Kevin Lueshing: the right to be a child

Exclusive interview with Britain's boxing champion

Kevin Lueshing, boxing champion

Throughout his professional career, British boxing champion Kevin Lueshing proudly fought with the initials NSPCC sewn on to his shorts. But until now, he never dared to talk about the harrowing childhood secret that haunted him almost every day.

Kevin Lueshing, boxing champion, said:
"Shortly after I became a professional boxer, I saw a very moving TV advert for the NSPCC, which featured a frightened boy alone in a room. I was transfixed by that image: that boy looked like me.

"I saw in his eyes my own fear, the room was bleak and dark and that sensation of being surrounded by gloom was so familiar. He was trapped with no ray of light anywhere - just like I had been.

"For the first time I realised I wasn't the only person who had suffered as a child. I also realised that here was an organisation reaching out. An organisation that understood what a child can go through, what abuse really is, and was now defiantly telling the world: we are fighting to protect children like this.

"I wasn't ready to tell the world then what had happened to me. But I made the decision there and then to always fight with the initials NSPCC stitched on to my shorts. I was so proud I did that, even though I never explained the real reasons why."

You suffered a violent and disturbing childhood. Do you think that's why you took up boxing?

"I can see the link and maybe the hardships I suffered made me want to hit out. I was becoming a bully at school and quite frankly going off the rails. But boxing channeled my aggression and gave it some purpose. My childhood certainly made me tough, which helped because it gave me the determination to stick at boxing, even if I was getting hurt or beaten.

"After I became British champion, an incredible woman called Maria Pedro, who worked with the NSPCC at the time, contacted me and asked why I seemed to be supporting the charity.

"I told her about the TV advert and she encouraged me to get more and more involved. I knew quite a few celebrities in those days so I'd encourage them to attend fund raising events. I even spoke on the NSPCC's behalf to hundreds of MPs about the realities of abuse and how it not only devastates a childhood, it hangs relentlessly over you as you grow up."

What do you think are the tell-tale signs of abuse?

"I can only talk about my own experience, but I suspect what happened to me is consistent with what eventually happens to a lot of abused children. I became a tearaway.

"My abuse began at home, so straight away I was utterly incapable of talking to my parents and the elders within my own family. By the time I went to school, I was ready to lash out and look for trouble, so very quickly I clashed with teachers who couldn't handle me. By the time I was a young teenager I was utterly introverted and wouldn't communicate with anyone who was an adult. I was constantly looking for trouble and I didn't care who I took on, or what I did.

"I have no doubt if someone had asked why was I such a handful, and had found a way to reach out to me then, my life would have taken a totally different track. But nobody did and I became more and more isolated."

Do you think some men find it particularly difficult to talk about abuse?

Kevin Lueshing, boxing champion

"Yes. And I think it's harder still when someone is a champion, or a celebrity or famous. Somewhere along the line there comes a pressure to live up to an image and admitting you were abused as a child doesn't seem to fit into the equation.

"Boys, men, boxers - we're all meant to live up to a masculine image, aren't we? Boys don't cry. Boys can't show weakness.

"Talking openly about something that isn't meant to happen to tough guys is therefore extremely difficult. But I was 10 when it happened - I knew nothing about the world, I was slightly built and utterly terrified of my own father. I was utterly powerless to stop the abuse that happened to me.

"So long as child abuse is swept under the carpet by the grown men and women who endured it, then it will always have places to hide.

"Everyone must find the strength and courage to tackle this evil full on. That can only start if everyone who has been abused as a child understands - and believes - it was never their fault."

What's been the biggest achievement in your life?

"What makes me the proudest of all was raising my own children in a loving environment.

"The only thing my father taught me was how not to raise a child and in a confused, upside-down sort of way, I'm grateful for that.

"From the moment my children were born, I felt a bond and attachment I'd never felt to anything, or anyone, before. As soon as they were old enough to understand, I told them they must never hide anything from me, or lie, no matter how bad the truth may be.

"They kept to that and we are all incredibly close to this day. Boxing was great. But not putting my children through the pain I endured - and being able to talk to them about anything and everything - is by far my biggest triumph of all."

If you could achieve one thing from the release of your autobiography, what would it be?

"In my book, I talk about the 'right to be a child'. To me that is as precious as the right to breathe, the right to be free and the right to life.

"I never enjoyed the right to be a child and because of that, I didn't grow up into the well adjusted young adult I should have been. I'm certain it's a domino effect: if you get the childhood wrong, you get the adulthood wrong, too.

"Childhood is so special, a time of such innocence but also vulnerability. Somehow the right of a human being to enjoy that time has to be protected - and I guess that really should begin at home. If a child can't talk to mum and dad, then mum and dad are to blame.

"So, the one thing I'd like my book to achieve is the realisation of just how devastating it can be if the right to be a child is taken away."

Kevin Lueshing's autobiography, The Belt Boy was written in conjunction with Mike Dunn and published by Austin Macauley from April 29.

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