Coming from a sporting family, his brother Clinton was a boxer, and his uncle was a champion weightlifter, Duke had little idea what he wanted to do. He tried plumbing, and painting & decorating, most jobs usually ending with the sack. Meanwhile he had been doing some amateur boxing, but by his own admission, he was not much good. All that changed in 1982, when he met boxing promoter and manager, Mickey Duff. It was at a boxing event, where Duke had been encouraged by his brother and mentor, Dudley, to go and introduce himself, but he got short shrift from the boxing promoter, and it took 18 months of persistent "stalking", in Duke's words, for Mickey to be persuaded by the young man's tenacity, into taking him on. Three weeks later the 19 year old south Londoner, was lying by a pool in Las Vegas, at the start of an intense boxing tour around the States. Dudley, and coach, Colin Smith, instilled in him self belief, resulting in his meteoric rise to British, then European, and finally World Champion. Duke then received further recognition, adding an MBE to his haul of medals.
The boxing gym, as well as being a business, is clearly a means for Duke to give something back. From motivating those in need of direction, to instilling respect and self discipline in the young, the gym provides a friendly, unhostile space in which to train and get fit, to all ages and backgrounds. Currently the youngest of the 200 or so members is 9, and the oldest, Roger, whom I met, is 73. As Duke recalls, he has boxed in some incredibly hostile places, so he was determined his club would be different. The friendly atmosphere extends to members all being issued with nicknames by Duke. Roger is known as Santa Claus, and other members include, Don King, French Assassin, Kylie, Rocky, Moneypenny, Diana Ross, Mr. Fox, Terminator and Postman Pat.
Duke gets a real buzz from not only working with his clients in the ring, but is also passionate about talking to people, finding out what makes them tick, and motivating them outside the ring too. As a result, he does a lot of work with MIND, the mental health charity, giving regular seminars and training to patients in conjunction with The Royal Bethlem Hospital in Beckenham. To Duke it's clear, the benefits that physical training and fitness have on mental wellbeing are huge.
The wellbeing of the large warehouse on Victory Place is another matter however. The prospect of redevelopment has been raised on several occasions, but Duke is determined to stay on the site as long as possible.
2B Victory Place