Boxing legend Frank Bruno has put some punch – and poignancy – behind a Huddersfield campaign to raise awareness of mental illness.
Former world champion Bruno, 53, was in town last night (Fri) to support a charity in memory of an Almondbury woman who took her own life.
Leanne Baker, 35, sister of renowned Meltham artist Darren, suffered from clinical depression and died at her home in June 2013.
She was about to be married and had everything to live for.
Bruno has had his own well-documented mental health problems. He was sectioned in 2003 and was later diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Before taking the stage at a sporting dinner, An Audience with Frank Bruno, at the John Smith’s Stadium, the ex-boxer stressed how mental illness can strike anyone, at any time.
“It can be a 24-hour thing,” he said. “A break up, a bad relationship, getting drunk can all trigger it. Sometimes it can be dangerous, other times not as serious. People need to be aware.”
Asked how his own health was, he replied: “Very, very good, man. No complaints.”
The dinner, organised by James Beattie, of seeitnowsports.com, was held to mark the 20th anniversary of the fighter’s WBC heavyweight championship victory over Oliver McCall.
The Leanne Baker Trust has raised £28,000 in 15 months and Darren, a portrait artist whose work can sell for up to £25,000 a time, created a special black and white drawing of Bruno, which was auctioned for the charity.
The 8in by 8in portrait in pastel, charcoal and pencil took a week to complete and would have been priced in Darren’s gallery at £5,000.
The trust is funding a cafe at Huddersfield University and hopes to eventually open its own drop-in centre with counsellors.
Darren, 38, who famously painted a portrait of the Queen in 2011, said he was very grateful for Bruno’s support.
“It’s very appropriate to have him here,” he said. “He’s a larger-than-life personality who has been very open about his problems and we need to do all we can to raise awareness.”
When Darren unwrapped the portrait, Bruno gasped: “That’s unbelievable. It’s just like a photograph. The best I’ve ever seen.”
Guests at the dinner heard Bruno talk about his life and career and had chance to bid on various items at auction.
It was hoped to raise thousands of pounds.
Born Franklin Roy Bruno, he grew up with five brothers and sisters in Wandsworth, South London. His parents came from the Caribbean.
He became a professional boxer in 1982 winning 21 consecutive bouts by a knockout.
Bruno famously fought ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson in 1989 for the undisputed world heavyweight title. He rocked Tyson with a left hook but was eventually battered and the referee stopped the fight.
Bruno became famous for his catchphrase: “Know what I mean, ‘Arry?” because of his interviews with BBC boxing commentator Harry Carpenter.
In 2006 Bruno published his autobiography Frank: Fighting Back winning best autobiography in the British Sports Book Awards.
In December 2013 Bruno backed the Daily Mirror’s mental illness campaign and said: “Mental illness is a terrible thing to have to cope with but I’ve learnt it’s a fight you can win if you live your life the right way.”