He really was ‘The Greatest’ and the most gracious of people

    Muhammad Ali

    Being a journalist means you get to meet a whole cross-section of society, men and women. The rich, the poor, the polite, the rude, the famous and those who think they are famous.

    Sometimes, just sometimes, you meet an individual who has all three of those better qualities. They’re rich, they’re polite and they’re famous. Such a person was Muhammad Ali.

    Even those of you who do not follow sport, or boxing in particular, will know that the man who billed himself as ‘The Greatest’ died last week. The media has quite rightly been in overdrive about the triple World Heavyweight Champion who was 74 and had been battling Parkinson’s for 34 years.

    Normally this part of the newspaper is where we comment on local issues and individuals. But the passing of the boxer, previously known under his ‘slave name’ as Cassius Clay, is a chance for this writer to pass on a personal recollection of the man behind the loud words and apparently arrogant stance.

    In another life as a tabloid journalist (before self-styled so-called celebrities ruled the roost) I found myself in Hollywood on a particular story. The news desk in London tracked me down and switched assignments telling me I needed to find Muhammad Ali and put certain sensitive questions to him about his personal life.

    It was not an interview that I relished. Eventually, having used the journalist’s underground network, a private number was in my possession.

    Sitting in the hotel room with tape recorder running, I dialled the home of probably the best known face on earth to ask him some very delicate questions about his relationships.

    And you know what? He didn’t slam down the phone, he didn’t demand to know how I had got the phone number… he patiently and politely answered the questions. He was the same with other journalists.

    Later I told London there was no story, at least not a story that I would choose to write, which is why I am not telling here what those allegations were.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if today’s so-called celebrities took a leaf out of his book and treated others in a gracious, polite fashion.

    What are the odds?

    Richard Moore, Editorial Director