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Eddie Hearn: ‘Being my dad’s son gave me the drive to succeed’

Sports promoter Eddie Hearn talks about his childhood and the grit and determination to succeed in The Big Issue's Letter to my Younger Self
The sports promoter was always keen to impress his dad.

At just 41, boxing promoter Eddie Hearn has played a leading role in some of the biggest fights in history, promoting world champions such as Anthony Joshua, Amir khan and Dillian White. 

He’s a chip off the old block too. His dad, legendary sports promoter Barry Hearn, made millions promoting boxing matches worldwide. 

In the Big Issue’s Letter To My Younger Self, the younger Hearn spoke out about how being his dad’s son gave him the drive to make it. He starts from the beginning, talking about how difficult it was to step out from Barry’s shadow. 

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Growing up I was always the son of Barry Hearn. My dad started making a lot of money promoting fights around the world, and I was in his slipstream. I was gobby and probably a little bit disrespectful at times. But I felt sort of indestructible. I felt like we were the main family in Essex, and when you’re around successful people like Frank Bruno or Chris Eubank, living that kind of lifestyle, the last thing you want to do is listen to teachers at school.

Looking back it’s a really bad attitude to have. I had a big problem with authority. It was naivety, getting a little bit carried away myself, being immature, and a little bit insecure as well because I was fighting for my own name, my own identity. I think a good word to use is obnoxious – too much wax in the hair, you know, swarming around trying to get into nightclubs. Not realising that actually, I was a plonker.

I get all my greatest business qualities from my dad. But I get my greatest qualities from my mum. She’s extremely humble. They’re both from council estates in East London, and she really understands the value of money and hard work. And she’s very big on manners. I would break her heart at school because she expected me to be a good student. But I’ve got my dad’s side in that respect. He’s a salesman, and that’s what I am. But although I do appear to be loud and flashy, beneath that are the fundamentals she taught me.

Her main concern was to make me a good person. And now that’s all I actually worry about when it comes to my own kids. Who knows what they’ll do in the future? I just want them to do well at school, to be good people, have manners and have respect and be happy.

Looking back, I wish I hadn’t caused my mum so much aggravation. I was always keen to impress my dad. But I was more concerned about upsetting my mum and I upset her loads because she was always at the school. And though she backed me to the hilt every time, it was always disappointing for her. That’s something I wish I could change. If I could go back I’d grab that young boy by his lapels and put him up against a wall and say, stop being such a prat. Start having some respect for your elders, respect your teachers and start learning. Because your dad is spending a fortune on school fees and you’re wasting everyone’s time.

Barry Hearn in 2012
Barry Hearn
Eddie's dad Barry Hearn in 2012. Image credit: DmitryYakunin / Wikimedia Commons 

If you met the 16-year-old me your first impression would be of a cheeky chappie, always smiling. I was good in front of people. And I had a lot of chat. I suppose I could be a bit of a charmer if I wanted to be. I’m six foot four now, and I was always quite athletic, quite big, so I was probably a bit imposing. Also likeable, but a bit of a Flash Harry. But with the background I had, it would have been very difficult to be anything else. In our household to have a voice you had to speak up, you had to be outspoken.

There was a time when I didn’t want to take on the family business at all. Because at school all people would ever say was, what do you need to work for, you’ll just go off and work for your dad, it’s easy for you. If I’d said to him then, I want to come work for you he’d have given me a job in a heartbeat. But secretly, when I went and got a job off my own back he was probably quite proud. His office was in Romford and I was 18, coming out of college, and I wanted to be flashier, I wanted to work in London. So I went to work for a sports management company then started my own company representing golfers on the European and PGA Tour in America. I was learning, while at the same time knowing really that it was the schooling and the grounding for what lay ahead as the heir to the throne.

I think being my dad’s son has been the underlying drive and chip on my shoulder that’s made me what I am. I work like I haven’t got a penny. That’s partly because of the values he has instilled in me, but also because I have the drive to outperform him. There was only one way I could ever become my own person and get my own success, and that was to take what he’s done to completely another level. And now you know, we joke, people go up to him on the Tube and say, oh, you’re Eddie Hearn’s dad, aren’t you? And we love that. It’s always been about competition for us.

Without competition I struggle. If there’s nothing to win things become a little bit flat.

I say this quite a lot, and it sounds weird, but the one thing I’m jealous about is that my dad built his business and his empire from nothing. From a council estate in Dagenham. I never got the chance to do that. You can only play the hand you’re dealt. But that must be an amazing feeling, to live where he lives now, having grown up with nothing. Now it’s my responsibility to carry on that legacy, to protect that name and take it forward.

I think my greatest achievement, what I’d show to my 16-year-old self now, is how hard I work. Because I didn’t work hard then. My work ethic was quite poor. I’d like to show him the expansion of the business and what we’ve done in terms of running shows in America, in Saudi Arabia, in Italy, in Canada, in Australia. You know, I was a big boxing fan back then. So I guess I’d show him what I’ve done with shows at Wembley – 90,000 with AJ [heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua] – and Madison Square Garden sold out. He’d be too immature to look at my drive and relentlessness and work ethic and think, wow. He’d be more impressed with my house and my cars. But that’s not what matters to me now. And I’m much more at peace with myself now. 

At 16 there was nothing I wanted more than to be famous. I would go into restaurants when I was younger with my dad and I’d hear people say, there’s Barry Hearn. And now I get that and it’s not actually that pleasant. I do wish I could have a little bit more privacy at times. And I’m only small, small famous. Imagine how it must be for people who are hugely famous, it must be horrible. But you have to remember, these people who come up to you, they’re your customers. Without these people we wouldn’t be where we are. So I’m not going to be that guy who ignores people and shies away from the public.

People probably think of me as being full of confidence and cocky. People think I’m fearless as a businessman, but they don’t realise that I’m sensible. I’m not boring but I’m not very reckless, socially or on a business level. I’ll make the right decisions when I need to but I’m careful. My mates will always take the mickey out of me – they call me Houdini because I’ll just disappear from a nightclub at one o’clock in the morning. It’ll be 5am and they’ll be like, where’s Eddie? Oh, he left at one. That’s my mum in me. If I had more of my dad in me, I’d be out till five.

If I could re-live any moment in my life I would go back to Joshua against Klitschko at Wembley in 2017, one of the great sporting events this country’s ever seen. Seeing Joshua getting off the floor to beat Wladimir Klitschko, I would like to go back and experience that again. Because I hardly remember it. People come up to me in the street and say, that was one of the greatest nights I’ve ever had in my life. And I’m like, was it? The euphoria, the intensity, pulling that event off –  it all made me feel like I couldn’t focus on what was going on around me. When I watch it back on TV now, I don’t even believe I was there. I wish I could go back and take a breath and just take it all in. 

Relentless: 12 Rounds To Success by Eddie Hearn was released on October 29 (Hodder & Stoughton, £20)