'I didn't handle it well': Boxing champion Frank Bruno on his pandemic struggle ahead of book signing

Frank Bruno in a pink suit

In 60 Years a Fighter, Frank opens up about becoming a world champion and his fight with mental illness. - Credit: The Frank Bruno Foundation

A former World Boxing Council (WBC) heavyweight champion, who fought Mike Tyson twice, has opened up about how he struggled throughout the pandemic. 

Former Chadwell Heath resident Frank Bruno, who is set to host an event in Romford to promote his new autobiography 60 Years a Fighter, told this newspaper about the mental health breakdown he suffered in June 2020.

The memoir, published as the sportsman turns 60, comes as Frank also announced that he will open his third mental health headquarters in an as-yet unannounced location in the borough of Barking and Dagenham, “a place that means so much” to him.   

The first Round by Round centre opened last year in Northampton and has already provided support to around 1,300 people, with a second centre planned to open in Oxford in May this year.   

Frank said: “I faced some of the toughest boxers of all time in the ring.  

“But my biggest challenge was facing up to my own mental health issues.” 

The new Barking and Dagenham facility aims to accommodate around 15,000 people per year.   

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Leader of Barking and Dagenham Council, Cllr Darren Rodwell, said: “Frank is a British icon and someone who I have admired for years, not only for his championship skills in the ring, but also for his openness talking about his own mental health struggles.”  

Cllr Rodwell said he wanted a hub to be set up in the borough when he heard about the Frank Bruno Foundation, which the boxer set up in 2017.  

Darren and Frank

Cllr Darren Rodwell with Frank Bruno. - Credit: Barking and Dagenham Council

Throughout his career, Frank says the highlight was winning the world title from Oliver McCall in 1995, and he recalls being starstruck when he met Michael Jackson.  

Thinking to the future, Frank also hopes to bag a ticket on Richard Branson’s rocket to the moon.  

But during the pandemic the champion wasn’t feeling so cheerful, and he now aims to “combat a pandemic in mental health”.  

Frank, who says he always wanted to be a boxer as a child, was diagnosed with bipolar following his retirement and said he “really struggled” through the pandemic.  

He said: “I lost three people that I knew to Covid, and it hit home, excuse the pun, that I was as much as the next man at risk, so I stayed indoors a lot of the time.  

“I did not handle it very well, but I have a good team around me who tried to keep me sane. I did have a few hiccups along the way.” 

He is now “much better” and is working to provide support to people struggling with mental health through his foundation's course.  

“I am a great believer in exercise," he said. "I have always said I don’t need all the medication that people were trying to force me to have. If I can feel stable and mentally balanced after a good physical workout, why do I need mind-bending drugs with all the after-effects?” 

The course has initially been designed for children who are “disruptive in school or are always getting into trouble," said Frank.  

It teaches the children “everything a boxer learns without hitting anyone” and a pilot was “well-received” by guests and their peers, the 60-year-old said.  

He added: “We are now doing regular courses for other ages apart from kids, with some military veterans who have mental health issues having started using us.”  

People in need can be referred to the charity by schools, social services, GPs, other charities or the police.

Frank said he aims to be “hands-on” and involved with the tutors. 

Frank Bruno

Frank will be signing copies of his autobiography on Saturday, April 9 at the Brewery in Romford from midday until 4pm. - Credit: The Frank Bruno Foundation

Piers Morgan, who wrote the foreword for Frank’s autobiography, claims it “is the sporting memoir of the year”.  

The autobiography will, on the day of Frank’s appearance, be available to collect from him.  

The Brewery is offering five people the chance to win a copy of Frank’s book via a Facebook competition which kicked off on March 25.  

Winners will be announced on April 8 and must be available on April 9 to collect their prize.  

The book signing will take place at the Brewery in Romford on April 9 from midday to 4pm.