WHEN it comes to stories of redemption, Tyson Fury’s is hard to beat.
Seemingly on top of the world after improbably winning the world heavyweight title from long-serving champion Wladimir Klitschko, the self-titled Gipsy King’s fall from grace was rapid and shocking.
Rightly vilified for making misogynistic and homophobic comments, he descended into a dark pit of drug taking and drinking and ballooned from his fighting weight of 18 stone to almost 28 stone, gave up his title and received a two-year anti-doping ban.
Fury, who is as articulate as any sports person I’ve seen, has openly admitted that his long-term battle with mental illness is the reason for many of his problems.
After two years of self-abuse he says that about a year ago he woke up one morning and decided he no longer wanted to be that man.
He got treatment for his depression, trained hard, shed weight and had a forgettable comeback fight.
It led to a match-up against heavy-hitting WBC champion Deontay Wilder in Los Angeles in December.
Given the abyss in which he had been in, it was remarkable that Fury had got himself back to even stand in a ring and contest a world title.
Most pundits predicted he would lose and just hoped he wouldn’t get badly hurt.
Despite being knocked down, Fury outboxed the ferocious Wilder until the 12th round when he was flattened by a punch and lay motionless on the canvas.
And then the 6ft 9in Fury rose to his feet and bounced lightly on his toes before the referee finished his count.
He then boxed the rest of the round as the increasingly desperate Wilder tried to finish him off.
At the final bell most people, despite the two knockdowns, believed Fury had done enough to win.
The judges ruled it a draw.
But for Tyson Fury it was a massive victory.
And not just a personal one.
He has spoken openly about mental health and now provides inspiration to the many who suffer with this insidious illness.
Fury was in Yorkshire last week to tell his story to an audience in the slightly unusual surroundings of a marquee outside a pub near the M62 motorway between Leeds and Bradford.
He was due to appear last October at the Six Acres at Drighlington but the event was cancelled when he signed to fight Wilder.
I had been invited to the event by Robin Hilton and Jonathan Clough of Leeds-based online research business Researchbods.
Robin, Jonathan and I are among a small group who train once a week under the tutelage of John Higo at the Leeds Cage gym.
Our sessions are not so much Rumble in the Jungle as fumble and stumble.
When Fury’s appearance was cancelled last year I didn’t think he’d be back.
Particularly after his performance against Wilder saw his star rise again.
But in the week that Fury signed an £80m five-fight deal with US broadcaster ESPN, he did indeed appear in a tent in Drighlington to pose for photos and take questions from an audience of fans.
Our tickets saw us get a photo with Fury and a signed boxing glove.
Given he’s a foot taller than me, the first thing that struck me wasn’t so much his height, but how slim he now is.
Clearly Tyson has been training and keeping in shape since the epic battle with Wilder.
I really enjoyed the experience, not so much the cheap lager and hog roast, but Fury’s searingly honest account of his battles, inside and outside the ring.
Make no mistake, he is a highly intelligent and endearingly honest individual.
“I was out of control. Something needed to happen, and it did,” he says.
“I had everything but it didn’t mean nothing. I wanted to die on a daily basis.”
“You can have everything in life and feel like s**t on a daily basis because no one can see inside the mind.”
He told the audience: “I thought I’ve got a great platform to spread awareness about mental health, especially in sports.
And if the heavyweight champion of the world comes out with these problems and it’s okay for him to come out and talk about it , that should encourage others to come out and ask about it.
“Because as big and tough and suppose as a great fighter I am, it can bring anybody down. Nobody is unstoppable from mental health problems.”
I’m a boxing fan but I found his stories of his battles with mental health more illuminating and fascinating than any of the stories of his fights in the ring.
Tyson Fury has found that his biggest opponent was himself.
Having taken control of his demons, there is very little limit to what he can achieve in the future.
ONE of the great satisfactions in life is finding a good local Italian restaurant where the food is traditional and tasty, the wine is interesting and reasonably priced and the service warm and welcoming.
Some chains have attempted to produce this combination and failed miserably – notably Jamie’s Italian.
At least Gino D’Acampo is an Italian but the restaurants that carry his name are not so much an homage to his home country as a chance to worship at the altar of the celebrity chef.
So I was intrigued to be invited to a newly opened Sardinian restaurant in Leeds called Il Paradiso.
Chef and owner Paolo Silesu has been running Il Paradiso del Cibo in York for several years which has something of a cult following.
Paolo has been a client of lawyer Andrew Lindsay for some time and Andrew has been hosting lunches to introduce members of the Leeds business community to the new restaurant.
It has kept corporate lawyer Andrew out of mischief while he sees out gardening leave from law firm Lupton Fawcett before moving on to a new venture.
There were a few familiar faces around the table when Andrew hosted the latest lunch on Wednesday.
He kindly gave a glowing mention to this blog when he introduced me to fellow guests: “I always look forward to a Friday morning – and not because its the last day of the working week.”
Mind you, he then followed it up with the comment: “And Parky, I don’t need to go on holiday nowadays…I just read your blogs!”
Paolo is a real character, with his slick greying quiff, tattooed arms and Italian patter he looks like a cross between a creative agency hipster and Joe Pesci.
“I’m going to call you Arsene Wenger,” he said to Tim Simpson of Park Place Corporate Finance, who has a resemblance to the former Arsenal manager.
“He lost the plot years ago too,” I said to Paolo, drawing the kind of look from Tim that you used to see from Arsene when his team had been turned over by another Premier League minnow.
Conversation around the table was wide ranging – from Brexit to lap dancing.
You won’t need to guess which subject I brought up.
Well I love a political debate.
I pointed out that the restaurant is only a couple of doors away from Leeds’ oldest lap dancing bar, Purple Door.
I helpfully told guests that the city used to have about 10 such venues and then tried to name them all – but no one else around the table wanted to join in the game.
Just to reassure these serious business types of my credentials, I added the caveat: “There might have been 10 lap dancing bars in Leeds, but I didn’t go in one of them.”
“Which one was that?” said a voice at the far end of the table.
I ENJOYED Il Paradiso so much that I booked to go there for lunch yesterday with my client Neil Muffitt of rapidly expanding financial recruitment firm Woodrow Mercer Finance.
After a drink at the bar we sat down, ordered a bottle of wine, starters and main courses and started to discuss some high level business strategy issues.
I then got a phone call from my partner who was on a train on her way to a client meeting in London.
One of her dogs had done a runner from the dog walker and was on the loose somewhere in the northern suburbs of Leeds
The first glass of wine had just been poured and the starter was on its way to our table.
Explaining my dilemma to Neil he calmly picked up his phone, called his colleague David Clark who arrived within five minutes to take my place.
I then spent the next two hours walking across fields looking for the errant Jasper.
Fortunately he was picked up a couple of miles away from where he had gone missing by two passengers in an Uber who returned him safe and sound.
I called Neil to apologise again and tell him the good news.
“Don’t worry, we had a lovely lunch,” he told me.
I said it was probably a great opportunity for him and David to do some blue sky thinking and take a helicopter view of some business critical strategic issues.
“No, we just had a good lunch and talked b****cks for an hour and a half,” said Neil.
Now that’s a discussion I could have added value to.
Have a great weekend.