Quinton Shillingford MBE – British Boxing’s People Person

by Michael Walsh

Heading into my interview with Q, after doing research I knew that I was going to be sharing time with a key figure in the British boxing scene; that much was obvious. However, it wasn’t until an hour and a half later that I could appreciate the full extent to which Q has helped to shape the landscape of boxing in our country.

Q singlehandedly resurrected a boxing programme in the Navy, brought that success to the England and GB boxing teams and now has his own gym which he plans to expand to create a GB team quality training centre for prospects down south. His story is quite simply amazing.

Tough beginnings

Our chat was fascinating and all-encompassing but considering the current climate in the world, it is only right we start with some of the issues Q dealt with early on in his life which brought him into boxing. As a mixed-race person in England in the late ‘60’s and early ‘70’s, it was decided that it would be easier to be raised in Dominica, his father’s country.

“I lived there until I was seven years old. The marriage, unfortunately, didn’t go well and within a year of being back they were separated, and we moved into my grandmother's flat in Basingstoke. We then moved to Andover and it was quite hard while all of this was happening because there were hardly any black or mixed-race people. Racism was our first test. I learnt how to fight from a very young age because you had to know how to defend yourself.

“My mum had it difficult too as a white woman with mixed-raced children, sometimes having to hide us from people in case something would happen. So, all the time you’re growing up with a rough edge and full of nerves and anxiety and courage has to come really early otherwise you won’t survive.”

Finding a father figure

After a fairly unpredictable and tough start to life, it was apparent that Q was going to need something to keep him on the straight and narrow

“I was quite lucky because there was a travelling family who was trying to get into school and I hooked up with members of that family and their dad ran the boxing gym; Billy Pike. Not just physically or socially, but emotionally I found someone that I was able to have as a male role model; someone you see and you think ‘I want to be just like you’. That was my coach Billy Pike. He turned loads of boys to men. He probably did a better job than a social worker.”

The admiration Q held for Billy and his family was clear to see, labelling him his surrogate father. “His family took me in. I was basically one of the family and I loved going round there. His brother, Eddie, would have me come round his to play pool and snooker and it just helped me stay out of trouble. They took the role of a father figure on. The point is, it stopped me from going around the streets and getting into trouble. Unfortunately, that have both passed now but I had a couple of angels sent from heaven to look after me.”

Joining the Navy

After fighting out of Andover under Billy Pike, Q was looking for a bit more from life than training around working on construction sites and that opportunity presented itself in the form of the Navy.

“When I joined (the Navy), everyone there was ranked top ten in the country and I was only 17 years old. I boxed 90 odd fights for Andover and I joined the Royal Navy when I was 18. I was boxing in the National Championships, won it and the Navy coach, the Army coach and the Royal Marine coach were there scouting to get kids to join the forces. They wanted top boxers in their team. I got all kinds of offers but the Navy were the most persistent and they were the closest too.

“I went down there for a weekend and had a great time, I couldn’t believe they were able to train every day. I then had the uncomfortable situation of telling Billy that I wanted to join the forces and he was a bit upset but he realised it was the best thing for me.

“So, I joined in September 1985 and the National Championships started in October and even though I was just a trainee, they wanted to put me in. I was doing basic training and then also doing my boxing training for this competition. I ended up winning the Under 19’s National Championships when I had just turned 18 so that put me right up there. I was boxing for the Navy from that point on.”

While in the Navy, Q served on the Gulf War in 1991, the conflicts in Bosnia on the HMS Southampton and the Falklands in 1999 amongst others; while maintaining his boxing career showing the measure of the man.

Life after the amateurs

Despite winning numerous titles and having 142 amateur fights, losing just 22 and amassing 120 wins, Q never turned over as professional. His coach Billy encouraged him to stay in the Navy and nurse a bad wrist injury he had which would hamper a career spent wearing eight-ounce gloves. It was at that point, Q had to work out what was next for him.

“It came to a situation where my hands were just hurting too much and I felt I just had to stop it. I had done twelve years of competitive boxing which was a good innings and I wanted to get on with the rest of my life. I had a chat with the career and boxing coaches and I learned I could become a boxing coach. I did a six-month course learning all different sports and assault courses and I really enjoyed the course.

Coach’s calling

“It was all about people’s skills and I was learning how to encourage, support and motivate people. Some of the lads might have hated me because I pushed them to do things, but it built a good relationship with them and they benefited from it in the end. That teaches you as a coach on how to develop people and learn about them. Coaching is all about welcoming, developing and finding out about them.

“It’s an enjoyable job. I had 7 Navy men in the semi-finals of the National Championships and I was as proud as it gets, at the same time though, when someone comes to me through depression or because their lonely that is very important to me.”

I then asked Q what was more rewarding for him, coaching fighters from nothing to winning titles or making a difference in the lives of people who are struggling and having a tough time. He told me a story about a lad who asked him for advice about leaving the Navy to see his brother.

“He asked me why I left the Navy so I told him I left because I thought I could do better than this. He told me his dad is a serviceman and that his brother is in New Zealand and he didn’t join the Navy so his dad doesn’t speak to him. I told him: ‘write your dad a letter, organise it with your brother to go ov