The Scottish Mail on Sunday
She’s a knockout! Bruno’s delight on little girl’s big day
It’s the moment Frank’s daughter feared she might never experience – her father well enough to walk her down the aisle
IT IS a bittersweet act that often comes tinged with regret.
But as he gave away his daughter Rachel in marriage yesterday, Frank Bruno felt only pride. The pride that any man would feel walking a daughter down the aisle, but also pride in himself for the way he has fought mental illness.
Because not so long ago there were concerns he would never see the day.
Rachel, 30, a personal trainer, explained: ‘When Dad wasn’t well I feared it might not happen. But I am so proud of how he has turned things around. To marry the love of my life with my dad at my side is all I could ever have asked for.’
In a joint interview before the wedding at Brentwood Cathedral in Essex, Frank and Rachel reflected on the troubled times behind them and their optimism for the future.
When Frank, now 55, became heavyweight champion of the world in 1995, Rachel was only nine, and was pictured on newspaper front pages showing off his glittering title belt. She told him at the time: ‘You’re the champion, Daddy – I knew you would do it for me.’
Since his retirement from boxing a year later, Frank has been beset with bipolar disorder, an illness he has, at times, fought publicly and which, at its worst point five years ago, saw him sectioned under the Mental Health Act.
But these days, having thrown himself into work helping others with similar illnesses, he feels better than he has done for years.
And though perhaps more solemn now, some of his sparkle has returned. ‘Life’s good,’ he said.
‘There have been ups and downs in the past few years. But life is very, very good now.’
At times he booms with laughter, just as he did in the old days. He politely orders a salad in a voice that could just as easily summon thunder. Of Rachel’s big day and his part in it, he said: ‘It will be emotional – she will always be my little girl. I might have a few tears. It is a moment every father who is lucky enough to have a daughter dreams about so I am looking forward to it.
‘I’m ready. I have my speech sorted. Hopefully people will laugh in the right places.’
He was first diagnosed with bipolar in 1998 and has been sectioned three times. It was his eldest daughter Nicola, 34, who, in 2003, signed the form giving doctors the authorisation to confine him to a psychiatric hospital.
Through sheer determination, he pulled himself back from the brink. ‘I am so proud of how Dad is doing now,’ said Rachel. ‘Fighting a mental health condition isn’t easy. You have to live with it every day but this is the best he has ever been now. To go from how dark he was at certain times is simply incredible. He is a totally different person.
‘Having to go to see Dad all those times in hospital was terrible and really hard for me, Nicola and my brother Franklin. It was awful. I remember sitting in the car crying afterwards.’
Rachel, wearing a Suzanne Neville gown, was marrying her childhood sweetheart, businessman Bobby Hardy, 33.
Rachel and Frank arrived at the Catholic cathedral in a Rolls-Royce Phantom. More than 180 family and friends were invited to the service. Nicola was maid of honour while Franklin, 22, was among 14 ushers.
Recalling the celebrations following her father’s world title victory over American Oliver McCall, Rachel said: ‘I remember going on the big red bus through London and waving at everyone. Even now when I go out everybody has a story about my dad. It is overwhelming.
‘The background of where he came from and what he managed to do inspires me and I am proud of what he continues to do in the way he lives his life.’
Frank has launched the Frank Bruno Foundation which aims to use noncontact boxing to help those with conditions such as depression and bipolar. It also promotes counselling and wellbeing courses as an alternative way of treating mental illness.
Rachel says the wedding couldn’t have come at a better time. ‘It is wonderful it coincides with Dad being so well. We are all on the up.’
There’ve been ups and downs but life is very, very good now