Nicola Adams: Girl with the golden gloves punches hole in boxing's glass ceiling
Adams has not only converted the chauvinists but is fast becoming one of Britain's favourite sports personalities following her success at London 2012. Alan Hubbard meets Nicola Adams
Sunday 28 October 2012
Nicola Adams was on her way to Buckingham Palace when we caught up with her last week. The disbelief in her voice contrasted with the broadest of smiles on her face. "It's amazing," she gasped. "I just can't believe that winning a gold medal has led to all this. I have to pinch myself every day to realise the things that are happening to me. I'm just a little lass from Leeds."
The queen of the ring had received an invitation from the Queen of the realm to join other Olympic stars at the Palace where, no doubt, early next year she will be returning to collect a gong to accompany that gold medal, the first for a woman boxer.
It is just over 11 weeks since Adams became the first lady of Olympic boxing, winning the flyweight final with a score of 16-7 after flooring China's world champion, Ren Cancan, to the delight of a packed ExCeL crowd chanting "Nic-ola, Nic-ola!"
"Yeah, that was wicked," she recalled. "I couldn't believe how good I was boxing in that final. It was a shock to me when I knocked her down. I remember looking up at the crowd and they were all yelling my name. I thought, 'Yes! I'm going to win'. But when they raised my hand, I still couldn't believe it. It took some doing not to cry. It made my day."
Actually what she had made was history, as the girl with the golden gloves who punched a hole in boxing's glass ceiling.
In a decade as a trailblazer for her sport Adams had never been on the floor, and since that night her feet haven't touched the ground as she has become one of the most in-demand personalities in the land. Her diary has been crammed with requests to occupy TV couches, meet royalty and politicians and mix it with A-listers at film premieres and posh noshes, though she says she is happier nibbling chicken at Nando's than lobster at Langan's.
"It's been crazy since I won, I've really been blown away. Everywhere I go people ask me for photos and autographs, saying I inspired them to start training. Boris Johnson says his sons started boxing after seeing me – how cool is that?" she giggled.
Adams giggles a lot, one of the reasons the nation has fallen in love with the little Leeds larruper, a sweetheart out of the ring but a deceptively smiling assassin inside it; the girl with the Ali shuffle and thunderbolt right which not only won Olympic gold but won over a legion of chauvinists sceptical of female worthiness in their blood-and-spittle, male-dominated domain.
Among them were several of my colleagues in the Boxing Writers' Club, who ditched the 60-year tradition of being a men-only preserve to present her with their prized award for services to boxing at their annual dinner. Adams said she was "dead chuffed", especially when told she was viewed among the best boxers in the Olympic tournament, male or female.
A champion of women's rights – and lefts – she may have struck a decisive blow for sporting equality but insists: "Even though I am a woman boxer, I am not just inspiring women, I hope I am inspiring boys as well. It is hard to put into words how much everything has changed for me. I was so focused on trying to win the gold that when all this happened afterwards I thought, 'Wow!' All the way through the Games I was smiling, joking and enjoying every minute of it. I still am."
That smile is now being seen nationwide on buses in her capacity as the face of the Make Mine Milk campaign, her first major commercial deal. Unlike Jess Ennis and Victoria Pendleton, she hasn't done a cover pose for Marie Claire magazine or been kitted out with Alexander McQueen dresses, but she has had her fair share of media attention, including photo shoots for Heat and Hello! magazines.
Soon after her Olympic triumph, she appeared on Channel 4's Alan Carr show – a chatty girl with the Chatty Man – and lunched at a West Ham match in the VIP box with the vice-chairman, Karren Brady. More recently, she attended the Labour Party Conference, receiving a standing ovation after explaining what it takes to be a champion.
Though this is not necessarily an indication that she boxes out of the red corner, for she admits a certain political naïvety, as evidenced when she later remarked on Channel 4's 8 Out Of 10 Cats comedy panel show: "I really enjoyed myself at the Conservative Party conference with Tessa Jowell."
She also enjoyed herself, she said, in her highest-profile expedition yet, travelling to Brazil on a trade mission with David Cameron and visiting the crime-ridden favelas where the British-run boxing project Fight for Peace provides a welcome haven for the street kids. "It is literally a fight for survival there," she said. "A choice between life or death."
She said she found the Prime Minister charming. "I still can't get over the enormity of walking alongside him and him telling me how excited he was when he watched me fight."
Giant steps for the little lady whose boxing career started by chance. Her mum, Dee, who is divorced from Nicola's father, Innocent, could not get a babysitter one night, so she took Nicola and her younger brother Kurtis (now a 24-year-old teacher) to an aerobics class at a local gym. There was an after-school boxing session in progress and Adams, who had watched boxing videos with her dad, joined in.
"My dad had tapes of Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard and Sugar Ray Robinson. I remember watching Joe Frazier punching a bag and leaving a big dent in it. Because I'd been watching boxing since I was a kid, I wanted to have a go and was determined to be a champion."
Although the Amateur Boxing Association banned female competitors until 1998, Adams joined Burmantofts Amateur Boxing Club in Leeds. Aged 12, she was the only female member. She persuaded her trainer to let her box in her first novice match when she was 13. In 2001, she became the first female boxer to represent England, and subsequently won European gold and world championship silver, twice, before achieving her Olympian heights.
"Babyface" – the nickname that is inscribed on her gumshield – is one of those people it is impossible not to like. Few of London's winners have been embraced with as much affection. It is hard to believe that this diminutive, dimpled slip of energy is such a spitfire in the ring, though she will remind you: "Our boxing is not like the men's. It's more thoughtful, more technical. It's not just, 'Get in there and hurt someone'." Though Ms Cancan and the others Adams biffed along the way may demur.
Devotion to boxing has left little scope for hobbies or serious boyfriends ("no time for that stuff"), though Adams does have an adoring male in her life, her one-year-old Doberman, Dexter. For the duration of the Games he had to be put in kennels, where she arranged for a TV to be installed "so he could watch my fights".
She added: "He was barking and going crazy when I was boxing. There's a video of it on YouTube. Apparently he is the next big sensation."
At least her new-found celebrity is helping put a few pounds in her purse; she was largely supported by mum before the Lottery funding came along, adding a bit extra as a television extra and occasional painter and decorator. She has also trained as a stuntwoman, and would like to develop her thespian aspirations when she eventually quits boxing.
Now she has an agent – the same one as Olympic super-heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua – to help organise her schedule and make the most of her popularity. Like fellow pugilistic pioneer Katy Taylor, the Irish lightweight regarded as the world's foremost female boxer, Adams says she will not be turning professional. "A couple of people have spoken to me about it but I'm staying amateur," she said.
Forget any Million Dollar Baby talk: there is no fortune be made on the female circuits in Europe and America. "All I want is to keep boxing for Great Britain and inspire others," she explained.
She is already back in training at Team GB headquarters in Sheffield, though she will not box again before 2013. Next up are the European Championships, then come the 2014 Commonwealth Games, where women's boxing will debut. Two years later it will be Rio, where she wants to defend her Olympic title.
When she has stopped showing off her medal on demand, she plans to give it to her mum so she can get it framed for a wall at her house.
Home is a quiet cul-de-sac near the city centre, where last Friday Adams held a family party to celebrate her 30th birthday. Tomorrow she will be travelling down to London again for her next public appearance, at the Pride of Britain Awards. Rather appropriate, that.
Round of engagements fit for a champion
9 Aug Wins Olympic women's flyweight boxing final
13 Aug Honoured by Leeds City Council
14 Aug Appears on Alan Carr: Chatty Man, Channel 4 TV show
15 Aug Photo shoot, Hello! magazine
18 Aug Lunch at West Ham game with vice-chairman Karren Brady
19 Aug Sunday Brunch, Channel 4
20 Aug Gold postbox inauguration, Leeds
24 Aug Launch of Make Mine Milk campaign
4 Sept This Morning, ITV. Photo shoot, Heat magazine
7 Sept Daybreak, ITV
18 Sept Takes part in Dame Kelly Holmes Legacy Trust Day
20 Sept Visits Brazil with Prime Minister
30 Sept Speaks at Labour Party Conference, Manchester
11 Oct 8 Out Of 10 Cats, Channel 4
15 Oct Receives Services to Boxing award at Boxing Writers' Club dinner, London
20 Oct Charity fundraiser with Ricky Hatton, Haringey Boxing Club
23 Oct Buckingham Palace reception with the Queen
26 Oct 30th birthday party, Leeds
29 Oct Scheduled to appear at Pride of Britain Awards
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