at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
This is the moment everyone at the Spirit Conference Centre in Slough has been waiting for. The lights in the main hall are dimmed. The satin tented ceiling is glowing. The 600 dinner guests have finally stopped moaning about the revolting purple “welcome cocktail” and are gathered at the double doors, all of a jitter.
“He’s about to make his grand entrance, guys. Don’t miss it – the entrance is brilliant!” shouts a man called Carl in a ruffled shirt undone almost to his waist. “Mike Tyson, ladies and gentleman – the former undisputed heavyweight champion of the world!”
And with that, O Fortuna from Carmina Burana (the rousing music from the Old Spice adverts) blasts so loudly the plastic beer glasses start bobbing about on the bar.
“Oh my God, he really is coming! We’re finally going to meet The Fury. Iron Mike. Mike Tyson!”
The music stops, and Tyson comes crashing through the double doors. He is very short, very wide, has a brilliantly high-pitched voice (“I’m here!”) and looks shell-shocked.
It’s not surprising. He has just finished a sell-out run at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas – Mike Tyson: The Undisputed Truth.
He has performed his one-man show to audiences of celebrities and fellow boxers, wowing them with tales of his rape conviction, ear-biting, his abusive mother and penchant for Japanese prostitutes.
Here in Britain, it’s all a bit more, well, local. The other night he was in Ayr. The night before was Stoke. then it was on to Leeds and then the finale of his UK tour – Pontefract, west Yorkshire.
There was a date in Mayfair, London, but it was cancelled.
Slough may not be Vegas, but no one here cares. The hundreds of guests – mostly men, tattooed and drenched in aftershave (plus the mayor of Windsor) – have happily paid between £75 and £250 (between R940 and R3 100) for this “amazing black-tie Mike Tyson charity event with four-course gala dinner and Q&A”.
“He’s been my hero since I was a kid. He’s a living legend,” says Jon Pitman, 38, who runs a gym in Gloucester and shows me an enormous tattoo of Tyson’s face glowering from his right shoulder.
“Isn’t he beautiful? It took six and a half hours.”
Equally, no one seems remotely bothered about Tyson’s sordid past – the rape, the countless assaults, the drugs, the prostitutes, the prison sentences, the psychotic episodes, the psychiatric hospitals and, of course, the chunk of boxing champ Evander Holyfield’s ear he bit off during a fight.
“Who cares about any of that!” says Chris, 32, from Cheltenham. “My missus said: ‘The guy’s a rapist – how can you pay all that money to see him?’ But he’s Iron Mike! He’s a legend. I don’t care about the rest.”
There aren’t many women here. Just a handful – dressed to the nines and whooping and whistling when (much, much) later and via a rambling Q&A session Tyson, 45, shares his life philosophy.
“Life is great. It’s the greatest gift. We get it for free. We all get to know each other. I had a great life. My mother was an alcoholic and my father was just a really, really bad guy. And I was bad, too. I robbed people, I shot people, I did a lot of bad things I’m not proud of.
“And then I found fighting and went on this magnificent journey… All I cared about was hurting big, strong men. That’s all I wanted. I had no life outside boxing. But I’ve made up for it now – the lawsuits, the diseases ...
“Oh, I’m sorry. I’m not supposed to talk about that.”
Oh dear. But then nothing’s been going very smoothly all evening here in Slough. To start with, Tyson is two hours late. The “gala dinner” tables are still being set by staff. After that ghastly “welcome cocktail”, all other drinks are extra.
The sound system breaks down. The table numbers are scrawled in felt-tip pen on bits of paper.
Dozens of bullying security guards bark orders and barge people about, and the “have your photo taken with Tyson” session delays things another hour and a half.
Up close, one on one, Tyson is smaller than he looks at a distance. But he’s very amenable – politely answering my questions about his beloved pigeons (“I’ve got hundreds and hundreds”), Holyfield’s savaged ear (“He thinks it’s funny now – he came to see my show”) and his long-held dream to become a missionary.
“I’d still like to be a missionary – but it’s hard when you’ve got kids and stuff. Everything’s harder. And I’m Muslim. And vegan…”
And sober? He said he had a drink three years ago and hoped that he would not go back to it.
And that famous temper – how does he control it? “I try my best, but sometimes I don’t. I lose it loads, but as long as I don’t strike someone that’s a step forward.”
So he’s focusing on other things. Like making money. “I always need money. I’m terrible with money.”
But isn’t this for charity? I was told the gala night was in aid of muscular dystrophy. He looks confused.
Jonny and his friends from the Slough Boxing Club are fed up.
“We’ve been here five and a half hours, and he hasn’t opened his mouth yet. Nothing! It’s 11.30pm and people are leaving. It’s all about making money!”
Only when every last penny has been squeezed out of the wilting audience does the Q&A start – at 11.38pm.
The questions are asked not by us, but by Mark Peters, who is an old friend of Tyson. And the answers are verging on the haywire – particularly when we get on to Mike’s “special message” for Frank Bruno.
“Don’t get caught up in these labels, Frank. They said to me ‘You’re a psycho manic… you’re a sex addict… you’re a manic depressive.’ They’re just labels doctors put on you, so doctors have to buy medicines. Look at me, Frank! I’m still capable of being a multi-multi-level superstar. I’m still capable of coming to talk to real people. In Slough!”
Tyson is led off. His performance is over.
MIKE TYSON TIMELINE
1966: Mike Gerard Tyson is born.
1979: Meets coach Cus D’Amato, who will become his legal guardian five years later.
1985: In his professional debut, Tyson destroys Hector Mercedes in one round.
1986: Tyson becomes the youngest heavyweight champion in history at age 20 when he knocks out Trevor Berbick, winning the WBC title.
1987: Tyson beats James Smith to win the WBA heavyweight title, and Tony Tucker for the IBF heavyweight title.
1988: Tyson marries actress Robin Givens in New York. Eight months later she files for divorce amid claims of domestic violence.
1990: Tyson loses world heavyweight title after being knocked out by James Douglas.
1991: Desiree Washington files a complaint with police accusing Tyson of rape.
1992: Tyson is found guilty of rape and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
1995: Tyson is released and embarks on a comeback, knocking out Peter McNeeley and Buster Mathis jr.
1996: Knocks out Frank Bruno and Bruce Seldon, gains WBA heavyweight titles. Loses title to Evander Holyfield.
1997: Tyson bites Holyfield (pictured right), and is disqualified. His boxing licence is revoked and he is fined $3 million.
1998: Tyson files a $100m lawsuit against Don King, accusing the promoter of cheating him out of tens of millions of dollars.
2000: Against Lou Savarese, Tyson knocks the referee down in order to keep punching Savarese after the bout was stopped. He was fined $187 500.
2002: Brawl erupts during the announcement of the Tyson-Lennox Lewis fight. Tyson later admits to having bitten Lewis. He is knocked out by Lewis in June.
2003: Divorces Monica, with whom he has two children. He files for bankruptcy.
2005: Announces his retirement from boxing.
2006: Arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence and drug possession.
2007: Pleads guilty to possession of narcotics and driving under the influence. Convicted in November.
2009: Arrested after a scuffle at Los Angeles International Airport with a photographer. No charges filed.
2010: Returns to the ring in a tag team match with Chris Jericho against D-Generation X.
2011: Inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
2012: It is confirmed Tyson will be inducted into the celebrity wing of the WWE Hall of Fame. – Daily Mail