As a kid, James Cook grew up with his grandparents on the streets of Jamaica, until his parents brought him to London as a 9 year old and his whole world changed.
James grew up on the notorious North Peckham Housing Estate and went on to become British and European super – middleweight champion, in an era of classy boxers. But James always loved working with and helping the youth, and when he retired he went on to become a successful trainer before saving from closure and then running the famous Pedro Youth Club in Hackney.
In 2007 James was deservedly awarded the MBE by the Queen, and his life ethos is knowing how to share, how to give and how to love, lessons his granny taught him as a young boy.
You can read James story in his wonderful autobiography written with his good friend Melanie Lloyd, but in the meantime why not listen to this really engaging charming chat with James right here. This is Your London Legacy
“When I came to London, and I look around, the first thing I said to myself was—damn, I’m gonna starve.”
James thought London was some cold, perpetually rainy and snowy city as far removed as possible from the sunny shores of Jamaica where he was born. He was in a close knit community, met his future wife in grade school there, and was able to run and pick food clean from trees. So the move to London offered a fair amount of culture shock, not just in the city itself (and lack of fruit trees), but also the school system, which was much looser and larger than he was used to.
“I used to walk down the street with my gloves around my neck…to say you know, I’m a boxer. Don’t play with me.”
James’ boxing career started early and was a sport he easily fell into and loved. Including the training aspect, which can turn many boxers off due to the amount of running and cardio involved, but this was something James was already quite accustomed to. As you can imagine, boxing comes with some hurt and scars—he broke his hand twice, the first time just after the first punch of a match. He moved up though and got titles under his belt, fighting a whole host of characters and experiencing the wins, losses, knockouts, and eventual transition over to coach and trainer. He’s seen the sport evolve and wonders if it hasn’t moved backwards some with the way promotion and paying for opponents doesn’t help boxers learn as much about boxing with the focus shifted.
“I didn’t just want to write about boxing and fighting, I wanted a bit of everything in there.”
Giving back is something born into James DNA and manifests today as the Pedro Youth Club—where youths and their families are encouraged to come participate in a wide array of activities including pool. Table tennis, cinema activities, music rentals and recording sites and you guessed it, boxing as well.
In fact, all the proceeds from James’ life story written his biography “Guardian of the Streets: James Cook MBE, My Story” go directly to the Pedro Youth Club. It’s a lovely book that I can’t recommend enough, so go check it out after tuning into our wonderful and lively chat.