Here I am standing between professional heavyweight boxer Hughie Fury and his father, coach and manager, Peter Fury, at a central London hotel on Monday 18 September 2017.
Here is the story behind this photograph.
Both men were in London to attend a press conference a week before Hughie Fury fought Joseph Parker in Manchester in a bid to win the WBO heavyweight title.
After the press conference, I had lunch with the two men at a nearby restaurant. Hughie sat next to me and his father Peter sat opposite me for most of the afternoon.
It was the first time I had met both men in almost exactly ten years.
After that lunch Peter gave me a VIP ticket to watch the boxing fight ringside along with his family a few days later.
I watched the fight in Manchester on 23 September 2017, which Hughie lost on points, in my opinion what was a very unfair decision.
The Furys are from a Catholic community known as Irish Travellers, which the ignorant refer to using the derogatory term “gypsies.”
Brought up on the streets as they travel from caravan park to caravan park, Travellers are known for their close-knit communities, their determination and their bare-knuckle fighting.
I, on the other hand, am a British-Pakistani practising Muslim from an educated family brought up in London’s private schools and universities.
What brought the three of us together that Monday afternoon in that central London hotel?
Peter is a very good friend of mine. In fact, Pete, as he is known by his friends, is one of the most incredible gentlemen that I have met in my life.
I met Pete when both of us were prisoners in the high security Category A Unit in HM Prison Manchester in 2007. I spent one year with Pete living on this small unit and it was here where our friendship blossomed.
In fact, Pete turned out to be one of the best people that I had the honour to accompany during the 11 years that I spent in prison in the UK and US.
Pete was in prison fighting various money laundering charges relating to his previous life as an organised crime boss. I was in prison held without charge while I fought extradition to the United States on terrorism charges.
Both of us were facing the prospect of a long time in prison.
For some reason we clicked. People form friendships not based on their educational or family backgrounds. They form friendships based on something deeper such as shared values and dreams.
HM Prison Manchester was the worst prison out of the ten prisons in two countries that I lived in for 11 years. It was worse even than the US Supermax prison that I spent two years living in complete isolation.
I have written about this in my book so I won’t spoil it for you by sharing more details here. Suffice it to say that I was singled out for some very harsh treatment by the staff at HMP Manchester.
My friendship with Pete made that long year in HMP Manchester bearable. Pete would have legal visits in the mornings and then his family would visit him in the afternoons.
It was in that visits rooms that I exchanged small nods and subtle handwaves with Pete’s wife, his then 5-year old daughter, and his son, Hughie, who was then only a 10-year old boy.
After his visits, Pete would invite me to his cell and we would spend hours drinking coffee and talking about family, prison, religion and life in general.
Pete is an incredible story-teller and a very wise man. He had lived a life very different to mine and he would tell me amazing stories about his childhood, his past and his community.
Pete would talk a lot about his family: his wife, his three sons and three daughters. He would show me their photographs and tell me about each one. In time, even though I had never met them, I felt as if I got to know them very well.
It was in these conversations that I got to learn about the Irish Traveller community and I grew to have the utmost respect for them.
In fact, I found their culture, values and traditions to be very similar to Muslims.
Families stick together, the parents are cared for, marriage is valued. The guest is honoured, the elderly are respected, the stranger is welcomed. God is the most important thing in their lives.
There is no concept of pre-marital relationships. Marriage takes place with the consent of the couple and both their families. Divorce does happen but is nowhere near as common as in general society.
Honour, integrity, courage, truth, kindness, generosity, patience… all these are qualities that I found to be associated with Travellers.
Pete and I would often talk about the future. Pete had just turned 40 and he was now at a crossroads in his life. He was fed up with crime and he wanted to do something positive with his life after he left prison.
Prisoners often make fanciful claims about abandoning crime upon their release. But in Pete’s case he was serious.
On 04 October 2007, I left HMP Manchester to be transferred to another prison. Pete came to my cell that Thursday morning as I was packing my bags.
“Our day will come,” Pete said to me as he hugged me farewell.
We kept in touch by letter. A few months after I left Manchester I saw a good dream about Pete’s future. I wrote to him to tell him that dream.
A few weeks later the case against Pete collapsed and he was released from prison.
As he always intended, Pete turned his life around and put his energies into boxing. He began to train the young men of his family and community.
Meanwhile I was extradited to the United States and in 2015 I returned home to the UK after a senior American judge ruled that I was not a terrorist.
A few months after my return I watched on television as Pete made history by coaching his nephew Tyson Fury to beat Wladimir Klitschko and end the latter’s ten-year reign as the heavyweight champion of the world.
After that fight, I tried but was unsuccessful in making contact with Pete. Until a few weeks ago. Mutual friends put us in contact. We spoke on the phone for an hour.
And then we met at this press conference. After we had lunch at the restaurant I gave Pete a gift that has a special memory to both of us: a Green and Blacks Maya Gold organic chocolate bar.
There is another incredible story behind this chocolate bar too.
But for that, and other stories about my time with Peter Fury in prison you will have to wait until my book is published. Sorry 😉
Read my story and why I was in prison here.
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