Nicky Booth: From boxer to crack-addicted jailbird - and back again

In a rare interview, the former British champion tells how he is trying to turn his life around

Nicky Booth knows that the night he has forgotten was the end of something that he needed to end. It was the night Booth entered a crack den without an invitation and had a serious and vicious disagreement with several people in the house.

Nicky Booth knows that the night he has forgotten was the end of something that he needed to end. It was the night Booth entered a crack den without an invitation and had a serious and vicious disagreement with several people in the house.

Booth was the British bantamweight champion when he committed the crime that led to his arrest. It was a title he had dreamed of since he had walked through the doors at the Radford boxing club in Nottingham nearly 15 years earlier. It was also the title that he would lose when he was sentenced in June of this year to two years for burglary and theft.

When Booth walked into the grime of that house he was not on a vigilante mission to close down a crack den. It was not Hollywood, it was Nottingham. He was simply an addict whoneeded to get his hands on a stained bottle and a pipe and fire up the brief haze that fuelled his existence. He was gone, lost from boxing, his family and his little girl, Paris. Booth was 24.

"The people that loved me had tried everything to help me but I knew best," Booth said. "The addict always knows best." He has been taught the lines, but they hurt when they fall from his lips.

Two weeks ago Booth was released from Ashwell prison in Leicestershire and returned under licence with a tag on his ankle back to his parents' house on the Strelley estate in Nottingham. He needs to be off the streets before the darkness drops. He has never, to his credit, tried to deny his problem, but he knows that he needs to fight again to get his head clear.

It is not hard to see where it all went wrong for Booth. Even when he was winning titles and fighting live on Sky Sports, there simply was not the support that someone of Booth's background needs. As his management guided him through nine title fights in four years, the money that he made trickled away on booze and then drugs.

Eight of his last 10 fights took place at the Harvey Hadden Leisure Centre, which is not much more than a walk from the estate where Booth lived. He was a local hero on streets where there are very few positive leaders and, for Booth, the fame and the regular bundles of cash proved too much.

In 2001 Booth won the British and Commonwealth bantamweight title at the Harvey Hadden and made five defences at the same venue. Sky's cameras were there. They loved the atmosphere and Booth, who was known as "1 Smooth", often boxed on the same night as his older brother, Jason, who was known as "2 Smooth". Jason, who is the International Boxing Organisation super flyweight champion, defends his title next week. He is fighting a problem with drink.

They were unmistakable faces on the local streets, two kids with more money than sense. But they also knew all the dealers and low life. It is pointless trying to be polite about this mess, and Nicky Booth has never tried to deny the months on the pipe that led to prison.

Last September the two Booths were back, at the Harvey Hadden to fight for world titles. It was an odd night because for the first time in four years the place was empty. There were stories, rumours that the Booths had gone too far and were heading for a fall. Jason won his title that night. Nicky fought without conviction and was beaten by an average Australian, but it was the crack that licked him.

He was lost at that time to the sport that had been his life since before he turned 10. He raged out of control. His family cried and he was estranged from the mother of his beloved little girl. His descent ended on the night of his showdown at the crack den - and afterwards he was forced to face all his demons. He had reached the bottom.

The child's mother refused to make contact during Booth's incarceration. It hurts him because he missed his little girl's fourth birthday: but he knows who is to blame for his lost months, his lost daughter and his lost title. He has to look at the guilty man every time he walks past a mirror and that is part of his cure.

"That was a mad time for Nicky but there was nothing that you could tell him or make him do," said Matt Scriven, a friend from the days at Radford, and the man behind a new promotional outfit, Robin Hood.

Scriven wants to get Booth away from the Strelley estate and into a house of his own. "I know Nicky and he needs to think for himself and be independent. When he starts to live again, we will try and get his licence back but he will only box again if he stays clean and he knows that."

Booth will remain tagged until next April, but Scriven will apply for a licence before then. He should be successful because Booth needs to fight, win back his title and regain some of the respect he has lost. Earlier this year the British Boxing Board of Control reissued a licence to a brilliant young flyweight who had ended up in prison for a brief spell when his heroin addiction took control of his life.

"My life is boxing and my daughter. I want both of them back and the months in prison helped me see everything clearer," Booth said. He is back on the streets each morning running and in a gym each afternoon. He is smiling again.

Scriven is trying to get Booth's tag suspended for a night when his brother fights next week, but he knows it will be difficult. Booth is, after all, just a guilty crack addict, but he needs to return to the boxing community so that people can see that his eyes have lost their glazed look and his skin has lost the pallor of filth that all crack addicts have.

On Saturday night two fighters will meet in London for Booth's vacant British title. "I will watch but it will not be easy," he said. Nothing will ever be easy again for Nicky Booth. He knows it, but at least he is free of drugs and dreaming again.

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