Bob Barratt – the man they once called The Rock ’n’ Roll Express – used to know he was doing his job well when the crowd booed him.
“I remember someone once leaned in the ring and stubbed a cigarette out on my leg,” he says. “It hurt like crazy but I was quite chuffed. He must have really disliked me.”
Bob, see, was one of the baddies back when British wrestling was big.
He brawled with Big Daddy, partnered Kendo Nagasaki and thought much the same about 45-stone Giant Haystack as the rest of us: mainly, I wouldn’t want to see that out of the leotard.
He toured Europe, was a regular on ITV’s legendary World Of Sport and, in the ring, wore more leather, studs and peroxide hair than you see on your average Saturday night down La Chambre (apparently).
At the height of his fame people would stop him in the street. “They’d look at me funny,” says Bob. “It was that old thing: for the first few moments, they didn’t recognise me with my clothes on.”
Now, the 58-year-old who is originally from Northampton is semi-retired and living happily in Hillsborough after marrying a Sheffield girl.
Since 2004, he’s been running Rebel Pro Wrestling – a small school for young wannabe performance brawlers at the 393 Club in Langsett Road – and today he’s invited The Diary for a look round to mark 10 years. The group – throwing themselves about crash mats practising routines – have a special show at the Burton Street Foundation on Saturday.
“When I was a lad my dad would take me to watch the wrestling at Northampton Drill Hall and I knew then I wanted to be one,” says the grandfather-of-two. “I never wanted a mundane life.”
He never had one.
After impressing at a trial he became a part-time grappler aged 21, a situation which meant he spent his nights in Spandex on stages across the country and his days servicing machines as an engineer. He turned full time in 1985 as crowds increasingly loved to hate the man they also called Blondie Barratt (“in those days, I had more hair,” he notes ruefully). Then, in 1988, he was teamed with perhaps the most famous British wrestler of all – Kendo Nagasaki (real name Peter Thornley, from Stoke-on-Trent).
“He was my idol,” says Bob. “But you know what they say, never meet your heroes...”
He spent four years grappling at 2,000-capacity venues with Nagasaki but, in the end, walked out on the deal.
“He was very controlling,” says Bob. “We argued a bit – although it never came to blows. He was a lot bigger than me. One night a couple of things went wrong and he had a right go at me, and I decided that was it for me.”
The pair reformed for a big-money reunion in 2008 but, since 2004, Bob’s priority has been Rebel Pro.
“I’m getting older so I can’t perform like I once could,” he says. “But this is a great way to pass on skills. I love seeing the youngsters come through.”
n Show 7pm. £7 on door.