Mike Tyson looks good - if a man with a tattoo across his face can ever be described as looking good. He certainly looks fit, trim and relaxed as he strides in, flanked by enormous bouncers in "Team Tyson" T-shirts. "I love England," he says, smiling sincerely and clutching his hands together as if in prayer. "Thank you England."
The man who once delighted in calling himself "the baddest man on the planet" now has his own fashion range. He's also teetotal, drug-free and a convert to Islam. It's all a far cry from the days when he was threatening to eat his opponent's children. I met Tyson ten years ago in Las Vegas when he was preparing to fight Lennox Lewis. Back then, grinning and displaying gold-capped teeth, he said: "I only speak to women when I'm fornicating with them."
Today, he's different — warm, engaging and genuinely at peace with himself. The former heavyweight boxing champ is in London to promote his range of boxing clothing, the Mike Tyson Collection. In an exclusive interview with Life Beyond Sport Tyson, 46, said: "I don't recognise the man I was. "I was insane. I had this rage - but that's what made me a great fighter. I wanted people who got in the ring with me to think they were dealing with a savage. "I wanted them to show me respect. I was a pig then. A pig."
Tyson has fought hard to clean up his act, prompted by two cataclysmic events in his life. First came the death of his four-year-old daughter Exodus in May 2009, when her neck got caught in a treadmill power cord in her mother's home in a terrible accident.Twelve days after her death, Tyson married Lakiha "Kiki" Spicer, 35, who he credits with turning his life around.
He said: "After Exodus's death I knew I needed to do something positive and not sit there full of anger."I married the woman of my dreams. She's not dark like me. I want to die with her."
Kiki has known Tyson since she was 13. Her father, Shamsud-din Ali, is an influential Muslim cleric from Philadelphia with connections in the boxing world.
The first thing Kiki told him to do was to stop drinking and lose some weight. He said: "I needed to sort out my diet. I was obese. Disgusting! I became a vegan. "I stopped drinking and for six months I only ate tomato and basil soup and water."I lost over 100lb and I haven't had meat since. I don't want anything in me that's going to enrage me — no processed food, no meat. It's much harder to be a good man than a great boxer. "I needed to be a good man and a good father."
Tyson is particularly keen to be a good dad to his six children because he never knew his father when he was growing up. His dad left him and his sisters to be raised by their alcoholic mother in a small apartment in crime-ridden Brownsville, still one of the most violent suburbs of New York. At school Tyson was bullied for his high-pitched voice and his lisp. He said: "I was fat and ugly. Kids teased me. "The only nice thing I remember about being a kid was my pigeons that I kept on the roof. "Then, one day, one of the bullies grabbed his pigeon, twisted its head off and sprayed its blood all over him. Tyson hit him. He said: "It felt great. Hitting was something I was good at."
Tyson developed a lust for violence and by the time he was 12, he had been arrested 38 times and sentenced to time in Spofford Juvenile Center in the Bronx. He said: "Going to juvenile detention was like an episode of Cheers — everyone knew my name."
It was while he was at reform school that former boxer Bobby Stewart spotted his talent and offered to train him if he worked hard on his studies. When Tyson was 13, Stewart took him to meet legendary trainer Cus D'Amato, who took the young boxer under his wing. He also became his legal guardian when Tyson's mother died three years later. D'Amato turned him into one of the most successful, and terrifying boxers of his generation.
In 1986 he became the youngest world heavyweight champion ever aged just 20 — but his mentor D'Amato had died a year before. The boxer quickly spiralled out of control. In 1992 he was convicted of raping beauty queen Desiree Washington and served three years of a six-year jail sentence. In prison he converted to Islam. But after his release he hit the self-destruct button again.
He said: "I would drink $3,000 bottles of brandy all day long and take cocaine all night, then get up and drink more." By 2003, he had lost most of his $300million fortune and was declared bankrupt.
He said: "It didn't matter. I couldn't handle money. For me, money meant alcohol and drugs."
In December 2006 Tyson was arrested for drug possession and driving under the influence of drugs. He was later jailed and fined. In 2007 he checked himself into the Wonderland Center, a rehab clinic in LA. He said: "I came out, met up with Kiki and life got better."
Today, Tyson works mainly on stage and screen. He starred in the Hangover films (as himself) and on Broadway in the one-man show Undisputed Truth. He said: "I want to entertain people. I want a Tony award. I sometimes think I'm not supposed to be here. I thought I'd be dead by now. I'm in my forties. I never thought I'd make it to 25, man. "I was bad. I robbed people, I shot people. I did a lot of things I'm not proud of."
"This high, this adrenalin you get from big fights you find hard to replace. If you're on the losing end, you can't replace this stuff. "It's then that you have to come to grips with it and be truthful to yourself."
Does he miss boxing? "I miss it — but I don't miss being the man I had to be to fight like that." So would he ever fight again? "You could offer me a billion dollars and I'd say 'No'. I'm at peace
now. I'm where I should be in life."
A life on the ropes
HEIGHT: 5ft 10in
NICKNAME: Iron Mike
PROFESSIONAL RECORD: 50 wins (44 by knockout), six losses, two no-
WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLES: WBC, WBA and IBF, including holding all
PRIZE MONEY: $300million (£188million)
JAIL TIME: Six years (served three) for raping beauty queen Desiree
MARRIAGES: Three - actress Robin Givens, 1988-89; doctor Monica
Turner, 1997-2003; Muslim cleric's daughter Kiki Spicer, since 2009.
MOST CONTROVERSIAL BOXING INCIDENT: Second fight against Evander
Holyfield, in 1997. Tyson was disqualified for biting off part of
his opponent's ear.
TEXT: ALISON KERVIN // PHOTOGRAPHY: GRANT DELIN