As I hit 16 I realised the opposite sex found me attractive and I was more than attracted to them. So my main focus for the next few years was going to clubs, meeting birds, having fun. I was already about 6ft 3in, and about 12 stone. Tall and skinny but obviously I was ripped. I looked like an R&B singer who was popular at the time, Ginuwine. People actually thought I was him. I had the silly little moustache, silly sideburns. I looked terrible but I thought I looked great.
I was also a young international level amateur boxer at 16 and that helped my social life, too. A lot of the big lumps on the door of the top clubs in London do boxing. They’d come down my gym and I’d beat them up. So, of course, when I rolled up to these clubs they let me and my pals go straight to the front of the queue – they didn’t want me to kick their arse the next day in the gym. I’d get the sort of treatment people pay thousands to get these days. But the novelty of club life wore off by the time I was in my early 20s and my really tough fights were coming along. A lot of young boxers try to do both at the same time and it doesn’t gel. They start drinking and taking drugs. I was fortunate, I had grown up by then.
If I met the teenage me now, with all that over-confident swagger, I’d find him absolutely hilarious. I’d find him cute. When I think back to that kid I do cringe – but still, if I could go back in time, I’d probably even keep the moustache because at the time it did the job. I thought I was already a star, the world just didn’t know it yet. I was the man. If a woman said she didn’t want to be with me, she was lying to herself. Some might have called me an arrogant little twat but it seems to have worked for me.
I’d get the sort of treatment people pay thousands to get these days. But the novelty of club life wore off
I think one of the main keys to my success was having a very supportive family. I can’t say for sure I’d have been a success without that. They backed me whatever I wanted to do, as long as I was the best at it. That seemed a reasonable request. They drove me to the gym every day, they followed me round the world. My mum was super, though she was very nervous about me boxing. She still gets nervous before a fight – that’s her baby up there. She has her hands over her face for most of my big fights.
The closest I’ve come to self-doubt is when I got injured [in 2011] and I had to take three-and-a-half years out. That was a bit of insecurity there. I never officially said I’d retired – the media just decided the David Haye story was over. And it’s true I wasn’t sure if I could box again. The doctor said it was 50/50. That was a bit of a kicker. I had to have an operation on my right arm – my right arm is what I’m known for. They call me the Hayemaker because I have this big overhand right that knocks people out. Suddenly I couldn’t even unbutton my shirt with my right hand. What if it didn’t heal, what was I going to do? It was a very tough, often quite dark, time.
It took for my career to be effectively over to make me really look at my whole life and change it for the better. When I was recovering I looked at my life as an outsider and asked myself, if I had another chance, what would I do differently? I decided I had to have the right people around me, not people who were dragging me down or depressing me. And I realised I had stopped enjoying boxing. I’d had years of abusing my body and being in constant pain, taking so many painkillers. I used to wake up every day in agony, my back killing me, my leg killing me, my shoulder.