Before The Hangover I and II, before Spike Lee weaved his magic off Broadway in New York and before Mike Tyson was a nice guy, it was my onerous duty to take the big lad up on stage to perform for his fans.
The scene was set for the debut show of Tyson's first talking tour at a hotel in Derby in 2005. I had seen Tyson fight a dozen or more times, talked to him at conferences, seen his rage and stupefied moods, and in part glimpsed his elusive tender side; I had never, however, seen anything to convince me that he cared enough to perform for 20 grand at a hotel in the East Midlands.
Tyson's man in Derby was called Tom Patti, an actor and former fighter who had known Mike since they were kids living with Cus D'Amato at a boxing retreat for damaged souls in Catskill, New York. Tom told me that he had done "Virginia Woolf" and had a lot of other projects out in Hollywood – he did say that, honest – but that he was now looking out for Mike.
Patti took my list of perfectly reasonable questions and rejected all of them. "Steve," he told me, "no questions about boxing, no questions about money, no personal questions, no questions about the convictions. You good with that? Mike is not in a good place right now." Join the club, I thought.
I knew that Patti's last comment was open to debate because Tyson was upstairs in the hotel's penthouse suite entertaining the two latest additions to his swollen entourage. "Tom," I ventured. "What can I ask?" I wish that I had kept my mouth shut. "OK, you can ask him if he likes Daiby, you can ask Mike about pigeons and also about Rayne Rooney." I managed just under 10 minutes in Derby and even that stretched Tyson's attention span to the limit; there was polite applause when he left for London and then a riot took place, which made the front pages.
It was not ideal but I probed away with the same three questions as we went from Derby, to London, to Birmingham, to Manchester and to a spectacular finale in Doncaster. Tyson picked up, we now know from his book, dealers and girlfriends and other more sinister con artists as we toured; it's a tremendous pity that none of the people he welcomed into his party had any acting experience.
It has to be said, and I was reminded often enough, that the first tour was truly dreadful, and I seemed to be the one getting most of the hate from the understandably upset punters. I can confirm that 1,100 men and women in the guts of Old Trafford's subterranean banqueting suite have no interest in the difference between a Birmingham tumbler and a Birmingham roller, both exotic pigeons by the way – and Tyson loves to talk about them. Patti was not joking when he told me: "Mike loves his birds." It was the only joke I used and by Doncaster nobody was laughing.
Tyson returned the next year and I was unavailable but I signed up again for a tour a few years later, having heard that his medication had improved and that the people in charge of him were more professional. They also, I admit, were paying good money. It was only partly true; the drugs, women and attached lunatics remained the same but he did put in one blockbuster performance in front of about 800 people at an agricultural exhibition hall on the outskirts of Peterborough. Tyson was on fire, nothing was sacred and he opened up his heart as gasps and screams filled the bovine box. Tyson that night was quite brilliant, raw and so honest that it made me feel slightly uneasy listening to his sins.
I did another tour when Tyson arrived with a spiritual adviser and each morning I would see him after he had left the gym. He was calmer, good but not brilliant on stage and I was convinced that he had left the cocaine, hookers, pimps and scum behind. I was wrong. It turns out that Tyson is still battling the old enemies, still under siege from his addictions and as far now from peace as he has been since he made the first of his $300m nearly 30 years ago.Reuse content