Old pro beats the count once more

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The Independent Online
George Walker's boxing career ended in a bloody brawl for the British professional title against Dennis Powell in 1953. The amateur light heavyweight champion of 1951 emerged from the ring beaten, but his opponent needed 20 stitches and was forced, like Walker, to quit the ring.

He was never one to give in lightly. Now 65, he has survived two heart attacks and a cancer scare.

George Walker's tale is the classic East End boy made good - a former boxer and minder to an East End gangster who ended up as chief executive of a leisure conglomerate on pounds 600,000 a year.

That buys a lot of halibut for a former Billingsgate porter. Born in Stepney, in London's East End, Mr Walker first made his name as an accomplished light heavyweight boxer. But it was his brother Billy, 'the Blond Bomber', who became better known. George became his brother's manager, looking after the finances.

It was money from boxing that provided the springboard for the Walker business empire. Early ventures included Billy's Baked Potato restaurants.

There were hiccups. In 1956 Mr Walker pleaded guilty to a Docklands 'job' involving the theft of woollen goods and nylons. He received a two-year jail sentence.

Following a move into the leisure business, Mr Walker's big break came in 1974 when his business interests were merged with a quoted company that owned Hendon racetrack.

The track, later developed as Brent Cross Shopping Centre, yielded a pounds 5m profit for Mr Walker and Brent Walker was born.

From that deal the former boxer moved into the glamour league. He entered the film business and backed the return of Joan Collins to the big time with steamy films such as The Stud and The Bitch.

That relationship ended bitterly, however, with Miss Collins claiming her full dues were not paid.

Then came a flurry of deals that saw the immaculately attired former boxer become the leisure industry's 'Mr Big'.

He bought 386 pubs from Grand Metropolitan and a chain of casinos from Lonrho. The Brighton Marina and the Trocadero in London were also gobbled up.

The pounds 685m purchase of the William Hill betting shops in 1989 was his biggest deal.

All this from a man who was once minder to Billy Hill, the notorious East End gangster. Hill included references to 'Square Georgie' - believed to be Mr Walker - in his autobiography, Boss of Britain's Underworld.

But the William Hill deal proved Brent Walker's undoing. Weighed under by debt, the group buckled under the onslaught of the recession.

Mr Walker eventually stepped down in May 1991, bloodied but unbowed.

Yesterday he picked himself up off the canvas once more.

(Photographs omitted)