I have just returned from Oakland, California, where - for The Observer - I have been profiling Sonny Barger, and riding out with him and the Oakland Hell's Angels. Then things get truly surreal. Now read on...
If Sonny Barger had once been a contender for Baddest Man on the Planet, that office, by the late 1980s, was occupied by the heavyweight boxing champion of the world, the crude but devastating Mike Tyson. I found myself squaring up to Iron Mike not because of the spurious celebrity status of the Radio 1 DJ but because of my lack of it.
Someone from Hoxton Boys' Club in London's east end had contacted Radio 1 asking for a famous DJ to present the club's annual boxing prizes. Having been redirected first to the agents of Gary Davies, Steve Wright and the like – and been told of their fees – the applicant had returned to Radio 1 and the assistance of a nice executive there called Bill Morris. In a nutshell, Bill was asked which Radio 1 DJs came cheap. Below the level of cheap, Bill advised, was Our Man Kershaw and he offered my services. For free.
“Thanks,” he said when he outlined to me this fait accompli. “You're doing us a favour. It'll be dead easy. All you'll have to do is stand there and hand over some trophies.”
At the club on the night, once I pinned down the organiser, I was given a scotch egg and a bag of crisps and made to wait in a side room. One or two sightseers put their heads around the door.
“Is that him?” one asked another. “I've never heard of him, have you?”
The prize-giving itself was going as smoothly as one could have expected. I was seated at the end of a semi-circle of notables, including the mayor of Hoxton, on the stage and under the scrutiny of several hundred fidgeting small boys and their parents. A thin parade of these youngsters was filing across the stage, to undulating applause, and I began to hand over a lot of cheap cups as an official of the club read from a list of achievements. So far, so good.
Then something made me look up, towards the doors at the back of the hall. There at the end of the centre aisle, stark against the lights of the foyer was an unmistakeable silhouette. What the fuck was Mike Tyson doing here?
I froze, except for distractedly pumping the hand of some child whose trophy I was failing to hand over. Every one in the hall, save those of us on the stage, had their backs to this apparition, unaware of who had just landed. Slowly, Tyson strode down the aisle, revealing his presence as he went. All hell unfurled.
By the time he reached the apron of the stage, after one of the longest fights of his career, he looked genuinely shaken. I reached down, offered him my hand and pulled him up to safety.
“Thankth,” he lisped. “Whath going on, man? Whath going on?”
“I wish I knew, “ I said.
Mike Tyson, it was later explained to me - under sedation - was in London for some promotional appearances. Earlier in the evening of our historic shared top billing at Hoxton Boys' Club, Tyson had appeared on the Wogan show on BBC television and from there, as a favour to Jarvis Astaire, a director of Wembley Stadium, who was also a patron of the Boys' Club, he had agreed to go with Astaire, his UK chaperone, over to Hoxton to give the lads a surprise and a treat. Clearly, no one had first told the Heavyweight Champion of the World that a low-ranking Radio 1 DJ, of whom no one had heard, had already been booked for that excitement.
Once the civil unrest had been quelled, Tyson agreed to take over my prize-giving role. And as Mike assumed his duties, another club official came and whispered to me that they wouldn't mind if I went home.
Copyright: Andy Kershaw 2011
This is an extract from Andy’s autobiography, No Switch Off. You can enjoy another extract, of his adventures with the Rolling Stones in the summer of '82 here.
Follow the link below to buy a copy…