It started with the Rocky theme and ended with a kiss. Mike Tyson's first talking tour lasted for seven nights, and the boxer walked out in front of more than 3,000 people in five different cities. I was next to him, lending a helping word and the occasional elbow during every minute.
Six months ago, I had a phone call from a Christian comic called Charlie Hale. He told me Tyson was coming to the UK and he asked me if I would interview Tyson and generally keep the ball rolling for what would be the fighter's debut on the talking circuit. I said yes and thought nothing of it. However, a few weeks ago Hale was back on the phone giving me dates for Tyson's appearances. Even knowing the dates I still had doubts, because during the last 15 or so years on the boxing circuit I've probably wasted two or three hundred hours waiting for Tyson to grant an audience to an desperate pack of journalists. Until I saw with my own eyes that Tyson was back in the UK, I would hold my judgement.
I arrived at the Heritage Hotel in Derby for the first of the five gigs. The Heritage, it has to be said, is not one of the country's finest hotels, but it has a friendly feel, and Mike appeared relaxed. I watched from the back of the room as Mike held on his knee several children who had cancer. No cameras were allowed, and for nearly an hour Mike shared the room with the kids and their parents and then went for his obligatory rest, his new tall, blonde friend by his side. It was to be a pattern repeated every night of the tour.
The crowd in Derby had all paid more than £100 to listen to Tyson talk, but it was obvious there were a few problems from the start. For one, Tyson and I had not really rehearsed our act. We were, to tell the truth, total strangers, even though I had been in his company dozens of times.
Before the top table, which included me, Tyson, Frank Bruno, Hale and the show's promoter, Ray Fisher, were called for the walk through the diners, there was a meet-and-greet for the VIP guests, who, having forked out more than £200, could in theory get to shake hands and pose with him. In Derby, the VIP area was a friendly scrum and Tyson smiled when hundreds started to chant "Bruno, Bruno, Bruno". It was at that point that for the first time he performed an act that he would repeat again and again: he reached out his left hand and stroked my chest. There were less than 10 minutes before we were to start our talk and I could feel that we were bonding.
After a melon covered in something, it was time for me to stand and interview Tyson. We faced each other, me a bit taller and a bit fatter, him a lot leaner and certainly a lot meaner. It went well for a first night and Mike's passion for pigeons shone bright, but there were problems with the acoustics and I was repeatedly told by one antagonistic table to "shut the fuck up, you cockney twat''. I explained exactly what this meant to Mike once the evening was over.
Long after Tyson and his people had left in the giant Humvee and Range Rover, there was an altercation in Derby, but it was nowhere near as serious as one or two of the tabloid papers reported it. In fact, John Ashton, the principal promoter for the evening, and a former British title challenger, appeared to stop the "marauding fans" single-handedly. There were not, as was suggested, any stabbings, shootings or mass wrecking at various lap-dancing clubs, but I was pleased to get home at two in the morning.
The next night would surely be different, with nearly 600 people packed into the grand ballroom at the Hilton in Park Lane for a quality night of talking and enlightenment. I later found out that Chris Eubank stayed six minutes because the crowd, as he put it, was not "high quality''.
At the Hilton, Tyson and me were rocking, or so I thought. However, I read in the papers the following day that we had only performed for 13 minutes, which was a bit of a shock because it felt to me like about 45.
We changed the format and had Tyson sit on a high seat in front of the top table, and I was left to roam throughout the audience asking him questions. He had told me before we walked to the stage to ask him whatever I liked, but I knew that was not the case, and that was for a very good reason. The last thing that I needed was to be in charge of Tyson ranting, raving, cussing and generally ruining reputations and slandering people. Having been witness to this on several occasions in the past at press conferences, I knew that it would be bad for business.
When the London show had finished and the crowd's polite applause had quickly faded I was reassured by Tyson's personal security men, Big Scott, Big Tom and Big Micko, that it had gone very well. I love the three of them but I think they were being too kind. Tyson said us, "When I'm with you guys, I feel like I'm with people who don't want something from me."
At the end of the night, Tyson finally went out to a nightclub. It was his fourth night in Britain and his first night out. The oddest request he had made up till then was for a VHS player, to enable him to watch endless hours of films showing most of his 1,000 prized and precious pigeons. Also, he was only drinking ginger ale and he appeared to have banned profanity. The so-called baddest man on the planet was doing well on the Nice Guy Tour (and raising £50,000 for charity into the bargain).
Finally, and thankfully, it all started to gel when we arrived at the Metropole, next to the NEC near Birmingham. Nearly 800 people had packed inside, and one of Tyson's oldest friends, Big Joe Egan, had worked overtime to make this night special. Egan's book will be out on 10 December, and its title comes from a comment that Tyson once made about the Irish fighter: it's called The Toughest White Man on the Planet. It was that type of friendship where for a couple of years they smashed each other to bits in the sparring ring, and now love each other like brothers.
Birmingham was a sweet success, our act was fluent, and I risked a couple of jokes at Tyson's expense. Once again, when I left the stage the trio of Bigs congratulated me and this time I had slightly more faith in their assessment. More than that, Tyson for the first time increased his chest-stroking to a hug. Man, I was part of the family... almost.
We moved to Old Trafford and a room packed with 970 people and an awful lot of expectation. I believe we delivered. Ray Fisher, the man who really put his neck on the line to make the shows a reality, finally looked relaxed, and he had every reason to be, because very few people believed he could pull it off. Tyson seemed glad he had.
"I've never been shown this much love," he said. "When I was growing up, I never imagined I would talk to people like this, people who really love me."
And then there was Doncaster. What a town. I had a limo pick me up from the station, I had a suite with a four-poster bed, so just imagine if you will what Mike Tyson would have had. The Dome, one of those futuristic sports centres that tend to lie on the edges of towns, was packed and the beer and the noise were flowing. In Doncaster, Fisher worked closely with a guy called Andy Booker, a man with a giant autograph from Mike Tyson tattooed on his back. Booker is a fanatic but a lovely man, and Tyson had him in tears on the stage on Monday night.
The crowd was boisterous in Doncaster and we all expected that. The comic Hale was sweating like a marathon runner, and even Tyson had to mop his brow a dozen times as I questioned him from the floor. It was not a totally pleasant experience, as most of the people were desperate to grab my mic and ask my Mike a question. That, my friends, was not allowed.
And then, at about 11.30, the tour was over. Tyson came over to me and kissed my hand, then flanked by the Big fellas he left the stage for good. I filed away an hour or so later with a couple of local figures called Zak and Hadi for a drive back to my hotel. When I got there, there was a message from another one of the security guards. "Mike said thanks, Steve,'' he told me. The show was over and Mike, he said, was in his room watching a new pigeon video.Reuse content