Family of iconic heavyweight champion boxer Sir Henry Cooper OBE officially launch Blue Plaque in Wembley
- Credit: Jonathan Goldberg
It was a family affair in Wembley as a Blue Plaque in honour of an iconic heavyweight champion boxer was officially unveiled above his former shop.
Henry Cooper OBE’s family and a handful of community fans gathered at the corner of Ealing Road and Wembley High Road last Friday to see the plaque – the first in Wembley in 40 years.
Famous for his boxing matches in the borough, Sir Henry lived in Ledway Drive between 1960 and 1975, and ran his Henry Cooper, Fruiterer & Greengrocer business from 1965 to 1968.
His sons Henry, 58, and John, 52, popped down and were able to also catch up with their aunt, Teresa Salini, and cousin, Stefania Salini, who also attended the launch.
The shop drew crowds from the day it opened – shoppers, well-wishers and autograph hunters alike. Sir Henry had time for everyone and he was adored by the community.
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Henry said: “He’d be very happy, very proud to see the tribute here.
“I was only about four when I’d come to the shop with him. He came to see what was going on.
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“People were always coming up to him. If you were in the car people would shout out to him – people would knock on the window.”
John added: “At his height, people stopped him all the time. People would come up to him in restaurants. He didn’t mind.
“He used to say: ‘When they don’t come up, that’s the time to worry.’ He used to take it as a compliment.”
The plaque is the third in honour of Henry Cooper. There is one on the Bellingham Estate in south east London and another above the Thomas a Becket pub in the Old Kent Road where he used to train.
That he is honoured in Brent is largely thanks to Tony Royden, who lives in St John’s Road.
He stumbled upon a photograph of himself and his brother Laurence as youngsters standing outside Sir Henry’s shop in 1966 and wondered why Sir Henry was not commemorated in the borough.
Tony, a composer and screenwriter, said: “When I was about six years old my mother took me inside the shop where Henry Cooper was working and said: ‘My son would really love to shake your hand.’
“This enormous figure of a man bent over, shook my hand and gave me a big smile. I didn’t know who it was. Thinking back, it was probably [that] my mother wanted to meet him and she was just too embarrassed to ask.
“After that meeting I followed everything he did, all his career.”
He added: “After finding the photograph, I made a few phone calls and was blown away by the outpouring of support I received.
“Everyone – the Heritage Foundation, the property owner, the leaseholder, Brent Museum and Archives, Wembley History Society and Brent Council – was more than happy to pay tribute to Sir Henry.”
Local estate agent, Francis Henry from Daniels, volunteered to fund the plaque.
“I think it says a lot about Sir Henry himself and how much he was loved as a boxer and as a person,” he said.
Henry was 17 when he won the Amateur Boxing Association light heavyweight championship and a year later was chosen to represent Great Britain at the 1952 Olympic Games.
Sir Henry was the first boxer to ever knock down Cassius Clay, who later changed his name to Muhammed Ali, in Wembley Stadium in June 1963.
Though he went on to lose the fight, his boxing ability and behaviour endeared him to the British public who called him “Our ’Enry”.
He was still fighting at the top of his game when, on November 9, 1965, he opened his greengrocer’s. The following year he famously fought Muhammad Ali again for the World Title.
In 1969 he was made OBE for his services to charity and in 1970 became the first team captain on the BBC’s newly launched Question of Sport alongside Wales rugby union star Cliff Morgan.
John added: “We had quite a good autograph book that would get filled when we went to the filming of that.”
Of their mother Albina, who died in 2008, they said: “Mum was Mum, she sorted Dad out. He’d say: ‘All the trophies I give to your mum because I never won a fight against her.’”
Albina’s sister Teresa, who still lives in Wembley, said: “He so deserves it. He was a lovely, lovely person. He had a great heart.”
“Our ’Enry” died on May 1, 2011, aged 76.