Anthony Joshua’s pink gold Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore looks lived in. Turning it over in my hands, I see that it is not a showpiece, the dings and scratches bearing witness to the fact that this is a well-loved, everyday watch. It appears to be running fast, but apparently not. “No, I always set that one 20 minutes ahead,” Joshua says. “It is important to be prompt and never to be late.”
We are shooting the cover images for both the UK and Swiss editions of Revolution and we have a studio packed with Joshua’s team, plus photographer and crew. Everyone in the room would have been happy to wait for the unified world heavyweight champion to arrive, yet here he is, 20 minutes ahead of schedule shaking hands, hugging and endearingly introducing himself – “Hi, I’m Anthony” – to each person on set before plugging in his playlist and singing along to his own selection of R&B tracks. Between shots, we talk about his life before and after fame and how he found his way into boxing.
Born in Hertfordshire in 1989, Anthony Oluwafemi Olaseni Joshua spent some of his early childhood in his ancestral home in Nigeria – a fact marked by the tattoo of the African continent on his right shoulder – before his parents divorced and he returned to Watford with his mother Yeta. A talented sportsman who excelled at football and athletics at school, Joshua was never a huge fan of team games, finding that too many people, while having all the talent in the world, lacked the discipline to make it to the top.
When he was 18, Joshua was introduced to the Finchley Amateur Boxing Club in Barnet by his cousin, fellow fighter Ben Lleyemi. Joshua realised that in boxing, the only person who could get him where he wanted to be in the sport, or conversely prevent him getting there, was himself. Excelling from the start, he won the Haringey Boxing Cup in 2009 and 2010, won all of his 18 fights as an amateur and earned himself a spot on Team GB at the 2012 Olympic Games, where he went on to win gold in the super heavyweight division, earning an MBE in the process.
He competed in his first professional bout in October 2013 and has since enjoyed a stratospheric, 22-fight winning streak that has seen him conquer three of the four of significant world heavyweight belts – the WBO, IBF, and WBA – fighting in high-profile, high-stakes matches with record-breaking audiences.
Crediting his sport for his demeanour, he says: “Boxing opened new doors for me, exposed me to different cultures and new ways of seeing. I grew up in a neighbourhood where the majority of us came from the same background, but at the gym I was exposed to so much more – it was like the United Nations, 15 different languages spoken in that small gym. It taught me about accepting people for who they are and today I can talk to anyone from any background, which is something I didn’t have before.”
Despite the new doors it has opened, Joshua’s focal point with boxing has always been the determination it gives him to become a healthier person – inside and out. Fastidious today about what he puts into his body, Joshua is not only strict with his diet, he doesn’t smoke or drink alcohol when training, and refuses to listen to negative comments about himself. Thankfully, these are few and far between today; unlike with some other fighters, tabloid reports of Joshua scrapping in nightclubs before falling out of them and into a supercar, a Playboy Playmate on each arm, are non-existent.
“No, I’ve been there, done that,” he laughs. “I did my share of hard clubbing in my youth, but I am open about it. I was in my 20s before people really started to notice me as a serious sportsman and I had calmed down by then. People aren’t used to seeing me running around town, but I was that person before they knew about me.”
There have been a couple of now highly publicised run-ins with the law – incidents that Joshua accepts as part of his past and carries with neither shame nor pride, recognising that they helped him turn his life around, taking him to the rank of world champion. “You know how some people have guys that they want to be bad with? It doesn’t mean they are actually bad guys, just that they are not perfect and make mistakes.” He shrugs. “So, I made my mistakes, but I was always ready and willing to rectify them. I was always open to change. And that’s what I was interested in when I started boxing – developing myself.”
Softly spoken and thoughtful, Joshua’s innate intelligence is without question, but he admits that he could maybe have done better in school under a less formal structure. Preferring sports and practical lessons to classroom studies, he says: “I loved subjects like chemistry – any lesson that I could get my hands on a Bunsen burner and create reactions or explosions. That was me, I would love to get stuck in but not to sit quietly and raise my hand to speak.
“I always wanted to be cool and to fit in with everyone. I remember I used to play the saxophone but I was too embarrassed to walk through the estate with it, because back then, music lessons didn’t correlate with being cool in my head. So, I used to pay my cousin a pound to carry the case home for me. It’s only as you get older and mature that you realise real cool is who you are, not what people expect of you. And that’s what I mean when I say that today I focus on myself. I don’t care if everyone around me is eating buckets of fried chicken five nights a week. It may be delicious but, if it isn’t the right fuel for my body and for what I need to do, then I’ll pass.”
When I suggest that, all grown up, the boy who wanted to be bad – but not, he insists “that bad” – is in fact a role model to many, Joshua shifts uncomfortably and shakes his head slowly. He insists that his actions and life are not philanthropic, but all about getting the best from himself. “When I was 18, I started learning about my own determination and that what I put into myself is what I can give out to the world. Honestly, I don’t think I’m smart enough yet to be a role model. What I do is just try to be myself and this is a huge lesson to learn and accept.
“When I got into boxing, it wasn’t because I wanted to be a champion, win belts and make money – at least not at first. But I wanted to be able to look at myself in a mirror and see positive change. If I don’t look after myself, then there’s nothing. This is a forever battle. I know that if I perfect me then I can do anything, and boxing is a fun way of trying to perfect me. With routine and preparation, things become easy, whether it is fighting or being interviewed, like today.”
Here he stops and laughs at himself, feeling the words he is using don’t fully explain what he means. Basically, he says, there was no long-term strategy, no get-rich-quick scheme, and no plan to become an evangelist for inner development leading to outer achievement. “I am just one sportsman among many others,” he continues. “I can’t change people’s outlooks. I think there will be a time when I want to teach and inspire, but if I’m honest with you, I don’t stand for anything right now apart from fighting.”
The Family Way
Our meeting comes just three weeks after Joshua’s seventh-round knockout of Russian Alexander Povetkin and coincides with an interview that Joshua has just done for British GQ which, for the first time, featured him alongside three-year-old Joseph Joshua, his son with dance teacher Nicole Osborne, who he has known since school. With reference to this, we start to talk about the importance of family, Joshua being well-known for his tight-knit relationships with both family and childhood friends.
Despite adolescent scrapes, he laments the loss of the community environment that he experienced growing up on the Meriden Estate in Watford with his mother Yeta and three siblings. He is quick to acknowledge that the pressures of modern life often mean parents are working long hours or multiple jobs. There is genuinely no judgment in his voice when he says that families are no longer sitting at the dinner table together and that kids are more interested in TV or iPhones than in family time. “It’s hard and I understand that,” he says. “But I know how important it is to have that family connection – they say it takes more than a mum and dad to raise a child and I agree with that: you need your cousins, your aunties and you need your friends. If that’s something I can pass on to people – the importance of staying close to the people who really care about you – then I’m happy.”
Unimpressed by stars, Joshua constantly refers to his parents as his real heroes and the ones who put him back on the right path when he strayed from it. He recalls with a chuckle the childhood envy of the kid who had the cool sneakers or the pretty girlfriend because they were attainable goals and things he could aspire to. “I’d only look around me and not to Hollywood or beyond. So, I saw my dad who was honest, straight and hardworking and a lot of the values he held have rubbed off on me. My mum was a lot quieter than my dad and it is only now that I am older, I can really appreciate how hard it was for her to raise a boy to a man. I think that is phenomenal and I have so much respect for her.”
Despite staying close to the people who shaped his past, as his horizons have grown, Joshua has also found inspiration further afield – in fact, he believes that everyone has a story worth listening to. One kindred spirit he has discovered recently is retired Navy SEAL, ultramarathon runner, distance cyclist and triathlete David Goggins. “He is a genuinely motivational speaker. So many people judge their success on what they have but Goggins talks about the personal issues that each person has to deal with within themselves. He is not interested in physical looks or material things and I can connect with that.”
As his boxing hero he, perhaps unexpectedly, cites Mike Tyson. “He grew up in America, ‘the land of the free’, but as a poor black kid, he ended up at 13 in a correctional facility with 38 arrests to his name. This is where he learnt to box. He put in the work and he became the best in the world. He is another example to me of ‘what you put in is what you get out’. So, if everyone’s up running at 6 o’clock in the morning, you go at 4 o’clock to give yourself the edge and build a mental toughness.”
Joshua’s mental approach to competition has evolved along with his attitude to life. “I remember the Olympics. I’d only been boxing for two-and-a-half years and I tried to block out all the energy in the crowd. Now I understand that I am there for a reason and people have come to enjoy it and be a part of it, so I ride that positive energy in the arena and it helps.
“I put no pressure on myself. I do feel a healthy amount of fear – you can get hurt in boxing, knocked to the floor or carried off on a stretcher, and the worst hurt of all is a damaged reputation. I have to protect my brand in the ring, so I have to train hard. Losing is the most painful thing – Mike Tyson lost, Muhammad Ali lost, Sugar Ray Robinson lost. These are the greatest fighters of all time, so what’s to say that I’m going to go through my whole career without history repeating itself?”
And when the time comes to retire, could he ever be tempted back into the ring, or into an MMA fight? “I think my heart would tell me yes, because I’m a fighter,” he says. “I would have to become a master of boxing first, but yeah, I’d maybe give it a try. But then again, I put so much into boxing that to study another craft would be hard. Could I process it mentally? I think if the incentive was big enough… who can resist temptation?”
While a lot of athletes wait until their sporting career is on the decline to look at what happens next, Joshua’s plans for retirement are already taking shape. His number one goal is to be content. “Too many athletes are not happy when they retire because they have nothing to replace the buzz of competition,” he says. Joshua has set up a management company, AJ Boxing and Commercial, while he is still riding the wave of success. As well as sponsorship deals with the likes of BOSS, Under Armour, Beats by Dre, Lynx and Jaguar Land Rover, plus a successful merchandise line, Joshua has invested in the members-only BXR Gym on Chiltern Street in London that offers state-of-the-art training facilities along with the best coaches, equipment, and trainers.
The firm currently has two former Olympic boxers – Joshua Buatsi and Lawrence Okolie – and, when his fighting career ends “in 10 years or so”, it may well take on others. “I think it’s always good to start sooner rather than later, so things can grow organically,” he says. “I don’t want to be in a business where I’m just trying to sell myself with my last shows or product endorsement. I want to make sure I’m behind the next generation, I want to be supporting the guy that is breaking my records. I want to be content with what I have done and help someone else to do better.”
Despite his lack of materialism, it is obvious that Joshua has a passion for watches, something that he puts down in part to a teenage friend whose style and swagger he admired. “He was earning enough money to afford luxuries when we were still quite young,” he says. “Most of us were still buying our trainers off the market but we all wanted that status symbol – the big-ass gold chains or the Cartier Santos that our mate was wearing, all blinged-out with diamonds. That’s the road I went down. I got the watch and I remember wearing it to an event one time and a guy going: ‘What the hell is that? A woman’s watch?’ I was mortified.”
The taunter happened to be wearing a pink-gold Royal Oak and, seeing it on his wrist, Joshua was hooked, immediately appreciating the credibility in the piece without knowing anything about the brand. He started to learn more about Audemars Piguet and the sort of watches he would like to buy. He learnt that certain watches will grow in value and about the different levels of watch buying and collecting. As he discovered more about watches, he started to look more into the brands that are competing at the top level. “And I saw that in AP was a watch that I could actually make an investment with – an everyday object that I could put my money into, knowing that with time it will grow in value. I might have grown up on gold chains, but now I’m into watches. I love the subliminal side of them, the messages they give off. If I go into certain places people know my watch and they form an opinion.
“I know it’s a little hypocritical in light of what I said about David Goggins and not being into material things, but at the end of the day, we live in a world based on illusion, so if I wear the right outfit with the right watch, I may have an easier sell in terms of business. I’m an athlete that’s done well, but the reality is that in today’s world, people are often judged before they talk.”
Ultimately, however, Joshua loves the idea of passing his watches on to his children. “I just hope they don’t sell them to go out partying for a week,” he laughs. “I love the idea of something being around for generations. It’s funny: I have an AP and I love it, but the brand is so much more – it has been around for nearly 150 years and will be around for another 150 at least, always representing high quality.”
When it comes to his relationship with Audemars Piguet, Joshua is as uneasy with the term “ambassador” as he is with the title of “role model”. He explains that both he and his team had been buying APs long before his partnership with the brand started, and the friendship with CEO François-Henry Bennahmias grew organically from this.
“I’d just started fighting in 2008 when we went into a global recession that we didn’t start to emerge from until 2012, when I was just coming off the back of the Olympics. Companies were slowly starting to invest in sport again but not in boxing – especially blue-chip companies that saw boxing as a bloodsport with too many egos and big characters. But François saw past that. He saw me, believed in me and wanted to invest in me. That speaks volumes. We began with a personal connection and this then spread to the brand itself. As I said, I was already buying Royal Oaks, so I’m honoured to be part of this AJ, AP, FHB triangle and I feel genuinely blessed to be working with Audemars Piguet.”
The words “friend of the brand” are used a lot in the watch world, but it genuinely feels that this is a more complete description for Joshua’s relationship with AP – far from being paraded in front of the world’s watch press, this is in fact the very first official interview that he has ever done through the brand. “It’s perfect,” he says. “I love the watches and that’s enough for François. He never asks me to push anything through social media – to be honest, that would completely change how I feel about the company. I have worn and bought the watches for years and that is my recommendation, I don’t have to speak and gush about them. It is real, so people see me wearing my Royal Oak and they believe in it – there is no need to oversell.”
Since the relationship blossomed three years ago, Joshua’s collection of Audemars Piguets has naturally grown, his preference remaining solidly with Royal Oaks. To date, he has eight pieces including the Royal Oak Offshore Chronograph “QE II Cup 2016” that he is wearing during our interview. The watch pays homage to an elite horse race held annually in Hong Kong. AP releases a limited edition watch each year in celebration, with Joshua’s piece being one of 200 made in 2016.
Among his collection are a Royal Oak Chronograph in pink gold and a Royal Oak Tourbillon extra thin – and the current favourite, a factory-set diamond Royal Oak Offshore Chronograph, of which he excitedly shows me pictures. “It’s totally good as it is not a buss down,” he enthuses. “It is factory-set. It’s not an everyday watch, but when the occasion arises, it’s just the best. It’s a watch for the big boys. I just love it.”
With no other brands in his collection (“not any more”), Joshua has a penchant for exclusive or limited-edition pieces. Emphasising his desire to stand out from the crowd, “plus someone will always want one, so the value will always be there,” he adds laughing. And his passion for Audemars Piguet is something that he likes to share with those around him. In 2017, following the most important fight of his career to that point, in which he took the vacant WBA Super Heavyweight title after 11 rounds against the legendary Wladimir Klitschko, he presented his team with Royal Oaks engraved on the casebacks with “Joshua vs Klitschko – Wembley April 29th 2017”.
With his watch haul growing, what’s next on the list for Joshua? “Right now, I’m pretty content because I’ve just picked up the Royal Oak Double Balance Wheel Openworked in pink gold,” he says. “I’m very lucky because people are going crazy for that model. If I did have a wish list, it would be the 25th Anniversary Royal Oak Offshore Tourbillon Chronograph [the ref. 26421ST.OO.A002CA.01 worn in the pictures here]. I love the Carolina Bucci frosted-gold finish, too. I need to speak to Daniel [Compton, Audemars Piguet’s UK General Manager]. He knows what I like and he always steers me right.”
Right on cue, Compton enters the studio. Joshua beams and rushes to greet him, chatting excitedly about his latest acquisition and what is to come at SIHH 2019. Spotting the journalist in the room, smiles and nods are exchanged and everyone returns to work, keen to finish the shoot, sad to return the watches and enthusiastically looking forward to the treasures yet to be unveiled by Audemars Piguet.