Do You Know William Regal?
I became a fan of William Regal in April. Relative to the number of years he has been wrestling, and the number of years I have been a wrestling fan, it is an embarrassing revelation on my part. I decided to analyze some of his matches, and was baptized like a born-again wrestling fan. I watched anything I could get my eyes on, took his tweets as gospel, and my voice rang out with the chorus of fans who already knew: Regal is a clever, passionate wrestler who will gladly share his knowledge… but you must say please.
With this feverish bias, I picked up Regal’s autobiography, “Walking a Golden Mile”, written with Neil Chandler. I had fairly high expectations, since Regal is so witty and has a wide breadth of experience. This is a good book, so good that I devoured it in one day - a true luxury – and I couldn’t stop thinking about it thereafter. That’s a good book, and now I have the task of convincing you to read it, without giving it all away.
William Regal does not tell you that he’s a nice guy, but demonstrates his kindness by the way that he conducts himself. His aggressive behavior as a child haunts him as an adult, and he seems very careful to not take liberties with people (liberty-taking is a pet peeve of his, and a fantastic word to boot).
Despite the lure of more lucrative gigs, Regal remained incredibly loyal to the promoter who gave him his first job. After years of longing to wrestle at the Pleasure Beach in Blackpool, Regal got his chance. His allegiance to Bobby Baron, coupled with his desire to be a performer, informed Regal’s choices to work several low-paying jobs at once, tolerate torturous conditions as a rookie, and turn down other promoters who wanted him to wrestle exclusively for them.
He never boasts about this integrity, or the dedication required for the carnival circuit. The gruellng schedule of 10-12 matches per week, and the seemingly-endless and often-inefficient road trips were, in Regal’s perspective, part of his education. His father demonstrated the same type of work ethic, something Regal describes with affection and admiration. His kindness is tested on the road to recognition - most notably, his kindness to himself.
And this is why the book is so good: William Regal is, at his core, a sympathetic person. When his life takes a sad, dark turn, you have already connected with him as a kind and worthy human being. He does not blame anyone for the bad things that come later, and you feel his heartbreak when he disappoints the people that he loves and respects so deeply.
Wrestling is popular in Britain today, and was wildly so in the 1970’s and 80’s. Airing several times a week on television, and being widely available as a live attraction, wrestling was considered mainstream entertainment. And says William Regal, "I loved it more than anybody".
Regal did not need wrestling – he lived a comfortable life and was due to take on his father’s trade – but he desired to be a wrestler, more than anything else. As a teen, he was drawn to the outrageous gimmicks, the clowns and comedians. He knew that he wanted to be in the ring, not just for laughs, but for technical merit. He became an avid student of both components, but passion alone does not pay the bills. He could have given up wrestling for a proper job, but it just wasn't in him. Regal and his wife worked several jobs instead
Passion manifests itself in many ways. In my opinion, the best part of Bret Hart’s book (besides it being an interesting study of rhetoric) was his description of wrestling as a unique brotherhood. The code of conduct and trust between wrestlers is a concept that I’m sure none of us can grasp unless you’ve Been In It. Because of Regal’s gratitude and respect for the business, he does not wish to overexpose it by spilling trade secrets. He believes in enough kayfabe to maintain the magic, but does not condescend to the reader either. It really is like magic: Regal manages to convey the realities of wrestling - like how taking a bump hurts no matter how "well" you do it – without spoiling anything.
If someone exhibits a genuine passion for the business, William Regal will gladly pass along his experience. So many wrestlers have the mistaken impression that a large ego is necessary for excellence, but Regal learns something from everything, and remains humble. When he was working his way back up from the proverbial bottom in 2000, he wrestled with a crew of “young lads” including Daniel Bryan. Regal says, "When you watched them in the ring, they made you feel proud to be in the business". He personifies that code of honour amongst brothers in the ring, and I love him for loving wrestling the way he does.
At the age of 16, Darren Matthews dutifully wrote his exams. Without bothering to check his grades, the man we know as William Regal ran off to join the circus. The seaside town of Blackpool was a playground for his imagination, where tourists were lured in by rogues on the boardwalk. Regal always focused on the men who made it look real, like Rollerball Rocco and Fit Finlay. "I wanted to be a wrestler whose matches were completely believable". When I surveyed Regal’s matches back in April, I wrote that “William Regal makes sports entertainment look like real wrestling” and we learn in his book that it took no small effort to do so.
He threw himself around the back yard, learning how to take a bump. At his beloved Pleasure Beach, Regal took on a traditional first job: setting up the ring, running errands, working as a referee, and wrestling. He learned about wrestling holds the hard way, when a ring veteran tried to break his body and spirit using painful submissions. Regal says that it gave him an appreciation for what each hold could do, and lessened his fear of a real-life fight.
He maintained a hectic schedule, during which he would wrestle in the traditional English style of six 5-minute rounds. These matches gave Regal the endurance, moveset, and ring psychology required to keep the crowd engaged. He made a habit of watching other people's matches to learn how to do this. In 1986, Pete Roberts told him to "Make everything you do in there mean something, otherwise don't bother doing it"
When William Regal came to America, he was paired with Triple H as matching aristocrats. Regal sought the advice of a veteran who wrestled as one of The Assassins. Jody Patrick was not only a tag team expert, but as a masked wrestler he was also brilliant at using body language to convey a message. Regal was heeding Pete Roberts’ words, and making everything he did mean something.
I expected William Regal to be a clever storyteller. He is that, and even includes a glossary of British terminology (one of my favorites is "the world's best wind-up merchant", meaning someone who likes to tease or pull a prank). The book is well edited and reads easily.
I expected him to offer a well-curated history of modern pro wrestling, and that he does as well. He has worked all over the world, and has wrestled the likes of Austin, Foley, Steamboat, Triple H, Finlay, Benoit, Mysterio, Guerrero and Angle. He tells stories, but does not air grievances, as that would be a sign of disrespect for his fellow wrestlers. He values having a laugh to make life on the road more bearable - so many times, a dire situation could be made fondly memorable by a friend with a good sense of humour.
But a large portion of the book is devoted to a less-than-comic situation, one that I did not expect. In 1995, Regal began a long, dark journey into addiction. He offers a sickening degree of detail, but as a cautionary tale and not a glamorous one. What began as a legitimate need for medication turned quickly into a serious habit. He did not realize that anxiety and depression were triggering his need to feel numb instead. He was homesick for England, but felt out of place when he went home. The more he let down his family, the worse he felt about himself, and plunged deeper into substance abuse.
Even though his book had so many sad moments, I did not want it to end. I felt like I was a citizen of the Pleasure Beach and his dank, drug-riddled room. I found myself thinking about the book a great deal afterwards. It really disturbed me, because I could identify with the concept of inventing your own misery and having it be a vicious cycle that only you can stop.
It’s easy to feel along with Regal because he wrote so lovingly of Blackpool throughout, and established himself as a well-meaning person. You feel completely immersed in his world, and it’s heartbreaking to read about the shocking, humbling rock-bottom moments. He gives a very honest account of what happened, always citing wrestling as a privilege and not a demon. We know it ends well, because we see him today with light in his eyes, a sharp-tongued wit, and Match Of The Year candidacy (when they put him in the ring).
“Walking a Golden Mile” refers to the promenade in Blackpool where carnies would ply their trades. I like that William Regal has named his book for the place that occupies such a dear place in his heart, and the notion of a journey. I strongly encourage you to check it out, and tell me what you think!