Frank Bruno winning mental health battle 20 years on and boxing icon deserves a knighthood from King Charles

Boxing Frank Bruno

Boxing icon Frank Bruno has trailblazed change when it comes to mental health

Nick Owens

By Nick Owens

Published: 21/09/2023

- 10:56

Updated: 21/09/2023

- 12:09

The 61-year-old was admitted to hospital two decades ago and is now winning his fight with mental health

When Frank Bruno won the World Title there was only ever going to be one song that could be played to mark the moment.

And as Land Of Hope and Glory blasted out around a packed Wembley Stadium on September 2 in 1995, Big Frank had reached the top of the mountain.

But the fireworks going off above his head weren’t just a celebration of a life’s ambition fulfilled.

They also shone a light on the rise of a very unlikely British hero.

WATCH NOW: When Frank Bruno met Nigel Farage

A man who’d worked his way up from the streets of South London.

A man who’d fought back after being sent to borstal.

A man who’d been able to brush off the death of his father when he was a young boy.

Frank had turned it all around.

In the days after securing that title he enjoyed an open top bus through the streets of London and a popularity poll revealed only Princess Diana was held in greater affection by Brits.

He'd secured his place as a true British icon.

But unbeknown to Frank, a much bigger fight was looming - a fight with his own mind. And it’s a fight which would play out just as publicly as the one at Wembley which saw him crowned World Champion.

It’s 20 years this week since Frank hit rock-bottom, and was sectioned for the first time under the Mental Health Act.

On September 23, 2003 he was taken to Goodmayes Hospital in Ilford, Essex. His world had imploded.

Unable to cope with life after retirement, Frank's marriage had ended and his behaviour had become increasingly erratic.

At his lowest ebb he was found sleeping in a boxing ring in his back garden. In the end, Frank’s family had no choice but to agree for him to be sectioned.

That decision made the front pages of newspapers across the country. Each day, beyond the gates of the mental health unit where Frank was being treated, a scrum of journalists and photographers would gather - all racing to report on how the story of a national treasure was moving into a terrifying new chapter.

For many, such a downfall could have signposted the end.

Yet each morning, as those assembled members of the media strained their necks to see a fallen hero, Frank got up, made his bed, and laid out a towel on the floor of his room.

One thousand sit-ups later he’d then stand - and confront the biggest fight of his life.

Today it is a battle Frank is well and truly winning. He's fit, healthy and looking forward to the future.

Part of the reason for Frank's recovery is the fact he now accepts he has bipolar disorder. And he now accepts he will have the condition for the rest of his life.

Earlier this year he told Nigel Farage on GB News: “I am happy to be alive. But, remember, in life you’ve got to take the rough with the smooth.”

I know as well as many just how 'rough' things have been at times for Frank.

We first met around 10 years ago after he’d returned to hospital for further treatment following a relapse in his condition.

Back then talking about depression and bipolar still came with huge stigma. But Frank refused to shy away. By talking, Frank said he hoped to help others who might be trapped.

His bravery and strength immediately shone through.

“I’ve fought some tough men,” he once told me in an interview when we were discussing his illness.

“But nothing’s as hard as mental health. At least in boxing you can see the punches. With bipolar the punches land from the shadows. Often, by the time they hit you, it’s too late.”

Frank Bruno boxing

Boxing icon Frank Bruno was admitted to hospital 20 years ago today


Frank later bravely told his full story to me across two bestselling books, Let Me Be Frank and, more recently, 60 Years A Fighter.

Following the release of each book he received thousands of letters and emails from those going through their own battles.

It’s those letters, those people, those real life stories, which inspired Frank to set up his own charity, The Frank Bruno Foundation.

Each year through boxing and exercise, this amazing organisation supports and helps many hundreds of vulnerable people. A lot of them are children. Unable to get support via the NHS, the Foundation offers a lifeline which has helped transform their lives in the same way Frank has transformed his own. Every day more people are asking for help, and every day the Foundation is delivering it.

As well as being a fighter, Frank is the most humble of human beings.

“I’m no star,” he told Nigel Farage during their interview. “I’m a ducker and diver like the rest of ‘em.”

Frank Bruno boxing

Frank Bruno conquered boxing during his time in the sport


To an extent, Frank’s right. The fact he has never become too big for his boots, or forgotten his roots, is the reason he remains such a national treasure.

Every time I walk down the street with him I see it play out. I've never seen or met another celebrity who receives such attention from the public. But despite the deep affection the British public still have for him, Frank is yet to receive the acclaim and respect he truly deserves for the way he has transformed the mental health debate in this country.

And that's why, right now, he has a simmering anger for the politicians who have previously promised to deliver reforms for mental health treatment which Frank believes aren't being delivered.

"The support isn't there," he told Nigel Farage. "People have been left at the side of the road."

So for Frank, 20 years after facing up to the biggest fight of his life, a new one is quickly emerging.


King Charles

Frank Bruno deserves a knighthood from King Charles with boxing icon winning his mental health battle


It's a fight for change. It's a fight for all of those people who find themselves in the dark place from where he has risen. And I know, because he's told me, that this is still the most important fight of his life.

I've no doubt he will succeed like he did that night at Wembley. After all, no-one has done more to help break down stigma and to help bring about change than Frank.

And that’s why I believe one final change is needed. We need to hear the words that this true British icon deserves to receive: "Arise, Sir Frank."

That would be a perfect - and rightful ending - to this fairytale story of a true British hero.

And I know just the song we could play to celebrate should politicians do the right thing.

Nick Owens is Frank Bruno's ghost writer and author of Let Me Be Frank and 60 Years A Fighter To read Frank's inspirational story in full visit

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