of those victories were knockouts.
Once again he fights back!
But looking back over his life,
it's easy to see that Nigel's longest fight, his greatest fight
and his finest victory was actually the battle he fought with himself.
Nigel Benn was eight years old when a family tragedy
turned his world upside down.
Something in my heart was severed.
I had no feelings.
That pattern from a young eight-year-old boy
went all the way through my life, the anger and the hurt that I had.
Five years in the Army gave him discipline and a will to win.
There were highs...
Nigel was a marauding, attacking puncher who just walked you down,
put you to the ropes and knocked you out.
Nigel Benn, the Dark Destroyer...
..and there were also lows.
I remember kissing one hand, saying, "Sorry." And that was it.
Outside the boxing ring, Nigel's life spiralled out of control.
He lived his life like he used to fight.
I didn't even care about the fight.
-Get him out the way, let's go out and party.
Eventually his past caught up with him, and Nigel even thought
about taking his own life.
I don't know if I wanted to die.
I think I just wanted someone to say, "You know what?
"You're going to be all right."
Help came from an unexpected source.
God used a 63-year-old woman
to break Nigel down to who God created Nigel to be.
What I want to know is how, against all the odds,
Nigel Benn won the fight of his life.
UPBEAT MUSIC PLAYS
Is this bringing back memories?
Although, actually, this was your club, wasn't it?
But not this building.
Yeah, this is where I really started boxing.
It's got so much character, got so much history as well.
But you're on the board over there.
-Hang on a minute...
Just after Mark Kaylor.
Would have been nice if I had some lights,
with my name up in lights there, but I'll take that.
I'll stick some fairy lights up there for you for Christmas.
# You say that you love me
# Say you love me... #
Nigel Gregory Benn was born on 22nd January 1964
in Ilford, Essex, to parents Dixon and Mina,
who came to England from Barbados in the mid-1950s
with their growing family - all boys.
So, what was family like when you were growing up in
a house full of seven boys? Your mum was the only woman!
Mum was the only woman. She wanted a girl so badly!
From the top - Andy, Dermot, John,
Danny, Mark, Nigel and Tony.
Nigel being second from youngest, obviously we looked after him,
you know what I mean?
But after a certain amount of years, he looked after himself, you know?
That's the type of chap he was.
We just had fisticuffs amongst each other but, being honest with you,
it was the best time of my life.
We never had much. "Mum, we ain't got no food."
And she'd come out with her accent,
"What do you mean, you ain't got no food?"
And she would knock something up, we'd think, "Wow, that was great!"
What sort of mum was she?
Mum was good. Mum was all right. Oh...
If I was naughty, "You wait till I tell your dad."
"Oh, no, where do you want me to clean up, Mum?
"What do you want me to do, the washing up?"
-Mum was good.
-But your father was the disciplinarian.
My dad was discipline.
But he was fair.
But the minute you stepped out of line, he come down on you heavy.
I know my dad loved me very much.
Out of all seven boys, we were the closest.
But in 1972, Nigel's parents were faced with devastating news,
which they had to break to the rest of the family.
All I remember, I think it was about four, five o'clock in the morning.
And I remember hearing my mum screaming, "He's dead, he's dead!"
I was eight years old, I didn't understand what "dead" was.
Mum and Dad woke us all up
"Your brother won't be coming home again."
And we said, "What do you mean, he won't be coming home again?"
They said, "He's dead." And, uh...
That was about it, really. I sort of remembered... I was only...
11, 12. And...
Our biggest brother was our hero, he looked after us, you know?
And the house is, like, police cars are flashing outside,
the lights and all that.
Later I found out my brother was killed by racists.
-Yeah, he was pushed through a window,
cut his groin and bled to death.
Nigel believes his brother was murdered,
but nothing was ever proved beyond the bare facts -
Andy felt from an upstairs window onto a glass roof.
-How old was he?
-He was 17.
Back then, you think, well, when you're 18 you're a man.
Now that I'm 52, nearly 53, I think,
"He was just a little boy."
He's the only one that come from Barbados.
All my other brothers were all born in England, he was the only one.
So, it was really a...
A really telling time for Mum and Dad.
They seemed like they brought him
all the way from Barbados to England...
-And he died.
-So it was really hard for them.
And it was hard for the family because...
no-one talked about it for many, many years,
until we were all adults. No-one ever talked about it.
It was tough. It was a tough five, six years just getting over it.
Even now I still get emotional.
Losing the brother he worshipped had a lasting effect on the young,
Me and my brother Andy, we were so close, you know? I just loved him.
Something in my heart was severed. I just changed.
I had no feelings.
And that pattern from a young eight-year-old boy went
all the way through my life, the anger and the hurt that I had.
I started smoking at eight, and I was always fighting.
-You were smoking at eight?
-Yeah, eight years old.
I just...just went off.
The main thing with Nigel when he was a youngster was fighting.
Always in scraps.
He wouldn't be afraid to get in a scrap, and he had
a bit of light-fingering,
he'd go into places and take stuff, you know?
I always shoplifting.
I remember in 1976, nicked a crushed velvet jacket from Marks & Spencer.
Woolworth and Marks & Spencer, it weren't, like, Versace or anything.
I done a lot of bad things.
Nicked my auntie's purse, my next-door neighbour's purse.
I just went off the rails. Needed money.
What did you need money for?
Just so that I can go and just enjoy myself.
And then I made everybody in school on my birthday bring me 50 pence.
-You made everybody?
-What, you bullied them into it?
I was a horrible kid, yeah.
He was definitely a rogue, you know, but that was him.
Do you know what I mean?
Were you caught?
Oh, yeah, I was caught. I think...
"Please send my mum, not my dad. Oh, please, please send my mum."
How did your father react?
"By hook or by crook, you're not going to end up like your brother."
I think, "Oh, OK, right."
-Not end up dead like Andy.
And I was going that way. I was going that way and I think...
What he was trying to do, he was trying to steer me the other way.
-Mm. Was there much church in your life?
-No church at all. Yeah.
Not my cup of tea.
-So at that time, God wasn't present in your life.
-No, not at all.
He was around me but I didn't know him, not at all, no, no.
Far from it. I was more in the other corner.
By far, more in the other corner.
As Nigel reached 16, his parents were at the end of their tether.
They turned to one of their older sons, John,
for help with the tearaway teenager.
-My brother John was in the Army.
-Oh, was he?
And John used to walk down our road in his uniform, looking immaculate.
It was like a fanfare,
"Look, here comes John!" It was like that. Everything about him...
I just loved... "I want to be like John."
John was serving overseas when he received
a desperate phone call from his mum.
I could tell in her voice that something weren't right and
she said, "John, do me a big favour.
"Have a word with Nigel, get him in the Army, because I can see him
"killing somebody or getting killed or being put in prison.
"Please, have a word with him and get him in the Army."
I said, "Mum, don't worry, when I'm on leave next time,
"I'll have a chat with him."
And so Nigel joined the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers
1st Battalion and reported for his initial 18-week training.
Now, the objective of your training
is to transform you from the soft life of a civilian
into a robust fighting man.
Left, right, left, right!
Basic training, it was like...
I can't say what they used to say to you.
Stand at attention when you're speaking to me!
I mean, screaming in your ears.
Screaming, tipping you up in the bed.
Wakey, wakey, rise and shine! Let's be having you!
And we're like...
-How old were you then?
-I was 17.
I would not change it for anything, cos I learned so much about myself.
At that time, Rocky was out.
We were running in the snow, the sleet would be bouncing off us,
"Yeah, yeah, I'm a He-Man!"
I think it affects you, cos it just changed my mentality.
If I didn't join the Army, I don't know where I would be.
For me, joining the Army was the best move I ever done.
It gave me that discipline, that determination and will to win.
Mm. So the anger you had from Andy's death and all of those
troubled teenage years was being exhausted, really, by this.
No, it's just in the back.
It's just in the back at this present moment because I'm learning
something. What was going on before back Ilford...
I can't even think about that now. I have not got time
to think about what was going on.
The anger from what happened to my brother is still in me
and it's going to carry me through a lot of the arenas
that I'm going to go through now.
During his time in the Army, Nigel was sent on operational tour
to Germany, where his brother John was also stationed.
-He was a boxer, wasn't he, in the Army?
Is that what led you into boxing?
No, it was already in me, I was always street-fighting anyway.
Yeah, without gloves and... Yeah...
No, that was already in me, cos I did martial arts.
I was always into contact sports.
Nigel took every opportunity the Army offered to develop
his boxing skills.
This is not Come Dancing, you're allowed to hit.
But it wasn't just a passion for fighting that kept him in the ring.
If you're good at sport in the Army, they take good care of you.
Really take good care of you.
He boxed because he could get away with murder.
We didn't wear a uniform, we didn't do any duties
and we were treated like kings, basically, and I think that's why...
He done it more for that than actually a love of boxing,
to be honest with you.
Instead of me getting out my bed at 4.45 in the morning,
I'm getting out my bed at nine o'clock. While they're all having
slops and all that, I'm having steak and salad.
-That was a good incentive, wasn't it?
Whatever the motives behind his Army boxing,
he proved to be a formidable opponent.
When did you know that you were really good at boxing?
-How many wins had you had in the Army?
-All of them?
So how many fights was that?
When his time in the Army came to an end, Nigel returned to London.
He continued to box but he also had bills to pay.
I came out with an exemplary record so I had no problem getting a job -
a store detective...
in Woolworth, where I used to shoplift.
His ambitions in life were modest.
I just wanted a terraced house like me dad,
cos I thought me dad had made it.
And I'll be one better than my dad, I'll have a BMW.
That's all I wanted - I just wanted a terraced house, like my dad.
I didn't want nothing much, just like my dad.
After store detective work, Nigel switched to armoured van security
and discovered that even after four years of Army discipline,
temptation wasn't far away.
So you were doing cash in transit, in the vans...
Yeah, and the thoughts that were going through,
sitting on, like, £500,000, like, "Oh, how can I get this out?"
-Did you? You were tempted?
-Course I was.
-Did you have a plan, though, in your head?
It wouldn't have worked but...
We would've blown the van up,
the money would just have been left, the top would have been open...
You had plans - wishful thinking!
Nigel's plans now included another person in his life.
Tell me about meeting Sharon, your first wife.
Yeah, me and Sharon...
Oh, you've thrown me there.
Yeah, me and Sharon, we got on really well,
-we got on really well in the beginning.
Well, you were very young, both of you, for a start.
We were young, and I think that my first wife, we weren't meant to be,
we weren't meant to be, and that's no disrespect to her.
We just didn't know how to love one another.
We have three beautiful kids, Dominic, Sade and Reene.
Nigel was working full time to support his family,
but he was also making a name for himself in boxing's amateur ranks.
-Nigel Benn comes from Mark Kaylor's old club
but the man he has to beat is Gloucester's Johnny Melfah.
After knocking out 24 of his 28 opponents,
he beat Johnny Melfah in 1986
to become amateur boxing's Middleweight champion.
Another chance of looking at it here.
Benn seems, to me, to be immensely strong.
The following year, his life changed when he turned professional.
Your first professional fight - obviously, you remember that.
Graeme Ahmed in Fairfield Halls in Croydon.
Was that a good purse to start with?
Oh, no. I only started off on, like, £1,000
but, to me...and I can remember...
I remember signing on at 16,
I remember it today like it was yesterday,
I was getting £36.40 every two weeks.
-I remember that.
It's like God's always reminding me,
"Yeah, remember where you come from, your £36.40 every two weeks."
-Then, all of a sudden, it was, like, getting £1,000.
Wow, I get £1,000 for knocking...
And then it just went to five, 15, 50,
-100, 400 and so on.
-Money was just coming in...
-From every fight?
When I train,
I think, "Yeah, Mercedes Sports, a nice, big house,
"money in the bank, Rolex watches, diamonds."
That's what I think about and that's what drives me on,
that's what I want, and I'm willing to work hard for it.
-In a year, we moved to a seven-bedroom mansion.
This is my house, a big, massive swimming pool,
a massive garden, I'm like...
"I own this house. This is mine."
After turning pro in 1987,
the fights and the victories just kept coming.
-One a month?
-And they were all wins.
22 wins, 22 fights, 22 knockouts.
In April 1988, less than a year after his first professional fight,
Nigel won the Commonwealth Middleweight title
and a formidable nickname.
-Nigel Benn, the Dark Destroyer.
Quite probably one of the most popular boxers
in the country at the moment.
And this is a moment, really,
when your celebrity life's really kicked in.
Yeah, from that time.
Once I got that belt around my waist, that was it.
I have watched many of my dad's fights.
He's like a warrior when he goes in there.
Ferocious, savage, animal.
When I hit someone, I know I'm hitting them hard.
# Oh, baby, no I can't take it... #
And you know, if you're getting in a room with him,
there's just going to be no way out, really.
I think he was an amazing fighter.
Just knock them out - boom, that's it.
Right on the chin, and he's out.
I think if I weren't related to Dad,
and I just saw him back in his boxing days,
I'd be terrified of him.
Did you get the posse of people around you? The entourage?
They just come out from everywhere!
And you know what it is? It was like wherever I went, I had an entourage.
We'd have a posse of bullheads. You know what bullheads are?
Massive bodybuilders, all around us, but all, like, pals,
all pals, and we'd, like, take over a club for, like...
We've done this for about ten years.
DANCE MUSIC PLAYS
It was just too excessive sometimes, you know?
Everybody's trying stuff, "I want you here, I want you there,"
and it was just too much.
I didn't even care about the fighting.
Boom! Get him out the way,
let's go out and party - that was my whole attitude.
-I just got swept along, I just got swept along.
It was just unbelievable, it was like...
Who was paying the bills, though? You?
-No, these people had money as well.
That sounds very underworld-y. Gangster land.
Oh, yeah. Very, very...
These people that come along and say you're mates,
they want to take you here, they want to give you this,
they want to give you that - they're not your friends.
They're just after being seen with you,
as long as you do stuff for them, but, you know, I've always said -
I had friends before I had money, and they're my safe friends.
That's my policy.
Fern, it was like, um, all through my career, I couldn't stop.
It was like I was getting pulled around, all these shows,
and I just didn't really have no time to myself.
It was just like a merry-go-round, I couldn't get off.
It was like that.
Has all this fame and fortune
changed the so-called Dark Destroyer? You bet it has.
# I'm gonna stand and fight
# I'm gonna make it right I said. #
# Stand and fight... #
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
# I'm gonna stand and fight
# I'm gonna make it right I said... #
Incidentally, you may have noticed some rap music
in the background during that film.
It was in fact taken from Nigel's new pop single
Stand Up And Fight, which will be in the shops very shortly.
With his single peaking in the charts at 61,
Nigel was never going to be a pop star.
In the ring, he continued to power his way to the top,
a seemingly unstoppable force.
But he was about to learn his first hard lesson as a professional boxer.
Finsbury Park, London, 21st May 1999.
Nigel Benn, the Dark Destroyer, against Michael Watson, the Force.
They thought they could walk through Michael Watson,
they thought Michael Watson was soft.
What could he do to me?
22 fights, 22 wins, 22 KO's.
What can he do to me?
I remember, this was how confident I was,
I went to the hairdresser's to get my hair plaited
a couple of hours before the fight.
He was more concerned about his hair than he was about Michael Watson.
He should have been more concerned about Michael Watson.
I'm in the greatest shape ever,
and if I stop Benn, it'll come like a bonus,
but I'm ready to have a really good time.
Nigel started the normal way - wham, wham -
and just throwing everything at him, and you could see things unfolding
from about four rounds into the fight.
After the five rounds...
I'm, like, on empty.
And I know the light's flashing - you're on empty, you're on empty.
As I went back to my corner, this is what my trainer said to me -
"Go out there and steam him.
"Just go out there and steam him."
What do you think I've been doing for the last five rounds?
He blew a gasket, he ran out of steam,
and he just couldn't seem to penetrate Michael Watson's defence.
And Michael just hit me with a jab, and I went down.
Well, it's happened.
The man who swept to popularity on the strength of his lethal punching
has himself landed on the canvas.
Nigel Benn was knocked out in the sixth round at Finsbury Park
last night by Michael Watson.
And that was a hell of a turn-up for the books, and everybody was
flabbergasted, to be honest.
And I remember walking back to my changing room...
..and it was quiet, like this. You could hear a pin drop.
Everybody said, "Yo, Nige, I'm just going to hang out with Michael.
"When you get the title back, give me a ring."
It was like that, so you're left on your own.
-It was just me and my jockstrap left in the changing room.
And it was like...
Cos I thought I was the best thing since sliced bread...
-Well, you would.
-..and I've got the world on my shoulders now.
I'm a loser, I can't...
That was it.
All the negative thoughts started coming back, taking over.
But the Dark Destroyer was destroyed.
-I weren't... No, no, no, I wasn't destroyed.
-I came back.
Cos you've got to get this right, because I came back.
-If I'd been destroyed, that would mean I would've gone for good.
-But you lost, unfortunately, your title.
It was my first defeat.
That was the first time Nigel had to come to terms with the fact,
well, I am vulnerable, I am beatable, I am human.
The Michael Watson fight was Nigel's wake-up call.
Am I going to make it? Am I really as good as what I think I am?
I had to go away.
With his whole career at stake, Nigel headed across the Atlantic
to the gym where Muhammad Ali himself had trained -
5th Street Gym, Miami Beach,
known as the university of boxing.
I wanted to better myself because I knew there was more in me.
I just needed to learn my trade.
And how to pace it, cos I never knew how to pace.
I only had one gear - first gear.
-You did pretty well, though, with only one gear.
But you know what? That was what was in me.
That's what was in me. I went in, can I do ten rounds?
Cos I'd never done ten rounds before.
Six rounds was like the maximum, with Michael Watson,
and I was exhausted so I'd think, "Well, can I do ten rounds?"
In Miami, Nigel went back to basics.
He was honing his skills, training three times a day,
and sparring with top fighters.
In 5th Street Gym, some guys used to - bang, bang, bang, bang!
Knock my headgear flying, I'd think, "Oh, really, Lord?
"Just break my leg so I ain't got to come in sparring."
That was my attitude, I hated sparring,
because I didn't understand it, but then after about three months,
I understood their culture.
And eventually, no-one wanted to spar with me.
-So it was building your stamina?
-Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.
So I knew how to go through the gears.
Now, I've got second, oh, look, third.
Oh, I'll tell you what, this one's got fifth as well.
I never knew how to do that before.
-So Miami was the place.
With renewed confidence, Nigel won his next five fights,
and in April 1990 beat Doug DeWitt to win his first world title.
Congratulations and welcome
to the WBO Middleweight champ of the world, Nigel Benn!
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
He returned home and wasted no time in showing off his belt.
-That's the belt.
-That's the belt.
-Look at that belt.
At what stage in the fight did you hurt your hand?
-I hurt it in the last punch in the eighth round.
-That was lucky.
-The very last punch.
-That was lucky, wasn't it?
If that had gone earlier, you might have been in trouble.
-No, I would have carried on using my right.
Nigel didn't have long to bask in the glory of his world title.
Someone else was after his belt -
a fellow Brit who would become his greatest rival.
When did you first hear the name Chris Eubank?
I don't know, it was so funny, it was like...
Whe... Where did he come from?
Eubank had had a couple of fights
but he really wasn't a big name and suddenly he came in,
with all his arrogance and brashness, and said,
"I'm going to beat you, I'm going to wipe the floor with you."
Christopher Livingstone Eubank had also trained in the States.
He'd never lost a fight.
But it was his flamboyant persona outside the ring
that was really getting him noticed.
Who's this man with...jodhpurs,
a monocle and a cane
and with a lisp worse than mine?
I don't know where he come... he's a sharp dresser.
But I thought, I don't know where he came from,
he was just, like, was there, we were just so different.
And it was like, you know, he was looking down on everyone,
he just thought he was better than everybody,
it was just the way he was...
-So he genuinely got under your skin?
-Oh, big time.
And I want to jump on him and fight him for real.
There was no playing around with me and him.
There was no playing around with me and him.
Nigel hated the man...passionately.
Let's make sure the fight takes place
by signing the contract right now.
I have to say, there seems an element of genuine hate
-between these two, Ambrose.
I have nothing to say to Nigel, I find the man intolerable.
In fact he's so wild, I have no time for such people.
He has no class as far as I see it.
It was fantastic.
It was just great, and you don't get those type of rivalries,
and it was just great to watch.
I personally do hate him.
So is there any point asking you
-to shake hands after signing the contract?
-No, no, no.
Chris Eubank, with his monocle and his walking stick,
and Nigel, just wanting to tear everyone limb from limb,
so you need them rivalries in boxing, that's what makes the sport.
18th November 1990, the NEC Birmingham.
Eubank, the unbeaten fighter.
Benn with a reputation for knocking people out.
Most of the boxing experts and the pundits all had, you know,
Benn winning the fight easily, stopping Eubank, etc, etc,
and this young pretender.
Eubank was a very good fighter,
but he didn't have that aura round him, like Nigel had.
-That was a very tough fight.
-Very tough fight.
-It really was.
He was just so strong.
When Nigel went on the attack, you know,
you could see the people sat in the stand next to you moving
a little bit forward in their seat and, you know, "Come on, Nigel!"
He had a neck that was just full of muscle
and he had a head shaped like a mallet,
he was just so strong, I was hitting and...ching!
I couldn't even dent it.
I couldn't even dent it.
Nigel was too aggressive, too eager going for the knockout
and he flew at him with no care for the punches
that were coming back at him.
He can't half bang. He's got a lot of power.
And Eubank showed that night how tough he was.
More than anything else, he had the ability to absorb punishment,
like nobody I've ever seen before, he just soaked it up.
Even the referee said it was the most dramatic fight
he'd ever refereed.
We were throwing big bombs. We both wanted to be winners.
Seconds from the end of round nine,
Eubank took the fight and Nigel's belt.
I didn't have a game plan. He had a game plan and what he'd done worked,
and I've got to take my hat off to him for that.
Which is very hard, but I will.
The fight went down as a classic,
but for Nigel, it was a devastating loss.
It wasn't even about...losing, it was that pride thing.
-It was that pride thing.
-It got personal?
Yeah, it got very personal, it was like,
"I told you this man was beneath me."
-You know how he talked.
-Is that what he said?
That's how he is. So it was very personal.
Eubank, that one really rankled him. He still had to beat him,
he had that fire in his belly, he had to beat him.
It was another three years before the Benn/Eubank rematch.
It was one of the most anticipated and biggest
British boxing events ever staged.
He's beaten me, and I want to even the score.
You know, he prepared like the champion, and I didn't.
And I paid the price. Badly.
We now step aside to let the main event begin.
Enjoy the fight, good night.
The Dark Destroyer, introducing Nigel Benn!
I remember, I saved up, I think I paid £70 from my ticket.
-It really did stoke up the nation.
-Everybody seemed to have watched it.
Half a billion people worldwide.
£70, I mean, I was only about 15 or something like that.
-We made a million each.
-In that one fight?
-Yeah, in that one fight. One fight, yeah.
£70, I thought I'm going to have a belting seat here, I'm going to see
every punch, and I wasn't. I was at the back, I needed binoculars.
They were just like two little one pence pieces in the ring.
But just the atmosphere...
You know, Nigel went in there, you know, being so aggressive
and he put his heart on his sleeve and he went for the knockout.
I think most people thought that Nigel did the better work
by maybe just a round or two.
Oh, it's really livening up now. They had to do that.
I won, but I got a point deducted because they said I hit him low.
Oh, yes, another low punch there.
I think he might take a point away there.
But if you see him, he actually wears his shorts up to here,
not under his belly button.
After a thrilling final round, the bout was declared a draw.
It wasn't a bad decision, because it was that close.
This fight was a very close fight and I had it as a draw.
I still won it anyway, but it went down as a draw,
so I take it as a draw.
Nigel was now a national celebrity.
Could you repeat that, please?
Outside the ring, he was about to meet his match.
Hi, my name is Carolyne and I met Nigel in a nightclub.
Although I didn't know who he was, I thought he was a real knockout.
I saw him across the dance floor, if you like.
And I noticed his eyes.
So I thought, wow, he's got really nice eyes.
When I saw her, I actually gave her a rose. I gave her a rose.
It was quite romantic. But I lost the rose.
Carolyne was like me, we just loved the rave music at the time.
We just like clubbing, both of us, and we talked for hours.
And then we, um...we were on the phone all the time.
She didn't know who I was.
I think, looking back, that possibly interested him
because I was not in his face,
I was not...all over Nigel.
I'm trying to be like... I'm trying to kiss her and all that,
and she's, "No, no, what are you doing?"
Because I've always had that with other women.
I was very forward. But actually, "No, no, no."
I definitely was not interested in Nigel Benn,
the celebrity, if you like.
I don't even know if he was a celebrity when I met him.
So I still... You know, we just got on, we just laughed and laughed
and we were more friends, which was more important than anything else.
When she found out who I was, she kept me quiet for two years.
-She kept me quiet for two years.
-So nobody knew she was seeing you?
No-one knew she was seeing me because my name was Rob.
Oh, no, that is so embarrassing!
-My name was Rob.
-She said, "Oh, I'm seeing Rob tonight."
It all sounds silly now, I was 20.
So I didn't want my friends to...
think I'd changed because I was dating Nigel.
So I just gave him the name Rob.
Carolyne hid her relationship with Nigel,
but she made no secret of her feelings about his job in the ring.
I couldn't bear to watch Nigel fight,
but I'd go to the fights and I'd sit front row
or wherever they'd sit me,
but I didn't actually ever watch the fight.
I'd be looking down or have something in my hand the whole time.
I'd go in case anything ever happened.
And something did happen.
On 25th February 1995, Carolyne had a ringside seat for Nigel's
fight against the American Gerald McClellan, known as The G-man.
And McClellan was the bookmakers' favourite.
At that time,
McClellan was knocking people out left, right and centre.
I'd been watching him for five years and I thought to myself,
this guy's going to be one of the superstars.
-He's a tough guy.
-Gerald McClellan, the mini Mike Tyson.
And everyone had me to be...
knocked out within round one to round three.
From the Sun, the Mirror, Today, the Telegraph, the Observer,
every single one.
-I was annoyed.
I always knew Nigel had a chance,
but I couldn't see him beating the guy.
Even brother John was nervous about Nigel getting hurt.
I might be a little more straight with you.
I remember, about a week before the fight,
I went to Nigel and said,
"Nigel, do yourself a favour, Nige, give your belt up."
He turned round to me, give me such a look, he went,
"You know something, John? Not a hope in hell."
I looked at him.
I didn't have no fear at all, absolutely no fear whatsoever.
The day of that fight, the whole day, I had a headache,
I was just stressed out, absolutely stressed out.
That atmosphere was evil, and the people,
they were just wanting to see blood.
He hit me and then he hit me again,
but I felt all the ligaments in my neck just stretch and I went out.
He knocked me out of the ring, out. Out on the canvas.
Bump, bump, bang.
Nigel's gone. He's gone, his face is cut, his cheek's cut.
And he's knocked him straight through the rope. Absolutely gone.
He did, he followed onto the table
where all the commentators were, so we pushed him back in again.
I mean, he just bashed the grind out of me in the first round.
But this is what happened.
Now, something in my subconscious, I don't know what's gone on,
because after that, you watch the second round,
I'm chasing him around.
He'd just given me a good hiding in the first round,
but now I'm chasing him around.
He rose from the ashes, and what a performance!
There's something inside me that I didn't even know existed.
The amount of bravery and the guts that he showed was remarkable.
I could hear the power in the punches, it was unbelievable,
one of the best performances by a British fighter of all time.
The fight ended in round ten when McClellan dropped to one knee.
What happened next turned what should have been
a famous victory into tragedy.
McClellan collapsed in the ring
after being stopped in the 10th round.
Moments later, a large team of doctors and paramedics jumped in
and struggled for 15 minutes in the ring to resuscitate him.
He was taken to hospital
for an operation to remove a blood clot from his brain.
It's too early yet to say whether there's going to be any
long-term disability or any sign of damage as a result of this bleeding.
It is in fact too early to say yet
whether he's going to survive this blood clot or not.
-You went to see him in hospital.
I remember kissing him on the hand and saying sorry.
And that was it.
McClellan was in a coma for 11 days.
He survived, but suffered extensive and permanent brain damage.
I came out with a damaged knee, damaged jaw,
and a shadow on my brain.
He came out paralysed, blind, 80% deaf, and in a wheelchair.
-That's a terrible outcome, isn't it?
-It was a very terrible outcome.
And that's not what you box for.
No, it's not what we box for, but it's was just... It happens.
The fight was horrible, and the outcome was just heartbreaking.
No, you don't ever think
that something like that is ever going to happen.
I've been in a tragic fight.
One of my opponents died in 1983.
And you are changed inexorably.
You can never be the same again.
It doesn't mean that you can't throw punches,
it doesn't mean that you can't knock somebody out and hurt them.
But it leaves an indelible mark on you.
Something in the back of your mind...
..always makes you hesitate.
Just a moment's hesitation,
and that's all it takes to get knocked out yourself.
You're never quite the same again.
It just... You just aren't.
Nigel fought five times more before announcing his retirement in 1996.
He looked to a new future with Carolyne
to match his glittering boxing career of 12 years.
But there was to be no fairy-tale ending.
-So, Carolyne, she's the one for you.
She stood by me through thick and thin.
She stood firm, and she knew I had a lot of issues as well.
She knew I had a lot of issues
and you know what? She was willing to work through them.
There were so many affairs in that...
Whatever did you do that for?
Sometimes a man's looking for love.
And I didn't care where I got the love from.
It was an addiction.
HE EXHALES DEEPLY
-Are you all right?
Just filling some kind of void in you?
No, I don't think a void. It's not what I've gone through,
it's what I've done, because I couldn't do things right.
I was hurting a woman I loved and I didn't know how to break that.
I was battling a lot of issues in my life.
People think that I'm strong, I'm very weak.
When yet another story came out in the newspapers about an affair,
Carolyne confronted Nigel.
-You and Carolyne had had a terrible row at home.
Yeah, we had a terrible row
and I remember driving off in our black Grand Cherokee,
I had a hosepipe, she tried to stop me, and I just cried.
Tortured by guilt, Nigel drove to a quiet corner of Streatham Common.
And I'm there and I was crying.
I don't know if I wanted to die.
I think I just wanted someone to say,
"You know what? You're going to be all right."
And I remember driving home and that was the lowest point of my life.
Carolyne was also struggling and feeling increasingly unable to cope.
I'd dropped my children off to school and there was
a group of mums outside and I don't think they were gossiping,
I just don't think they knew what to say to me.
And I walked the kids into school and I came out
and for the first time, oddly,
I noticed a big Church of England church opposite the school
and I sat at the back of this empty church for about three hours
and I just cried.
They weren't tears of feeling sorry for myself, cos I'd passed that.
They were tears of, "I need help and I can't do this."
She went in there and she said, "If you're real up there,
"do you want to help me down here?
"And if you do, I'll worship you for the rest of my life."
And I honestly heard, not an audible voice,
but I heard God say to me, "Now you've come to me, I will help you."
And that... I tell you, I felt like...
We hear it, but I've never heard this before,
I felt like the biggest rucksack had been taken off my back.
I drove home to Nigel and we hadn't spoke for weeks.
The whole atmosphere in the house was horrible for weeks.
I'm knocking on our door, didn't even open it with the key,
just banging on it and he opens the door, and I said...
"Jesus says it's going to be all right,"
and I'm like, "OK, OK, all right, yeah, OK."
And he looked at me like I was mad
and he actually looked at me with such fear of,
"What have I done to her?"
I thought, like, "Man, I've really ruined this girl,"
because I didn't know who Jesus was.
Didn't know who Jesus was, because I was always in the other corner.
I always get emotional when I speak about it because it's real.
And then she'd go to church and I'd go to church with her
and she'd lift up holy hands in praise.
And I'd be like, "Oh, that's what... OK, yeah, yeah."
I'm just doing what she's doing.
I thought, "She's a Christian, I must be a Christian,"
but it doesn't work like that.
I think, in the beginning, Nigel wanted to make the marriage work,
so he just plodded along, so he just came to church.
I'd read my Bible to him and he'd understand what I was reading
but I'd keep reading and it obviously wasn't real to him,
then, at that moment.
I was just following my wife,
but didn't understand what it really meant.
In 2000, Nigel and Carolyne moved with the family to Majorca.
They became friends with Cheryl,
pastor of a church called The Vineyard.
To all intents and purposes,
their relationship seemed to be, er, good...apparently.
And they seemed to be people who knew and loved the Lord,
but I have to be totally honest, I really did feel at that time
that things were probably not as right as they should be.
Nigel was taking Bible classes with Cheryl for two years
before, one day, he came out with a startling confession.
I said, "I've been having an affair."
I didn't even want to say it, but it came out. It came out.
She said, "Have you told your wife?" I said no.
She said, "Well, you'd better go and tell your wife."
Nigel was all over the place.
I mean, you know, he wanted to be forgiven
but he understood that this was not something
that could now just be forgiven just like that.
There needed to be a working through in all this.
So all my life now... I'm at a crunch point.
Carolyne had been through this all too many times before
and now this man had betrayed her again.
She was lovely, Pastor Cheryl, she became a confidante,
someone I'd really talk to about everything that was going on,
cos I didn't have that. I didn't trust anybody.
We prayed, we talked things through and in the end,
I had the idea, "Well, how would you feel, Carolyne,
"if he came to stay with us and perhaps we could work this through?"
She needed space to be able to think things through
and I always remember Carolyne's answer, "Just get rid of him.
"Just get rid of him."
So Nigel agreed to leave the family home
and live for a year in Cheryl's house.
We've to get back to basics of who the real Nigel Benn was,
because Nigel Benn had become the celebrity that had been
promoted by the media, and that isn't who God created him to be.
Nigel was put under a strict regime.
Whatever we did, Nigel did with us.
It's because Nigel was always, before that,
going where he wanted to go, doing what he wanted to do
and never being responsible or accountable to anybody.
They stripped me of everything.
His way of life - his house, his swimming pool,
all those things, his family.
I couldn't drive my Porsche or my Escalade.
He had to drive our cars, which were nowhere near like that.
A 25- to 30-year-old G reg Escort with wind-down windows.
And the only thing I was allowed to watch in the house
was Little House On The Prairie.
Which he became addicted to, I might add.
I've got from season one right down to season ten, I've got them all.
During the year, it was very tricky at times.
I'm very volatile, and Nigel is also very volatile
and there were times when we were in disagreement.
It was like, "How dare you?!" And I'd cry, I'd really cry.
"How dare you, Nigel?! How dare you?"
Not too long ago I was knocking people out for a living
and yet I'm petrified, I was really...
I don't know what happened through the whole year,
I was just petrified, I was really scared.
She scared him, yeah.
And how amazing.
Do you know, honestly, if God would have used a man,
any man, Nigel would not have come under that authority or respect,
so God used a 63-year-old woman
to break Nigel down to who God created Nigel to be.
It was like God took me back to school,
my whole life started changing, you know,
what I've done, I've accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour.
He's my role model, as it says in James 1:26.
If we say we abide in him, we ought to walk in the same manner as him.
He's my role model so I've got to walk like him.
During that year,
Nigel finally began to come to terms with the events
that had changed his life aged eight, the death of his brother.
His brother's death was very, very profound in his life
and he needed to get rid of all that
that had happened to him as a child and then, again,
as a celebrity, so, yes, he did, he needed to talk those things out.
So everything about the issues with my brother
was what I was really battling with.
Wow, OK, and I was really angry for my brother,
and James 1:20 talks about, "Be quick to listen and slow to speak,
"for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God."
Wow, so I think, "OK, I've got to lose that anger."
If you go to Matthew 5, it says,
"If someone slaps you in the cheek, give them the other side also."
I'm working on that one. I'm working. We're getting there.
Nigel and Carolyne left Majorca in 2012
and have now settled in Australia.
Nigel's wild past is behind him.
As for boxing, he's now mentor to his son Conor,
who followed his father into the ring.
He gives me advice on boxing but he's more concerned
about the partying, the drinking, the drugs, the girls, you know.
My dad says, "Stay away from it, son."
You know, it didn't benefit him in any way.
The main thing that he always says is, "I've been there, done that,
"I don't want you to go down that path," so it's like, "OK, Dad!"
Well, the Nigel I first knew was a rogue, er, womaniser, drinker.
Now he's gone completely the other way.
I've never seen a man change so much.
He's a better person, ten times a better person.
He worked so hard, he really worked so hard to give us the best life.
You know, what better man to have in my corner
and tell me about my day-to-day life? You know, it's a blessing.
He's just amazing. He is, he's my best friend.
Your heart is clean, your faith is clearly pouring out of you,
What's next for me and my wife,
we do volunteer work at Hillsong Church in Australia.
Now, Hillsong Church is colossal.
Hillsong is a global church
belonging to the Pentecostal tradition.
# As I stand in your presence... #
It's known for its worship music,
and the community work for which Nigel and Carolyne volunteer.
# ..As I look to the heavens... #
And you know what it is?
I have more enjoyment doing that than any world titles.
I feel blessed, I feel honoured
and privileged that God would use me to go and serve,
and it's all about serving.
Me and my wife love it, we come out, of it,
"Wow, that was a good day. Thank you, Jesus."
So that's how blessed we feel, that I'm doing that,
because the other work was all about drugs, sex and rock 'n' roll
and everything, partying, and all that.
I'm glad I went through that to get where I am now.
And that's who I am now.
And what will you be doing for Christmas?
What will I be doing?
I'll just be spending time giving thanks and praise
for what he's done in our lives.
He said, "If you draw near to me, I will draw near to you."
And so I stand close to him. Once I'm close to him, I can't go wrong.
Nigel, I'm going to give you a little Christmas present
before you go. Thank you so much.
You've given us a wonderful, wonderful conversation.
This is for you.
You're allowed to open it now. Have a look at it.
-Shake it up. And what does it say on it?
-It says "peace".
-That surpasses all understanding.
-Thank you very much.
-Oh, bless you. Mwah.
-And to you.
-To you and all your family.
-Thank you. That's brilliant.
Have that in the Australian sunshine and that will be beautiful.
I think this time of year is a very easy time to be aware
of the dark things in your life and the dark sides of your life
and the things that are wrong with your life as Christmas approaches.
I don't know why that should be but it does,
so if you're someone who's facing problems going into Christmas
and perhaps into the New Year,
hang on to what Nigel was talking about
because he has been to the depths,
and look how happy and free and peaceful he is now.
And if you have a faith in God, as Nigel has,
then maybe God is in your corner.
-What a year you have had.
-A very busy year, yes.
Next week, I'm meeting Michael Gove.
The former Conservative Cabinet member talks candidly
about the highs after the Brexit vote...
I was working a bit after four when one of my friends rang me
to say, "Michael, we've won,"
and I remember saying, "Well, I suppose I'd better get up, then."
..and the lows, after his failed bid to become prime minister...
No matter how often I look back on those events,
I can't replay those events.
..and the value of having religious faith in public life.
Some of the people with whom I worked are impelled
by their religious faith to try to find the best in others.
# Break upon my praise
# As I sing of your love
# Holy Spirit fire
# Burn within my soul
# As I call on your name
# As I call on your name... #
Fern Britton meets boxing legend and two-time world champion Nigel Benn. He charts his glittering career but also shares his more troubled personal journey, one that took him from a lifestyle of womanising and drug-taking to the depths of despair and near suicide, before his conversion to Christianity ten years ago changed his life completely.