Frank Bruno admits losing FOUR pals to coronavirus pushed him ‘to the brink’ in fight with bipolar and depression

IT was the greatest moment in his life — and one that thrilled millions of Brits.

Standing in the middle of the ring at Wembley Stadium, Frank Bruno raised his clenched fists to the sky as fireworks exploded.

Frank Bruno is facing another heavyweight challenge

Finally, at the fourth attempt, he had risen from pantomime dame, famous for his ‘Know What I Mean’ catchphrase’, to the world heavyweight champion.

Yet 25 years on from that iconic night, yesterday’s anniversary was bittersweet for Frank.

That’s because the 58-year-old, who has been suffering mental health problems for two decades, is trying to cope with a relapse in his battle with bipolar disorder.

In an emotional interview dad-of-four Frank says lockdown has brought about his new torment. 

The ordeal has been brought on by the heartbreaking loss of four friends from suspected Covid-19.

They have been crushing blows which, Frank says, have been tougher than any punches he felt in the ring.

Among those he has lost are Rupert Doaries, a former member of Frank’s coaching team, Milton Marks, his former accountant, and lifelong pal Mickey Crow.

In an exclusive interview Frank said: “Today I will be taking some time to think about all of them.

It was 25 years ago this week since the legend became heavyweight champion at Wembley

The anniversary of his win over Oliver McCall has been bittersweet for Frank Bruno

“The hardest thing about losing so many friends during lockdown was not being able to go to the funerals and say goodbye properly.

“The friends I have lost are guys who have been friends for most of my life — and long before I became famous.

“It’s made me realise just how precious life is and how horrendous this virus has been for many.

“I can’t lie mentally, the last few months have been really, really tough.

“There have been some really dark days which have pushed me right to the brink. But I am still here and still fighting and that’s what I will always try to do.”

Frank remains one of the country’s most loved sporting icons, and he agreed to speak out because he fears many, like him, have struggled with the fallout of the pandemic.

The ex-WBC king, who has been  previously sectioned, battled through by getting medical advice, leaning on friends . . . and exercising.

Frank added: “I have learned to live with my illness a lot better now.

“It will always be there. It’s not like boxing. At the end of the fight you and your opponent shake hands and go your separate ways.

“But bipolar and depression is there all the time. It’s like the devil on your shoulder. And it can creep up on you — sometimes when you least expect it.

“I think that’s what has happened in the last few months.

“I had pneumonia last year which meant I was at high risk when lockdown kicked in so I knew I needed to keep my head down and stay indoors.

“A few years ago I’d have been too afraid to tell anyone how I was feeling because I’d worry what they’d think.

“There was such a stigma attached to mental health. But talking openly is something that really helps me and it has been so important during lockdown.”

Frank, who has spent years lobbying for mental health reform, warned: “So many people have lost loved ones, people have lost their jobs, so many people have seen their lives completely changed.

“There was already a big problem before Covid but it is going to be ten times as bad now.

“Anyone can be affected. It doesn’t matter if you are a dustman or a billionaire. Everyone has mental health.

“And all too often someone who is stressed, depressed or worse is packed off with a load of pills and not given the right support.

“It’s important that people know there is another way.

“I am not very good sitting indoors all day watching Phil and Holly on TV if you know what I mean . . . 

“I have really missed being able to go out, attending events and just being around people. Being indoors all the time started to have a knock on with my bipolar big time.

“So I did what I have always done best. I spent a lot of time getting my head down and training really hard.

“I love the gym so when they started closing them I set one up at home. And I put a punchbag in the garden and just hit my way through it.

“Training, staying active has been my way of trying to get through all this and defending myself against my bipolar disorder.”

But one thing Frank has missed desperately is being able to see his fans.

Before lockdown he had been planning a series of events across the country to celebrate his iconic unanimous points victory over American Oliver McCall at Wembley on September 2, 1995.

In a poll of most popular Brits that year he only came second to Princess Diana.

Now, 25 years on, Frank still gets stopped in the street and asked about that night.

It was his fourth attempt to win a world title and he said: “It was the best night of my life. I still watch the fight and get goosebumps when I am announced as the winner.

“I always dreamed of becoming a world champion but you never know with boxing. So to finally do it was the just most amazing feeling.”

If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this article, please call the Samaritans for free on 16123.

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