Hero or villain? Steven Smith looks at what it takes to be the man who has everyone talking, the heavyweight boxing champion of the world, Tyson Fury.
A hero to the poor with his charitable donations to the homeless, a champion for mental health and the self-proclaimed ‘King of the Gypsies’. Tyson standing at 6’9” embodies all that can be labelled as masculine, yet unlike many hard men, this giant breaks the mould. He has started to wear his heart on his sleeve and has opened up, talking frankly of his demons, depression, and personal battles with addiction.
Tyson also adds to the list that he is bipolar and suffers from anxiety. But is it possible that the man of the moment, who is so desperate for the world to perceive him as super masculine is still, as his father John Fury described him, a shy and sensitive overweight boy inside? Was it this shy boy that begged for the acceptance of his boxing coach father? Was it his unconventional gypsy upbringing that pushed him into a mould of boxing and masculinity, which subsequently became the root of Tyson’s demons and depression? Is it the often toxic masculinity that is piled on to so many young men during their upbringing, the cause of his trauma and mental health issues later in life?
Now, I like Tyson Fury. He is fascinating, and from the minute he burst on to our screens, I was aware of him. There was something that made me want to stop and listen; he appeared to be a model hero on paper. His smile lights up the screen, and his enthusiasm for life makes me want to know more. Then there is the unconditional love that he has for his family, which simply melts your heart.
“The best part of my life is taking my kids to school. I could live in a cardboard box and eat cheese sandwiches, as long as my family is with me“.
Tyson tells us though it is doubtful that his gorgeous wife Paris, who he has been with since they were teenagers, would ever let it come to that. She is one shrewd cookie and lives like a footballer’s wife rather than a gypsy though you can’t imagine Victoria Beckham arriving in Vegas and going straight in to do David’s dirty dishes.
But of course, once it was pointed out that this man, who I would want on my team in any battles, did not just have traditional values but what some might consider downright prehistoric values, I was speechless.
Unbelievably, in 2015, in an interview on The Jeremy Vine show, with gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, he compared gays to paedophiles, claiming that homosexuality is “One of the three things that will lead to the apocalypse; the other two being abortion and paedophilia”.
Even his younger brother Love Island star Tommy seems to have taken the anti-gay stance On a now disabled Twitter account, Tommy tweeted his older brother, Tyson, allegedly stating “Come on bro, let’s get dis win good luck brother and Chisora is a f***** and he’s gettin it proper @TysonFury”.
In 2018 he was nominated for Sports Personality of the Year, yet his homophobic comments and derogatory sex views came back to haunt him, with calls to remove him and comments made including:
“So, when Tyson Fury is called the people’s champion, it begs the question: which people?”
Challenged about his views by one reporter, he sat in his van replying “Jesus loves you”.
Tyson has since apologised for his outburst and controversial views.
Were these Tyson’s views or were they opinions that had been drummed into him from an early age by someone else? Or was it a culture of growing up in the gypsy community, not known to embrace and welcome gay people among their tribe?
Fellow gypsy fighter, Billy Joe Saunders says, “Where we come from, if you show weakness, you might as well give up on life as a fighter”. It’s a world where men fought, and women, as quoted by Tyson himself, were ‘best flat on their back or in the kitchen’.
Tyson comes from a world where LGBTQ is stamped on with ferocity. Anyone who has read ‘Gypsy Boy’ by Mikey Walsh will find it not only a harrowing experience but a moving and humorous one too. Brilliantly written, it tells the story of a gay boy brought as a Romanian and unable to conform to his expectations of masculinity. The description of the brutality he suffered, at the hand of his father, as the reader, stained the pages with my tears.
Yet, at the end of the book, his father unexpectedly turned up to see Walsh, now a teacher, despite the violence
Could growing up in a tightly knit community with some values and beliefs that are from a by-gone age, be like other, almost closed communities or cults and brainwash their young?
Tyson appears to be an intelligent man, embracing all that life has to offer, in a way an old soul that could see that the bright lights of Hollywood or Vegas could not compare to his roots in Morecambe, or make him any happier for that matter.
“From the age of six, all I ever dreamed of was being a boxer, now I have it all; I am the greatest boxer in the world yes, I have sinned, suffered from depression and anxiety, and I am bipolar”, he tells viewers.
Tyson does not have it all; regrettably, he does not have good mental health, something money or fame can’t replace.
His dad, John Fury, is not a likeable character; there is something a little sad about him, almost broken, floored and in denial. He tells us that Tyson’s mental health has been impacted due to being so successful and mixing with millionaires and celebrities.
There is something that screams ‘pushy show biz mum’ about him. That statement about his son confirmed my suspicions; that he would like very much to have been Tyson.
“I am sure that I have depression but, in my day, we had to worry about keeping a roof over my family’s head and food on the table, there was no time to think of any of that”.
I am sure at heart he loves his son, but he displays little understanding or empathy for mental health issues. To be fair to John, however, he did come from an age where issues such as mental health were rarely discussed.
In the first of the series John who is banned from America for a criminal conviction, after being released from prison in 2015 following a four-year completion of an 11-year sentence, for gouging another man’s eye out during a brawl at a car auction, tells us that Tyson was a shy, sensitive, fat kid. “I brought all my boys up the same; to fight; I trained them myself”. John, a bare-knuckle boxer must have had the same training from his father as a boy and probably would not think that any of his boys could be different. Young men or boys who have toxic masculinity forced upon them can have extreme consequences to their mental wellbeing, particularly on the sensitive child or those that do not fit the macho mould.
What does toxic masculinity mean?
Researchers have defined it as encompassing;
- Suppressing emotions or masking distress
- Maintaining an appearance of hardness
- Violence as an indicator of power (think: “tough-guy” behaviour)
In other words, toxic masculinity is what can come of teaching boys that they can’t express their emotions openly; that they have to be “tough all the time”; that anything other than that makes them feminine or weak. (No, it doesn’t mean that all men are inherently toxic.) The harmful side effects can, however, develop into homophobia, or misogyny.
Toxic masculinity, according to Psycom and several surveys, can lead to suicide, depression, anxiety, addiction, and drug use.
A 2017 survey by the Equality and Human Rights Commission found that gypsies, travellers and Roma were found to suffer “poorer mental health than the rest of the population in Britain” and were “more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression”.
Only last year Billy and Joe Smith, stars of My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding were found dead in a suicide pact. They had both been struggling with mental health issues.
Now, looking back, I was a sensitive kid too. My dad introduced me to football by heading the ball at my head in the front room. It made me cry, and I hated football from then on. As an adult, I am quite sporty, but Dad could never really teach me anything. The last thing I needed was tough love.
Is it not possible that locked in this huge massive man is the shy, sensitive kid at loggerheads with who he has become? Desperate to please his father, who needed his shy son to “Man up”. The poor man can find a cloud in every silver lining; it must have been hard for the young Fury.
To be honest, the penny drops on what it was that that I saw in Tyson. He had the traits of another beautiful man who had the same personal scenario. He too could be charming, but many said he was bad news; he lived with depression, anxiety and had addiction issues, yet there was something I adored about him.
He had a troubled childhood and was abandoned as a kid by his father. He told me about the days his dad left, with such vivid description, despite being only 8 years old at the time. It was at that moment I saw that very child looking at me through man’s eyes. Taking a shot, I told him “that frightened child is with you every day, you protect him with your front”. There was a silence and the relief that someone had seen the real him, and because he did not feel judged, he could be himself. That’s what I saw in Tyson.
My money is on the fact that Tyson is at loggerheads with himself.
Everyone around him seems to be at loggerheads with Tyson’s new direction. Whilst embracing wealth and lifestyle, some of them claim to want to stay with the traditions of the travelling community.
Tyson wants to set precedents and make changes within the gypsy community. He hates “dream crushers”, whatever his kids want to be, he will be fully supportive.
Yet in a U-turn, wife Paris, who earlier in the show, ‘Tyson Fury Gypsy King’, says she lived her earlier years as a traveller in a caravan now says that she could not bear to leave her beautiful home with hot water and mod cons and her beloved trips to Marbella.
Paris wants the kids raised as travellers. The kids will leave school at 11, and when they marry, they can then leave home, (No room for any of the kids to be gay in that plan then). Daughter Venezuela, who wants to be a dancer or gymnast, calls her mum ‘dream crusher’. Paris comments that Venezuela is already too tall to become either; Venezuela does have a point.
You like Paris in the show, but it’s hard not to, but you want to give her a reality check. When she is not cooking for the massive family, Paris seems to spend the rest of her time in the hairdressers.
Tyson clashes with her; he is keen as ‘King’ to make changes; the kids should stay in school; they can embrace both lifestyles. Here is where I thought he could bring about change, as he moves among the likes of the ‘queens’ dream’ gay ally, Robbie Williams, along with other showbiz pals.
It is possible to educate a homophobe, misogynist, or even a bigot, especially if you take them out of an environment that is steeped in it.
My bet is if Tyson’s demons do not cause him to self-destruct, let’s hope he fights them as hard as any opponent. Tyson could be the king that brings a kinder, more tolerant era to the gypsy community.
After all, a man who pays €200 for two lobsters and sets them free can’t be all that bad!