Born and raised in the Wythenshawe area of Manchester and named after the former heavyweight champion of the world Mike Tyson, Tyson Fury is the self-proclaimed ‘Gypsy King’.
Originating from Irish traveller descent, on both his mother and father’s side, Fury prides himself on his Gypsy heritage and increasingly sees himself as a champion for the travelling community and an advocate of change.
Speaking on the ITV documentary Tyson Fury: The Gypsy King, Fury disagrees with his wife Paris, who also descends from a family of travellers, about the education that their children should receive. Tyson vows to challenge the norms of the travelling community so that his children will experience an education that those in the community typically do not.
“Tyson and I spoke about the kids going to school. Tyson wants them to go into education, but I don’t, it’s just not what we [travellers] have ever done,” explained Paris.
“I was brought up like a traveller and I want my kids to be brought up as travellers. The kids will probably leave school aged 11 and they will be educated at home from then.”
“You said it’s not something that we have ever done, but I am a precedent setter. Am I not?” responded Tyson.
“Now I’ve set these laws and precedents, you watch how many will follow, just watch.
“The parents of these kids, I call them dream killers because they say you’ll never get anywhere because you’re a traveller or because they don’t want you to do it as something went wrong in their life, you can’t pawn it off on your kids.”
Data from the Ethnicity Fact and Figures survey (2016-17) reveals interesting attitudes about education. The data shows that just under 50% of Gypsy/Roma children are persistently absent from school, with figures for Irish travellers showing just over 60%. In comparison to other ethnicities, this is just under five times and just over six times higher respectively, with both Gyspy/Roma and Irish travellers performance at school also far lower than other pupils.
Gypsy and Traveller parents do not lack aspirations for their children, however, for one reason or another, formal education is not a conventional upbringing for those in the travelling community. As a result of this, a poor start in education often has a knock-on effect on other inequalities such as discrimination which Irish travellers/Gypsies suffer, with their experiences in education acting as a catalyst. Fury’s comments on this subject could champion a change in the community with youngsters in the travelling community opting to stay in school rather than leaving at a young age and continuing with education at home.
Aside from attempting to champion new educational norms, Fury’s openness surrounding his mental health has given strength to both those in the travelling community and those outside. Just a few years ago, a suicidal Tyson Fury was driving his brand-new convertible Ferrari at 160mph down the motorway with the intention of going straight into the upcoming bridge. He thought this was it, and the last sound he would hear would be the roar of the supercar’s engine, but a voice in his head stopped him, saying “think about your kids!”. He’s battled depression, alcohol addiction and drug usage before staging a remarkable comeback proving that you can rise from the lowest of lows if you are strong-willed and put your mind to it.
Dr Benji Waterstones, an NHS psychiatrist from London thinks [via the Guardian] that Fury’s courage in the face of adversity is helping to combat the stigma behind mental illness.
“Fury’s frankness is redefining outdated ideas of masculinity and what it means to be a ‘strong’ man,” said Waterstones.
“He shows you can compete to be the heavyweight champion of the world and be vocal about your mental health struggles, which is especially powerful in a testosterone-fuelled sport like boxing.”
According to his father, John Fury, Tyson’s mental health issues started as early as when he was 10 years old. However, he is not alone, with other members of his family also suffering from mental health problems.
A study from those at the School of Nursing & Midwifery at the University of Sheffield found that members of the Gypsy and Travellers community were more susceptible to mental health problems and suicide. Their investigation also noted that the life expectancy from the travelling community is lower than the general population and the perinatal death rates are higher.
Their report showed that on the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS) Gypsies and Travellers scored notably higher mean scores (15.4) than the rest of the general population (9.8) in both anxiety and depression, with the case severity also higher.
Growing up in a household where no-one talked about their mental well-being, Fury knows the importance of communication. It is easy to bottle up your problems in the hope of them just going away but often this is not the case. Being such an outspoken public figure and approaching an issue which is so prevalent in the Gypsy community, Fury promotes change by acting as a beacon of hope for those suffering, proving that you can overcome your darkest days and beat your demons by seeking help.
The Gypsy King calls himself a precedent setter and with his approaches to education and mental health, it’s hard to disagree with him. He is an icon of the travelling community who is breaking the traditions to ensure a better life for his children and others.