Hitting the decks

Only three months after Nigel Benn left the boxing ring for the last time, the former world champion is hitting the decks again as a DJ. Before he descends on Edinburgh clubland, Jim Byers meets the man who knows a beat from a beating. Photograph by Ashley Walker.

eckenham. Kent. 45 minutes’ journey from the centre of London. The photographer and I are sitting on former world super-middleweight boxing champion Nigel Benn’s bug. black leather sofa. ‘Tea or coffee?‘ asks an unidentified female. Everybody chooses tea. I choose coffee.

‘We don’t drink coffee in this house.’ snaps Benn. ‘You can’t have it.’

Momentarily. I’m stuck in interview hell. not sure whether to laugh or die. ‘That’s cool.’ I mumble. desperately trying not to upset this very famous person. ‘I’II have tea.’

He looks at me as ifl have slept with his wife and says nothing. Full seconds pass then finally he smiles at me. ‘Only kiddin’. man’. It’s a dirty trick but an effective one. Round One to Mr Benn.

That’s Nigel Benn the DJ by the way. The Nigel Benn who used to hit people for a living and now plays records in clubs. The Nigel Benn who hasjust cut his first track. The Nigel Benn that used to part-own an underground record shop. London’s Catch-A-Groove. and now plays at The Ministry Of Sound on a regular basis. The Nigel Benn who looks me in the eye and says: ‘Music is the most important thing in my life after my kids.’ The same one who brought a pair of decks eight years ago. The guy who looks back and laughs admitting that. at the time. ‘I couldn’t even mix eggs!’ You know who I mean? Footballer Paul Ince’s cousin? Thar Nigel Benn.

Forget Nigel Benn the boxer. That ended last November when Irish boxer Steve Collins beat him in the ring for the second time. Now. at 33. Benn is fighting a different battle. this time devastating dance floors instead of opponents. But he’s also fighting prejudice a lot of people think Nigel Benn is just another ‘celebrity DJ’ like Boy George. using his name and his fame rather than any natural talent. Some people actually want him to fail. they want him to fluff a mix. just so they can say how crap he is. Doesn’t he feel the pressure?

‘Never.’ he retorts. ‘Wanna know why? Because when these people are about I make sure I blow them away. every time.’

‘Let me tell you something.’ he continues. warming to the theme. ‘There are a lot ofjealous DJs out there who are very quick to put me down just ’cos I’ve left a boxing career and become a DJ. A lot of them like to bitch. but they bitch behind my back . . . they still talk to me and everything. but behind my back they’re saying. "Yeah. he can’t mix” and all that crap.’

‘All I’m sayin’ is don’t be jealous of tne because I used to be two times world champion and now I’m doin’ well as a DJ. If these people wanna give up their DJing and become two times world champion then I’ll be the first to say “well done”. I’ve worked hard. I’ve had to play some really crap clubs in the past. but I done ’em, I done ’em all. I had to.’

But bizarrely. his first guest appearance was in I993 at the Ministry Of Sound. Was he nervous? ‘I was shittin’ it!’ he laughs. ‘Let me tell you something. if you wanna be a boxer. you wanna box at the Royal Albert Hall. If you wanna play football. you wanna play at Wembley. And if you wanna slam it on the decks. it’s got to be the Ministry Of Sound.’

Since then. with the help of his agent David Simmons. he’s gradually become a regular ‘name’ DJ on the circuit a fact that a lot of people begrudge.

‘Ministry ain’t gonna keep bookin’ me if I’m no good.’ he says. ‘Ministry don’t give a shit who you are. if you can’t mix. then you ain’t playin’.’

Later. when his agent is out the room. I pop the big question: ‘C’mon Nigel. how much do you actually get?’ For the second time that afternoon. he looks at me and says nothing. Shit. Silence. (Later. he admits that it’s ‘okay’.)

‘I'here are a lot of jealous DJs out there who are very quick to put me down just ’cos I’ve left a boxing career and become a DJ. A lot of them like to bitch, but they bitch behind my back . . .’

So. is he any good? Certainly. when he takes us through to his ‘music room’ where he keeps his records and his decks. he turns out to be excellent. In a couple of minutes. he ploughs through mix after perfect mix. Technically. he’s tight. But that’s only at home and. as everyone knows. it’s a different matter in a club.

So why does he do it? Clearly. he doesn’t have to and he’s not in it for the money. the fame or the lifestyle. because he’s had all that a hundred times over.

‘I don’t look at myself as a celebrity any tnore.’ he reflects as we prepare to leave. ‘that’s all gone now. I miss boxing but I’m not cut up about it. My life’s still the same. in fact. it’s even better now ’cos I’m not fighting and I’ve got time to do what Nigel Benn wants to do. My time in boxing has finished. I’ve moved on.’ Nigel Benn [Us at Edinburgh, Sat 8 Feb.

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