DESPITE being tipped as a possible British amateur heavyweight boxing champion, invited to become a professional at the Freddie Mills training camp, Roger French decided to give it all up, following 60 fights and just three losses.

Amazingly, 52 of his wins were by knock-outs.

Roger ultimately became a highly successful Isle of Wight businessman, who felled trees instead of rival fighters.

Isle of Wight County Press: Roger French’s business took off after the Great Storm of 1987.Roger French’s business took off after the Great Storm of 1987.

Roger is still fitter than many men of his age, despite a few health problems in recent years.

When forced to self-isolate with his wife Jean, for several months, he spent 90 minutes every other day exercising on his home gym.

Before unravelling his amazing story, it is worth paying tribute to a man who has donated so much sponsor money in past years through Roger French Tree Felling and Fencing Specialists, with the aim of encouraging and helping Island sportspeople of all ages.

Isle of Wight County Press: Roger French.Roger French.

Roger was a teenage boxing sensation.

Under the watchful eye of his trainer, Geordie Courtney, at Newport Amateur Boxing Club, he won two Southern Counties heavyweight titles.

On another occasion, he fought an exhibition bout with Roy Francis, who had beaten Billy Walker.

They both decided to give the spectators plenty of action.

Isle of Wight County Press: Roger French’s business took off after the Great Storm of 1987.Roger French’s business took off after the Great Storm of 1987.

When they held boxing nights at Newport’s Drill Hall, they were sold out a couple of months in advance.

Roger’s reputation for knock-outs brought about his own cult following.

“I was a really keen boxer and trained so hard. Sometimes I did a six-o-clock paper round, then went for a run,” said Roger, when I first interviewed him back in 1993.

British boxing icon Freddie Mills, who had won the world light heavyweight title, got to hear about Roger and had plans for his future.

Isle of Wight County Press: British boxing legend Freddie Mills.British boxing legend Freddie Mills.

“Freddie wanted me to pack up my job at Moreys and turn professional at his training camp,” continued Roger.

“Perhaps I should’ve gone through with it. I was told to get cauliflower ears and a flat nose, but I wasn’t too keen on that.”

When we met up recently, I couldn’t tell if he had either. He was wearing a huge mask!

Roger played rugby for a while and remembers an occasion when he got back from a Saturday mainland match, and was told by his father he was needed for a boxing match at Ventnor Winter Gardens.

He raced over there and won by a knock-out — instigated by his opponent mouthing off how he was going to hammer him.

After the first blow, his opponent pleaded: “Don’t hit me like that again,” which obviously fell on deaf ears.

Before discovering squash, Roger spent a couple of enjoyable years playing basketball for the Island Nomads.

Away from sport, Roger became a workaholic when building up his own business, which he started after leaving Moreys, where he had worked since he left school.

The 1987 hurricane, which devastated the Isle of Wight, changed Roger’s life forever.

His brother noticed just how hard he was working and suggested he started to play squash, to relax.

“I’m glad he talked me into going to those Sunday morning sessions at the Savoy Country Club,” adds Roger.

“I got thrashed, but once I started beating him, he gave up the game.”

He really took to the sport and, at Newport Squash Club, worked his way up from Division 19 to a much loftier position.

Once, when on holiday, Roger reached the quarter-finals of the West Indies Open.

On the Island, he loved fierce battles with his squash pals, like Dave Horne and Gribble Smith.

Roger continued to play the game for many years and his firm sponsored numerous squash events, including his own tournament.

They were also generous in sponsoring angling competitions, whippet racing, the BRS Football Club and helping fund floodlights for East Cowes Vics.

Isle of Wight County Press: Roger French.Roger French.

Like so many of us, Roger has never forgotten John Hazell, who tragically died so young.

John was one of his key timber workers for ten years and he played football for Vics and BRS.

With the Dutch elm disease invasion, then the Great Storm of 1987, Roger’s business really took off — and he had a job to cope with demand.

Despite being the boss, he enjoyed being on site with the lads.

Sadly, his health suffered and eventually he and Jean emigrated to Spain. The move saved his life in more ways than one.

He said: “It wasn’t until I got to Spain my heart problems were really sorted out.

Isle of Wight County Press: Roger, back row, third left, alongside some of the Island’s top squash players at an event he sponsored.Roger, back row, third left, alongside some of the Island’s top squash players at an event he sponsored.

“I saw one of the top two surgeons in the country and I was treated the same afternoon. He told me with a pulse rate of 29, I was clinically dead.

“They did a fantastic job and fitted a pacemaker. It gave me a new lease of life.”

They stayed in Spain for almost 20 years and he loved playing golf.

Roger had legendary meetings with Margaret Thatcher and Princess Anne, with mixed results!

In Ryde, Roger attended a Portcullis invitation to meet the prime minister.

When Maggie came to meet him, she realised she knew him. He had done some fencing for her and Denis when they had a home in Seaview, a few years earlier.

They spoke for some time and, with time running short, one or two had to miss their turn to meet her.

Isle of Wight County Press: Roger chatting to then prime minister, Margaret Thatcher.Roger chatting to then prime minister, Margaret Thatcher.

Apparently, when Roger did some work for her in Seaview, he went in via the tradesmen’s entrance.

In that often imitated voice, she said: “Roger, why are you coming to the back door? You must come to the front door, as you are the boss.”

Maggie also told him not to worry about how he spoke, because she loved his Island accent.

He was not due to meet the Princess Royal when she attended a local reception, connected with the Island Games.

Isle of Wight County Press: Roger French, right, chatting to Princess Anne.Roger French, right, chatting to Princess Anne.

Roger’s company had been involved in producing the flagpoles. As she started to walk the red carpet, to meet selected guests, Roger called out and said he would like to speak to her, much to Anne’s surprise.

When she actually came over, Roger asked her if she had arrived by helicopter.

Rumour has it, he still had the last few pieces of his vol-au-vent around his chin and her highness and civic officials were not amused.

Last week, Roger did actually challenge me to a heavyweight bout for mature men with pacemakers.

Luckily for him, with social distancing, I couldn’t get close enough to knock him out!