Boxing: Silver voice, golden gloves; THE INTERVIEW; AUDLEY HARRISON

Britain has a megastar for the millennium, an eloquent spokesman for his sport.

AT 6FT 6IN and 181/2st Audley Harrison, BSc (Hons), has the broadest shoulders in British boxing, broad enough, he reckons to carry the future hopes of an ailing fight game. He also has one of the best brains, having graduated from Brunel University last month with a 2:2 in Sports Studies and Leisure Management, producing a 10,000-word thesis entitled A Sociological Perspective on the Justification of Amateur Boxing, which he hopes to publish as a book.

Never short of a few words, this self-styled Ali of the amateur ranks transports his impressive combination of muscle and mind across the Atlantic on Wednesday, leading an eight-strong English squad to the World Championships, which begin in Houston, Texas, six days later. Britain has never won a medal in these championships - indeed it is 32 years since we struck Olympic gold - but big Audley is not alone in believing that the drought is about to end.

Thanks to persistent drum banging by Harrison and lobbying by the new enlightened leadership of the Amateur Boxing Association, the best-prepared team for many years takes off for a training base in Tallahassee, Florida, with almost pounds 500,000 of Lottery funding and the real prospect of tangible rewards both in Houston and next year's Sydney Olympics.

Not least, of course, for the 27-year-old super heavyweight who, in every sense is the biggest thing to hit amateur boxing since Lennox Lewis acquired the Olympic title for Canada in Seoul. Harrison's decision to reject the bait of professional promoters and go for broke - or in his case, from broke - in the Olympics is well chronicled. It is a calculated gamble which, he believes, will catapult the hundreds of thousands he has been offered now into a good few million should he return from Sydney with that golden medallion dangling from his neck.

He already has the clout, the confidence and the charisma and awaits only the ring cred that an Olympic title would bring. "That Olympic Gold is in my head already," he said. "I want to come back from Sydney, walk down the street and get rushed by the kids. I want them tugging at my trousers, begging for autographs."

Self-belief clearly doesn't come second in the Harrison psyche. Not since the great Muhammad has a heavyweight talked such a good fight. But is he really the business? This southpaw son of a west London plasterer - one of a family of six - is a double ABA champion and won last year's Commonwealth Games final spectacularly in 63 seconds, after a total of just 15 minutes of boxing. "I am going to be the greatest heavyweight ever to come out of Britain," he declared at the time.

No one is more acutely aware than Harrison that he has a fortune in his fists if he can punch his way to a medal in Houston and then compound it in Sydney before turning professional. Such is the deepening malaise in the pro game that it is hardly an exaggeration to say that this huge, amiable man is its potential saviour. First, though, he has to prove he can cope successfully with the big boys of Belarus, Russia, Italy, Cuba, Canada and the US, and the more dramatically the better, in Houston and Sydney.

"I don't see anything out there that really worries me," he says. "After studying sports psychology as part of my degree I know I have the mental edge. I am moving well and hitting like a mule. Some may say I am lazy but I throw quality punches, just like the pros. It will take a future world champion to beat me and I don't see one out there except me. Not turning pro until after the Olympics doesn't bother me at all. I am a fresh young fighter, although my age says I am not. I am getting better and better. By the time I get up there Lewis and Holyfield will be retired and all the other guys are just pretenders."

"He's certainly ready for it," says the ABA national coach Ian Irwin. "He can box, he can hit and he can move his feet. If you've got all that in a 120-kilogram super heavyweight it's a formidable package."

Indeed it is. But what the world wants to know is whether he can take as a good a punch as he packs. He was put down early in his 40-bout career. "A mere slip," he sighs. And he has taken two standing counts in his six defeats. Harrison's chin is clearly as much a key to his future as his brain and his big right hand.

At the British squad's training headquarters at Crystal Palace, where learning the ropes comes as much from the blackboard as in the ring, the rest look up, quite literally to the giant who last November led them and others on a march to Downing Street to present a petition demanding an end to discrimination in Lottery funding against amateur boxing. Many boxers, himself included, were being pushed towards professionalism because they could not afford to stay amateur.

"I owed a lot of people a lot of money and was living on bread and water," the Wat Tyler of the ring declared. "I've always believed that if you want something you have to shout from the rooftops." Things, happily have changed for the better and much of Harrison's articulacy and gumption have rubbed off on team-mates who comprise one of the brightest bunches ever to have worn England's vests.

One, Middlesbrough's John Pearce, another Commonwealth gold medallist, is managing director of his own double-glazing company and another, Steven Bell from Cheshire, is an aspiring actor. But it is to their captain that they look for inspiration. And he is not shy in providing it: "I've always had glory as my goal," he says. "I know I am going to be a millionaire." He lists his main hobby as networking. "My aim is four years at the top, then I'll be out. I'll be running Audley Harrison plc. Who knows what I'll do. I don't live, sleep and eat boxing. It's only part of my life. You'll find me at all the right functions. I'm always looking for avenues." One of the world's top sports management agencies is helping him explore some of them. They see him as a megastar of the millennium.

Yet there must be question marks. He has not fought since March following a hernia operation, the result of an old football injury. Football was his first love. As a left-sided midfielder he had a trial with Watford. "I was into all team sports but I got fed up with sharing the glory with 10 others." Harrison says he did not lace on a glove until he was 19, joining the Repton Club after a night of watching Rocky movies. Since then he has bloodied a few noses while keeping his own clean. "I have always been the jovial sort, always the charmer, the ladies' man, you know."

But in 1993 there was an incident which might have changed his sunny outlook on life. With his then fiancee he went to Stoke Newington police station to make a complaint after witnessing police officers use what they believed was unnecessary force in detaining a mentally ill man.

It ended with both he and his girlfriend, an accounts manager, being charged with police obstruction. Harrison claimed that he almost passed out after being gripped in a neck hold and despite the evidence of nine police officers the charges were thrown out by the Highbury Magistrates and the couple received a total of pounds 62,500 in compensation. None of the police officers was prosecuted. "I don't feel justice was done," said Harrison. "I went to the police station as an honest citizen and ended up believing I was fighting for my life." It is hardly surprising then that Harrison has been supportive in the Stephen Lawrence campaign, claiming: "If the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Condon wants the black community to have any faith in the police then officers must be accountable."

There is no doubt that one way or another we should be hearing a great deal more about, and from, Audley Harrison. He has a winning way, being more mobile and less manufactured than Bruno and more acceptably British than Lewis. "When I fight for the world heavyweight title I want everyone in Britain to be setting their alarm clocks and asking `can he do it'? and I'll tell them now `yes I can'."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese and DiCaprio, at an awards show in 2010
filmsDe Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
News
i100
News
In this photo illustration a school student eats a hamburger as part of his lunch which was brought from a fast food shop near his school, on October 5, 2005 in London, England. The British government has announced plans to remove junk food from school lunches. From September 2006, food that is high in fat, sugar or salt will be banned from meals and removed from vending machines in schools across England. The move comes in response to a campaign by celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve school meals.
science
Sport
England captain Wayne Rooney during training
FOOTBALLNew captain vows side will deliver against Norway for small crowd
Life and Style
Red or dead: An actor portrays Hungarian countess Elizabeth Báthory, rumoured to have bathed in blood to keep youthful
health
News
peopleJustin Bieber charged with assault and dangerous driving after crashing quad bike into a minivan
News
peopleHis band Survivor was due to resume touring this month
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Sport
Radamel Falcao poses with his United shirt
FOOTBALLRadamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant in Colombia to Manchester United's star signing
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Front-Office Developer (C#, .NET, Java,Artificial Intelligence)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Front-Of...

C++ Quant Developer

£700 per day: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Developer C++, Python, STL, R, PD...

Java/Calypso Developer

£700 per day: Harrington Starr: Java/Calypso Developer Java, Calypso, J2EE, J...

SQL Developer

£500 per day: Harrington Starr: SQL Developer SQL, C#, Stored Procedures, MDX...

Day In a Page

Chief inspector of GPs: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

Steve Field: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

The man charged with inspecting doctors explains why he may not be welcome in every surgery
Stolen youth: Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing

Stolen youth

Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing
Bob Willoughby: Hollywood's first behind the scenes photographer

Bob Willoughby: The reel deal

He was the photographer who brought documentary photojournalism to Hollywood, changing the way film stars would be portrayed for ever
Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

Scorsese in the director's chair with De Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
Angelina Jolie's wedding dress: made by Versace, designed by her children

Made by Versace, designed by her children

Angelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Anyone for pulled chicken?

Pulling chicks

Pulled pork has gone from being a US barbecue secret to a regular on supermarket shelves. Now KFC is trying to tempt us with a chicken version
9 best steam generator irons

9 best steam generator irons

To get through your ironing as swiftly as possible, invest in one of these efficient gadgets
England v Norway: Wayne Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

New captain vows side will deliver for small Wembley crowd
‘We knew he was something special:’ Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing

‘We knew he was something special’

Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York