The making of the World’s Strongest Man

Three years ago I attended a charity football and darts event at what is now the bet365 stadium. During the interval, a strongman made a guest appearance and I sat transfixed and completely in awe.

I had grown up surrounded by stories of strongmen. My father had become a famous strongman in the 1950s.

From a humble background, my father had joined the Pakistan army; largely for the free healthcare that it would offer to my family.

During the monsoon season, the commanding officer became isolated from his troops during military exercises; his vehicle completely stuck in thick, deep mud.

My father was brought forward to the commanding officer after a comrade had promised that he would be able to pull the vehicle out to safety. He did just that in front of a spellbound commanding officer who had wagered that no man could single-handedly pull this off. In exchange my father asked to leave the army and move to the UK where the ‘pavements were made of gold’.

The strongman sport is the very reason why my family were able to come to England.

Strongmen, not just to me but to many millions around the world, are the superheroes, such as “the Mountain” in the Game of Thrones.

Little did I know that the future superhero I had seen at the bet365 stadium was Eddie Hall. A man who would, a few months later, go on to join M Club as part of his rehabilitation training.

I distinctly remember the day that we sat down together for the first time and talked, it became apparent that the gym was offering us both something much more than fitness.

Eddie told me how he was naturally bright at school and yet struggled with academic learning. Because of this he found school boring and, as a result became rebellious. He was excluded and from there suffered with depression.

Eddie and I had something in common.

We had both faced adversity and importantly, we had both survived.

Like me, Eddie had come from nothing and was achieving an impossible dream. How? By overcoming great challenges and igniting a spark within him to trigger an ambition to be the absolute best that he could be.

That initial meeting was life changing for both of us. I saw a gulf between the top three strongmen and the rest. Eddie, at that point, was stuck in the same pile as the ‘rest’. He told me that he was unable to put in the time necessary to be the best because he had to work to support his family. He had even, in his lowest moments considered quitting, but of course his character prevented him.

I saw that he needed to make a critical difference to his opportunities for success by training full time. I knew instantly that I had to support him.

I went on to see him achieve the deadlift record three times, become the first man in history to lift 500kg and the first Brit in 24-years to win the coveted title of World’s Strongest Man.

It would have been impossible to do so on a part-time basis. So I followed my instinct as I usually do. No one previously had taken such a risk to finance such an undertaking but it just felt right to me.

Overnight I became Eddie’s sponsor and manager. Eddie gave in his notice and became the first full-time UK Strongman.

Amazingly, as a result, other local entrepenuers and sponsors came on board including Peter Wright, Philip Blakemen, Chris Johnson and Chris Butler, who all run successful businesses and who bought in to the dream. It has been a pleasure to share the dream with such notable businessmen.

There is an interconnectedness between sport and business and in turn the growth of our economy which must be harnessed. The opportunities have to be taken and talent has to be nurtured in order to achieve fame and glory.

The Cricket World Cup is coming to the UK in 2019, providing opportunities for places like Southampton, Taunton and Durham.

And, just as cycling has enticed people to Yorkshire, so football entices them to Manchester and Liverpool, and tennis brings them to Eastbourne and London.

As we continue on our pursuit of our very own colossal title, City of Culture status, Eddie Hall is the latest local hero to back the campaign to make Stoke-on-Trent the UK’s cultural capital in 2021.

The World’s Strongest Man competition has graced countries such as Malaysia, China and New Zealand, but it has never been held in the UK. I am now pushing for the competition to be brought here, to the Potteries where I believe the bet365 stadium could be filled to capacity on the back of Eddie ‘The Beast’ Hall, who is now the biggest name in the Strongman World globally with 1.1m followers on social media.

A number of sports are unable to receive Lottery funding and it is just not right that only the favoured sports get it and not others and it took an entrepreneur to prove that talent has to be supported whether it is main stream or not.

This is where I believe the business men can help make a difference, to nurture and fund sports talent.

I have often thought about engaging a group of business friends and setting up a philanthropic fund to help support young talent.

It is not just a one-way thing – business people can learn a lot from sport and in turn be inspired. The similarities between the entrepreneur and the athlete are striking.

Both entrepreneurs and athletes are passionate, fearless, conscientious, energetic, enthusiastic and have an unrivalled spirit of determination and the will to win.

Sport is something that we, as a country, are great at. It is one of our biggest drivers of talent, it boosts our economy, it gives us international clout and national pride, and it is hugely enjoyable. Enterpeuneurs and businesses large and small can fill the void.

In winning the WSM title, Eddie has not only changed his own life but will continue to inspire a whole generation of Strongmen; inspiring them to get active, improve their lifestyles and, importantly in a city renowned for low aspirations, inspire our kids to follow their dreams.

We want people of all ages and abilities to be inspired to make sport a central part of their lives.

The benefits of this are huge and varied. We know that sport has a positive impact on health, crime, wellbeing and social cohesion. It also has an economic impact.

Physical activity adds £39 billion to the UK economy every year – half of which comes from people’s involvement in grassroots sport.

The more people get active, the more the economy grows. It’s a virtuous circle.

Working with Eddie has been one of the most satisfying things I have ever done. It all started with a sixteen-year-old boy from Clayton with a dream and now here we are: countless medals, a million-pound book deal, and the strongest man in the whole, wide world. Now that is what I call inspiring!
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