Why ’Enery loved it down at ’Ayling...

LARKING ABOUT Frank Pearce and Henry Cooper at the opening of Frank's studio in 1988
LARKING ABOUT Frank Pearce and Henry Cooper at the opening of Frank's studio in 1988
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HE loved Hayling Island for its golf course and its holiday camps – though perhaps not the windsurfing after a couple of tries on the choppy Solent.

A friend of Sir Henry Cooper has spoken of his fond memories of the boxing legend, who died on Sunday aged 76.

Frank Pearce, a photographer, struck up a friendship with Sir Henry in 1987 while working at Sinah Warren Hotel and Lakeside Holiday Village.

Sir Henry had been signed up to promote Warner Leisure and would make special appearances at their resorts.

Mr Pearce was the company photographer at the resorts and took pictures of Sir Henry with holidaymakers.

The pair then toured England together in Mr Pearce’s Ford Granada over the next 18 months, visiting resorts across the country.

Mr Pearce, now a county councillor, who lives in Elm Grove, Hayling, said: ‘The first meeting was apprehensive. In those days Henry was a superstar. He was exceptionally popular.

‘Working with Warner, I met celebrities a few times. But Henry was one of those special people. I got to know him and he became a buddy.’

The pair shared many laughs on the road, particularly regarding their time in National Service.

Mr Pearce said: ‘We both had two weaknesses. One was a toasted bacon sandwich and the other was ice-cream.

‘We travelled around England and we always found a place that did a good bacon sandwich and we knew every good ice-cream parlour on the south coast.’

Mr Pearce said he was bowled over by Sir Henry’s generosity.

Mr Pearce: ‘At the end of a trip, I would drop him off at his house in London. As soon as I dropped him off, his wife would come out and give me a bottle of champagne.’

Sir Henry also opened Mr Pearce’s photographic studio in Elm Grove in 1988.

‘He did it for nothing,’ said Mr Pearce. ‘I gave him a bunch of flowers to give to his wife and he was more than happy. He loved it.’

Sir Henry, once a roofer, also climbed up on to the roof of the photographic studio while it was being built – to make sure the roofers were doing a good job.

While visiting the island, Sir Henry played several times at Hayling Golf Club and was impressed by the links course.

He also tried out his athleticism on windsurfing.

Mr Pearce laughed: ‘He had a go at windsurfing at Sinah Warren. He had a couple of goes and decided it was not for him!’

He said Sir Henry spoke only briefly about the famous 1963 Wembley bout where he floored Cassius Clay, who would soon become Muhammad Ali, with his trademark left hook – known as ’Enery’s ’Ammer – only to lose in controversial circumstances.

Mr Pearce said: ‘He was quite convinced he had been stitched up after the bell had gone. But he’s probably one of the greatest boxers we have ever had.

‘He had a charisma around him. He just seemed to create it himself.’