THE EARLY DAYS
Growing up with five brothers and sisters in a terraced London house, Frank started at age 9 at the local Wandsworth Boys Club. He learned to box seriously while at Oak Hall School in Sussex, an establishment for ‘problem’ children. As an amateur boxer he amassed a 20-1 career, losing only to (and eventually beating) Joe Christie while representing the Philip Game Amateur Boxing Club. His amateur career culminated with Frank boxing for Young England and becoming the youngest ever Amateur British Champion at 18 years of age. He became a professional boxer in 1982, starting with 21 consecutive wins by knockout. Great Britain hadn’t produced a World Champion in the Heavyweight division yet in the 20th century, but whispers started suggesting that this big lad from South London could be Britain’s next hopeful. There were a few years to wait yet.
In March 1984, at Wembley Stadium, American future world Heavyweight champion James ‘Bonecrusher’ Smith, then a boxing journeyman, defeated Frank by knockout in the tenth and final round of their bout, with Frank leading on all three judges’ cards. This would not be the last time Frank went on to lose a contest he had been clearly winning, and would have emerged victorious had he survived the final bell. Frank got back into title contention with wins over the likes of former WBA champion Gerrie Coetzee on 4 March, 1986 at Wembley by knockout in round one.
In July 1986 he challenged Tim Witherspoon for WBA World Heavyweight Championship. After once again leading on the cards for most of the fight, he was defeated by knockout in round eleven. The media commented that Frank appeared to be laid back when he could and maybe should have had the opportunity to go for the knockout. Frank says “on the night Witherspoon was a better boxer and my head got in the way of Witherspoon’s fists!”
In 1989, Frank challenged Mike Tyson for the unified world Heavyweight title in Las Vegas. Although not winning, it was fair to say the whole of the UK was willing Frank on!
Frank kept winning fights, helping him to retain his spot as one of the world’s leading Heavyweights. In 1994 Oliver McCall, after beating Lennox Lewis and Larry Holmes, came to England to defend the WBC title against Frank. On 2 September 1995 Bruno finally became World Champion by outpointing McCall over twelve rounds. The whole of the UK hailed Frank as King Broooono!! A tour through London with the winning belt on an open top bus drew hundreds of thousands of fans to cheer and wave at Frank.
Frank is the father of 4 children – Rachel, Nicola, Franklyn and Freya. He was awarded an MBE in 1990.
He is physically fit and stays active. Frank goes to the gym daily, and boxing is still part of his training routine. He has run the London marathon and 2 others, and has run quite a few half marathons to support various charities, the most recent being the Newcastle half marathon in September 2015.
He is an accomplished actor performing alongside Michael Barrymore (with record box office sales), he played Robin Hood in Bristol and Bradford alongside British comedians Little & Large, as well as Ringmaster in Goldilocks and the 3 Bears in Birmingham. Frank has appeared in numerous TV programmes including Comic Relief, playing Juliet to Lenny Henry’s Romeo, The Sooty show 2011, 2012, 2014, and Harry Hill’s TV Burp twice. He has been featured in many TV adverts – 2 for HP sauce – 1990s, Kleenex – 1989, and Now Compare.com – 2015.
He has a real love of music. Some of his favourites include Gregory Isaac, Bob Marley, Michael Jackson, Sting, Shabba Ranks, Beenie Man, Ray Charles, George Michael, Mary J Blige and Sammy Davis Jr.
Between 2004 – 2012 Frank worked all over Europe making personal appearances, TV shows, and voice over adverts. Notable TV appearances include The Sooty Show, The Royal Variety Show, Piers Morgan, and Sports Relief.
In 2003 Frank was diagnosed as having Bipolar disorder. His well documented illness put Frank in the public eye and he used this media attention to help with the stigma attached to mental health and to help raise the standards of care given to those suffering with mental health issues. Frank supports many charities for mental health both financially and with his time.
The British public has been so supportive of Frank during this difficult time for him, and he continues to receive a warm reception wherever he goes. Frank never takes this for granted and really appreciates his fans. It is clear that Frank is still one of Britain’s most loved sports personalities.
“Frank when I watch you fight, I’m happy that I didn’t come along now. I know you’re a good man and have a nice personality and you’re not bad looking either” -Muhammad Ali 1993
Matthew Willetts MA is the Director of Comicus who has over 35 years experience in television, film, theatre, and comedy club/cabaret entertainment, working as a performer, screenwriter, producer and agent. He lectured at Southampton Solent University in Comedy, Screenwriting, Television, Theatre & Radio. Matthew can sometimes be seen and heard on TV & Radio and often quoted in the national press and media publications. As well as speaking regularly at festivals and industry conferences, he has been a judge at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Montreux Television Festival.
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