Liam Rudden: When Bradley Welsh turned two actors into ‘real’ boxers

Bradley Welsh in action back in the day
Bradley Welsh in action back in the day
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A former British ABA Lightweight belt-holder, reformed bad lad and football casual and, latterly, a community champion working with underprivileged kids and their families through his Holyrood Boxing Gym, Bradley Welsh could be a divisive figure.

I met him twice. The first time, in 2011 when staging a production of the ground-breaking play Cock and Bull Story.

I needed someone to make my two actors look like boxers, and there wasn’t much time.

With just a 10 day rehearsal period, the pair had an hour and a half of script to learn between them. Consequently, taking them out of rehearsal for any period of time could prove costly.

The controversial piece told the story of two friends grappling with their sexual identity using boxing as a metaphor.

Exploring the working class taboos of sexuality, violence and male bonding, the action revolved around boxer Travis’s final fight before the big time. Required to psych out his rival to clinch the deal, his best mate and self-appointed trainer Jacko, however, has a few dark secrets waiting to be revealed.

For the play to work, it was vital both actors appeared to be able to box.

“Call Bradley Welsh at Holyrood Gym”, someone suggested. So I did.

I explained what we were doing and asked if any of his guys could help get the actors up to speed.

“Send them round now and I’ll do it myself,” he said, without a moment’s hesitation.

And so the boys were dispatched to learn the ropes and Welsh worked them, and worked them, and then worked them some more.

They may have been knackered by the end of that training session but already they were beginning to look the part. The footwork was there, the stance too.

That night, when they got back to their Festival digs the pair Googled the name Bradley Welsh.

They were more than a little perturbed when the first link to pop up was his episode of Danny Dyer’s Deadliest Men from 2009 and demanded to know if I’d known his past.

Still, they were talked into going back, finished their training and on opening night there was not a soul in the venue who believed that until a few days before, the pair had never boxed in their life. They were that well drilled.

I didn’t really see Welsh again until a year ago, when I interviewed him for the Evening News, he was embarking one of his many initiatives which so greatly helped Edinburgh’s deprived kids, the ones who so often go under the radar.

Sitting at the side of one of a boxing ring in his gym, his passion for this cause was evangelical.

He owned his well-documented past too, “Of course, I regret it. I have a daughter and a wee boy who is like a son to me, and I want a better society. That’s why I do what I do.”

That he was shot and killed on the streets of Edinburgh is chilling, and it is with his kids and family my thoughts remain right now.