I was a disappointment to my parents before I drew my first breath. After five boys, they had been praying for a girl and were convinced their prayers would be answered. So when Dad rang the hospital from a public phone and heard about my arrival, he started kicking and punching the kiosk. A passing neighbour said, “It’s another boy then, Mr Benn?” Five years later, they tried again … and their seventh son was born.
Dad was 23 and Mum 19 when they arrived in the UK from Barbados in the 1950s. They bought their first house in east London and Mum still lives there. I guess it holds too many memories for her to move, although I’ve tried to coax her away.
My father didn’t see my eldest brother Andy until he was eight because he was born in Barbados shortly after Dad’s arrival in London and brought up by his grandparents. Andy was 11 when my parents finally sent for him, and it must have torn his world apart to join a family and home where he felt totally alien. Even so, the pecking order of the brothers was quickly redefined and he became firmly entrenched as No 1.
Seven lively boys sharing a three-bedroom house put a strain on everyone and I guess my first lessons in fighting started at home. But if things became too violent, Andy would protect me. Mum was a genius at making ends meet, while Dad provided a heavy-handed discipline to keep us on the right side of the law. He was a powerful man and hit us with the force of an express train. I used to think he hated me, but now I’m grateful for his discipline because, otherwise, I would have probably ended up in prison. Later, we became the best of friends and he supported me at every fight. I was devastated when he lost his fight with cancer in 2015.
By the time Andy was 17 he had been in and out of borstal and got himself a girlfriend twice his age. I’ve never really found out what happened to him the day he died. We were told he had been visiting his girlfriend and there had been a disturbance at her house. Andy decided on a quick escape. He is said to have leapt from an upstairs window, hoping to clear a glass conservatory roof, but instead fell through it and severed a main artery. There were times when I thought about joining Andy prematurely because our bond went far beyond the usual blood ties. He was my hero. Handsome. Powerful. Invincible. I still dream about him.
I knew at once that Carolyne, my wife, was different to the other women I had known. She understood me for what I am and never asked for anything. We’ve been through terrible times, but she has always been there for me. Life would be meaningless without her. When I split up from Sharron, my first wife and the mother of my three eldest children, the conflicted feelings I felt for her and Carolyne nearly tore me apart. I even considered suicide. I laughed when Carolyne suggested I try hypnotism, but then decided it wasn’t such a crazy idea after all and arranged to see Paul McKenna. Afterwards, I felt like a different man and I’m so grateful to him for helping me put the past behind me.
Carolyne and I were desperate for children of our own and I can’t describe the happiness I felt when she became pregnant with twins after IVF treatment. We went on to have another two naturally, and I have a son from another relationship, as well as four grandchildren.
My 20-year-old son, Conor, is now embarking on his own boxing career. Sometimes, when I watch him, it’s like watching myself. He is going to face the same temptations as me and I look at him and think, oh son. But Conor is going to be different because he knows what I went through.