Tuesday, 09 August 2022

The day I had lunch with Muhammad Ali

A HENLEY man who met Muhammad Ali twice has spoken of his sadness at his death.

A HENLEY man who met Muhammad Ali twice has spoken of his sadness at his death.

Ed Simons was invited to have lunch with the boxing superstar when he visited London in the early Seventies.

They ate at Isow’s restaurant in Soho, which Mr Simons co-owned with his then business partner, former amateur heavyweight champion George Walker.

Each seat at the restaurant was named after a celebrity and one was inscribed with Ali’s birth name, Cassius Clay.

Mr Simons recalled: “He was very engaging and had this ability to make everybody at the table feel like he was totally interested in them.

“It was an incredible privilege to meet him as he was regarded even back then as the world’s greatest sportsman.

“I remember asking him how recent opponents had managed to last so long in the ring against him. I can’t repeat his response as it was incredibly personal but it was typical Muhammad Ali — I’ve never forgotten it.”

Ali had to leave as soon as the meal had finished but the two were briefly reunited at his 65th birthday celebrations in 2007, which were held at a West End hotel.

Mr Simons was then working alongside boxing promoter Frank Warren so was on the guest list.

He said: “The great and the good of the boxing world were all there. It was a fantastic evening and a fitting tribute to all Ali’s achievements.

“By that stage he was already somewhat slowed but he stopped at every table to greet guests before he made his way up to the top table.”

Ali was crowned world heavyweight boxing champion a record three times between 1964 and 1978. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1984 and suffered increasingly poor mobility in his final years.

He was hospitalised with respiratory problems on Thursday last week and his death was announced the following day.

Mr Simons said: “It’s so sad because he was a genuine legend. That term is often over-used these days but it is absolutely correct in his case.

“He transcended his status as a sportsman to become a global cultural icon and, as I believe Barack Obama put it, he created the framework that allowed America to have a black president.”

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