In the company of The Greatest; interviewing my idol – rock legend Tina Turner

Tina Turner flew into Dubai for a few shows and I had the pleasure of interviewing her in the early 1980s. Here she signs an autograph.

I have been blessed to not only see some of the greatest sportspeople, world leaders and entertainers in action but also to have been able to interview many of them during my career.

Having said that, interviewing locals for the swag of newspapers and magazines I have worked for in Sri Lanka, the United Arab Emirates and Australia, has also produced some remarkable interviews and stories, with many of them going on to become Australian, international, and even Olympic stars in their fields.

Sporting legends Muhammad Ali, Pele, Mario Zagallo, Carlos Alberto Parraira, Karl-Heinz Rummennigge, Don Revie, Sir Garfield Sobers, Sir Viv Richards, Sunil Gavaskar, Imran Khan, Bjorn Borg, Boris Becker, Lester Piggott, Bob Baffert, Niki Lauda, and Kelly Slater, to name a few, are all regarded as among the greatest in their respective disciplines and interviewing them are among my highlights. I also had the honour of meeting the legendary singer Tina Turner.

Ali was 41 when he visited Abu Dhabi and Dubai for a series of bouts for his fundraising campaign to build mosques and had been recently vanquished by Trevor Berbick.

Though he was past his prime and it was an exhibition bout, Ali was still able to dazzle and float like a butterfly.

He took the time to write a special poem for me, much like the ones he was famous for but unfortunately, I do not have it anymore.

This magical boxer, who had captivated our lives like no other before him, was as gracious in the flesh as I had expected from someone whom I had hero worshipped — like millions around the world did. We knew him first as Cassius Clay and we all wanted to box like him … even in the days when we didn’t have TV but devoured the film clips, newspapers and magazines which featured him and his famous fights. Even his change of religion, dodging Vietnam and going to jail, was never an issue for us as we just loved the way he outfought and out-thought the favourites.

When we met in 1982, The Greatest even wrote a quick poem for me at the airport but due to my several career movements across countries, I am now unable to find this treasure. The precious pictures I had with Ali were damaged during the tsunami which struck Sri Lanka and other Asian countries on Boxing Day, 2004, but we were thanking God no one died in our home, which is close to the sea.

 My wife and I had immigrated to Australia in 2003 but had left lots of stuff in Sri Lanka as we had lived in Dubai and Abu Dhabi for many years.

The pictures were in one of the albums, which was damaged. But even the damaged picture is still very precious to me. I did interview Ali again a few years later for England’s Daily Telegraph but by then Parkinson’s Disease had taken hold of him and it was heartbreaking to see the Louisville Lip come to this.

Pele, the three-time World Cup winner, was very warm and open in his interview. I met him the second time he visited Dubai in the 1990s. Despite his near untouchable status as a three-time World Cup winner, the Brazilian was modest and honest in answering all the questions. He certainly had an incredible aura around him specially when he flashed his million-dollar smile.

Tina Turner flew into Dubai for a few shows and I had the pleasure of interviewing her in the early 1980s. We spoke freely because in those days, there was less interference from managers or PR personnel like it is today where it’s hard to ask questions because almost all interviews are vetted and certain personal questions are not permitted.

Tina said it was tough and traumatic living with her husband, Ike, and was glad she had been able to get out of that abusive relationship. I told her I had been listening to her music since I was a kid in Sri Lanka, a fact which she was quite happy to hear. She was also taken up with what I knew about her, because these were pre-internet days and journalists had to do their research by reading printed articles usually in the newspaper library. Tina, whose stage presence is electrifying, gave me one of the warmest hugs when I requested a picture with her, such was her personality and ability to connect. 

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