Big Phil: boxing brought me back from the edge

Published On: Oct 10, 2021

By SAS veteran, security specialist and author Phil Campion

The first time I really thrived was when I joined the military. I had a tough childhood, spending time in a children’s home, having problems at school and never really having a stable environment. When I signed up there was a military family and a shared purpose. It was something I was actually good at, and I ended up as a Colour Sergeant in the SAS. 

My problems started when I was back on civvy street.

When I left the Special Forces I worked in private security. This took me to some of the most dangerous places in the world like Gaza, Sudan and Iraq. The work was obviously very intense, guarding people from the perpetual threat of armed attack. But what I perhaps didn’t realise at the time was that I needed some intensity in my life. 

Because I’d written a couple of books about my exploits in the SAS and done a bit of TV, I began to enjoy what I guess you’d call a kind of semi-celebrity status. I stopped working in security in my mid-forties and found myself completely away from any military type environment for the first time since I was a kid. 

The lack of intensity was a problem for me.

But also, I got very frustrated with how much time is spent worrying about problems that are not real. If someone is trying to shoot you, that is a problem that requires a solution. If someone forgets something or says something wrong and nobody is put at risk, this shouldn’t be a cause for concern.  

Without anything ‘real’ to focus on, the pressure just kind of built up in my mind and I snapped. I had a complete meltdown, I smashed up my house and then I tried to take on the coppers who came to intervene. I ended up on remand in Winchester Prison, asking myself:

“How did I get here?”

When I got out I needed something to get my head straight. And that was boxing. I did a fair bit of judo as a kid, and obviously we did loads of various kinds of combat training in the military. But as a boxer I was a 46-year-old novice, so it was tough. It was also exactly what I needed. A room full of positive people, treating each other with respect and all focused on the same goal. 

I’m now 52 and boxing has been a life saver for me.

I’ve had to take a bit of time out with injuries, which are a fact of life that you just have to work around. Everyone has things that can get in the way of training, but knowing where I want to focus my energy is very important. 

When I met Sam at the Gone Wild Festival he gave me a taster of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, which was great. The way these guys train is similar to what you see in the best boxing gyms, like London’s Peacock Gym, where I have done a lot of my training. The good guys help the newer guys –  you improve just as much by teaching someone else, so everyone learns together. 

Everyone needs a healthy way of blowing away the cobwebs, resetting the mind so you can get back to normal life. Boxing clears my head, and at the same time makes me stronger and happier. After that, life on civvy street doesn’t seem bad at all.

Phil Campion is the author of Who Dares Wins, sequel to the Sunday Times bestseller Born Fearless. Phil is also Official Champion of the Army Cadet Force. Phil was talking to Richard Holt. 

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