It is late in the afternoon and the shrill beeps and honks of congestion fill the air around Bolton train station. Just over a mile away, past the crossroads of shops, past the local museum and aquarium near the eastwards flowing River Croal is Prince Street.
It is here that a King calls his home. As locals trudge the isles of Lidl searching the shelves for their weekly essentials, next door Amir Khan is displaying some of that blistering hand speed which has earned him millions throughout a 13-year professional career in boxing.
He is at his Gloves Community Gym and has arrived early for our appointment. Seldom does this happen. The man who is tasked with organising his diary smiles: ‘He’s never usually running on time.’ Punctuality is certainly not Khan’s best quality. It becomes abundantly clear what that is in the 40 minutes I spend in his company.
Amir Khan is at his Gloves Community Gym and has arrived early for our appointment
He is refreshingly down-to-earth and a laid-back kind of character with a family entourage
In here, away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life it is calm and quiet. So much so that you can even hear the snaps of the camera bounce off the walls. It is just Khan and a few members of his family floating around. It’s not the kind of entourage you would associate with someone who mixes in both the sporting and celebrity worlds.
But this is how Khan likes things now. Fewer people, less hassle. He is refreshingly down-to-earth and a laid-back kind of character. He reminisces about winning world titles and the silver medal at the Athens Olympics in 2004 but nothing brings the smile out of him more than when his charity work is the topic of conversation.
‘I love helping people. I want to help as many people as I can. It’s always good to give something back isn’t it,’ he says.
‘I went travelling to Pakistan where my family are from and when I saw the poor people over there – it’s not nice to see – but that was when it all started for me and when it started to become a big part of my life.’
He started doing charity work after visiting Pakistan and donates large sums to good causes
In 2014 set up the Amir Khan foundation which supports projects all over the world
It was a wake-up call that hit him like a ton of bricks. He started doing charity work not long after, donating large sums of money to good causes and in 2014 set up the Amir Khan foundation which supports projects all over the world.
His foundation has already helped build an orphanage in the Gambia and work to do the same has extended into his parents’ homeland of Pakistan. In 2015 he helped deliver life-saving emergency aid to Syrian refugees arriving on the Greek island of Lesbos and continues to take that same hands-on approach to his humanitarian work today.
‘There have been days and days where I’m away from the family in places like Africa, but that is the sacrifice you make to try and help people,’ he says. ‘I have been all over to places that are really run down. There aren’t any nice hotels around or anything. I have literally stayed in loads of hostels to do the charity work and I’ve been in places where you can’t shower because they don’t have the facilities or if they do, they only have freezing cold water. There’s none of this five-star treatment.
‘I’ve been to Indonesia recently doing charity work over there, it doesn’t matter where I go, I love to do charity work all over. Feeding the homeless in the UK is important to me too. I do a lot of work over here. It’s all about helping the people. I want to be known as the people’s champion. When I put a smile on a young kid’s face or a young family’s face it means a lot to me because I have got my own family, my own kids, and I would love for my kids to follow in my footsteps.
In 2015 he helped deliver life-saving emergency aid to Syrian refugees arriving in Lesbos
Ignorance can offer refuge but it is by thinking in the opposite way that Khan has found solace
‘I think all these high-profile people, every person from Instagram models, to YouTube stars or a sportsman or actor or actress, I think they should do a little bit of charity in their lives. I hope that if I could speak to them – I would love to speak to them and say look “even just do a little bit”. I realise I’m very fortunate to be in this position. I could be selfish with it, I could have Lamborghini’s, Ferrari’s, Bugatti’s, any car you name I could have but I have chosen not to live that life. I could just be sat at home but I’m not. I know how to use my profile in the right way.’
Ignorance can offer refuge but it is by thinking in the opposite way that Khan has found solace. ‘I want to be remembered for helping others, not only for my boxing but for what I have given back as well,’ he says. ‘As time has gone on, it’s something that I’m starting to realise, do you know what, this gives me peace. It’s why I do it and will continue to do it.’
It has been Khan’s antidote for a painful couple of years. But it has been the hard knocks along the way which he actually feels indebted to. It has helped mould him into the person he is now. And at 32, he finally feels as though he has come of age.
‘I’ve had a difficult few years in my personal life. During my break after the Canelo fight, I was going through a lot at the time, but to be honest with you I’m glad I have gone through that.
The boxer continues to take that same hands-on approach to his humanitarian work today
But it has been the hard knocks along the way which he actually feels indebted to
‘I made a lot of mistakes and did things you regret later on. I think now “what was I doing, why was I doing that?” I’m a lot wiser now. I have got myself together again. Even in the last six to eight months I have done some growing up and I’ve got smarter and I know what I should do and what I shouldn’t do. Going through all that has helped me.’
Only with time has there come an appreciation of his money and an understanding of the implications of his actions. For years after he burst on to the scene with his exploits at the Olympics in 2004, Khan’s name was synonymous for ostentatious displays of wealth. He would regularly show off his latest purchases. The cars, the houses, the holidays, the finer things in life were what used to make him tick.
‘I used to spend like £60,000 on watches all the time too,’ he says. ‘I remember after the Olympics, I would walk in the street and people would ask for my autograph. I started getting recognised and invited to all these big events that you see on the TV. I went to a lot of TV shows and events and was around a lot of famous people. I had David Beckham come over to me and shake my hand and he said “I watched the Olympics, you did a great job” and like that to me was like “wow” someone who I had been watching all my life.
‘It definitely affected me. I was young. I was just a boy at 17 and suddenly I was getting paid a lot of money when I first turned pro. I never even had a job, I worked a couple of weekends doing the odd job here and there earning a couple of hundred quid but suddenly I was on thousands of pounds. I look back and I’m embarrassed because I was flashy and I was being like that. I’ve stopped all that and I have changed over time like everyone does.
He reminisces about winning world titles and the silver medal at the Athens Olympics in 2004
Only with time has there come an appreciation of his money and the implications of his actions
‘I’m not a big fan of showing things off on social media anymore, nice watches and things like that, I just think it’s sad when people do that. I blame myself because looking back I was doing that and I have learned from less fortunate people out there that they can’t afford even a chance to see those things and I don’t want to be one of those people who rub it in their faces and be like “Oh I have got this and this car and that”.
‘It doesn’t mean anything when you buy something, it doesn’t make you any better. People may think for a split second “wow” but that’s it, after that it’s done. While you’ve just spent another £60,000, it’s not worth it. I’m very smart now, if I am going to spend that money, I will just get a flight to a poor country and use my money towards feeding them. I get more out of doing that.’
But perhaps that reputation has stuck with him. Perhaps that’s why despite possessing a knack for hooking spectators, despite the world titles, the Olympic medal and the charity work, Khan remains a divisive character. He does not seem to get his due in or outside the ring. At the heart of him is an instinct for altruism. He tries to be a Samaritan, and yet the insults come. One that arrives like clockwork is the prevalence of racial discrimination.
Following his Athens display, Khan’s name was synonymous for ostentatious displays of wealth
He would regularly show off his latest purchases – the cars, the houses and the holidays
One look at his social media accounts and you get a sobering reminder that the battle to eradicate racism is still very much a current one. Khan has seen it before. He’s had it for years. He knows what it looks like. The same words dripping with vitriol. It doesn’t bother him. He’s become immune to it. But he knows it stinks.
‘I think at the end of the day what plays a big part in it is what’s happening around the world, especially with terrorism,’ he says. ‘I’m not going to pretend that I have gotten it worse than anybody else. I actually think I’m luckier than others.
‘But I get called a terrorist, a P*** and racial names like that on social media all the time. Me being a Muslim – and I’m totally against terrorism by the way – I think some people are always going to point the finger. At the end of the day it’s what has been out there on the news and when people see stuff like that people are going to be like “Oh yeah Amir is one of them as well”.
‘It’s definitely a social issue and not just a boxing one or sport one. One thing I like to say to them is that I’m just as British as you. I was born here and have actually represented and won a medal and world titles for my country. I try to not let it get to me really. I know I’m British and I know what I’m about. People can say what they want, if it makes them feel better then fine. I just try and focus on my boxing, that is what made me.’
Despite the world titles, the Olympics and the charity work, Khan remains a divisive character
One insult that seems to arrive like clockwork is the prevalence of racial discrimination
He is now entering the golden years of his career, in which every fight yields what would be considered as life-changing money. But that is not his only drive. Khan says he can count how many fights he has left on one hand now. The fire in his belly is still burning, though and the ambition to reach the top again still strong.
‘I might wake up one morning and say “I don’t want to do it no more” but at the moment I still have the love and still love everything about the sport. Boxing is on a high at the moment, not only in the UK but around the world as well so while it is, I want to be part of that.
‘I want to get a good few fights in, try and win another world title and then call it a day. To become a two-time world champion is my ultimate goal. I think I’ve done everything pretty much perfect. I can look back on my career without any regrets, but it would be the icing on the cake to finish off with another world title.’
Khan will get his opportunity to fulfil that fantasy in April when he takes on pound-for-pound star and WBO champion Terence Crawford. He is expected to earn around £4million for that fight.
You can bet your house on where some of that will be going.
48 total views, 3 views today