Post Memories: Film-maker launched career after meeting Muhammad Ali

Filmaker Wayne Saunders with his film on Muhammed Ali

Filmaker Wayne Saunders with his film on Muhammed Ali - Credit: Archant

To millions of supporters across the world he was the greatest sportsman that ever lived.

Filmaker Wayne Saunders on location in the docks

Filmaker Wayne Saunders on location in the docks - Credit: Archant

A three-time heavyweight champion of the world as famous for his pre-match trash-talking as he was for standing up for his beliefs, Muhammad Ali was an idol to generations.

A week after his death, the world said goodbye to one of its most famous sons at his funeral on Friday. Gone but never forgotten.

Film-maker Wayne Saunders, from Barking Riverside, was a second-year student at the University of East London (UEL) in 1999 when he got a call asking if he would like to meet the man once known as Cassius Clay.

“I was doing some work in the library when I got a call to say he was coming to Brixton, and if I could get down then I could film him,” he explained. “I was down there like a shot.

Muhammad Ali in Brixton

Muhammad Ali in Brixton - Credit: Archant

“All the press were there as well but they had to wait at the gate – they weren’t allowed in the compound where I was.

“He was amazing. He threw a punch to show he still had it, even though he was suffering with Parkinson’s.

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“He did some card tricks as well, but I will always remember the moment he came back outside to the crowd.

“When he came out everyone was going crazy, but he walked over and went to a little toddler and gave him a hug.

Muhammad Ali riding through Brixton when he visited in 1999 (Pic: Matthew Fearn/PA)

Muhammad Ali riding through Brixton when he visited in 1999 (Pic: Matthew Fearn/PA) - Credit: EMPICS Sports Photo Agency

“I was just like ‘Wow’. There were all these people shouting around him but he still managed to pick out the youngster.

“Just before he went back out to the crowd I was standing right next to him and I said, ‘It’s great to be by your side champ’, and he gave this small reply but I couldn’t really tell what he was saying, I was just so in awe.”

The visit provided the inspiration for Wayne’s debut film, Greatness – a drama about a group of friends preparing to attend that memorable day in Brixton.

After penning the script, he sent it to the BBC who provided initial funding and access to resources.

Featuring actual footage shot on the day itself, the film was aided by extra funding from the National Lottery and shown at a number of different film festivals between 200 and 2005.

“He was very much a person of the people and that really influenced me from a young age,” he added.

“I also learnt a lot about marketing from him.

“I remember him not being able to swim but he did that shoot in the swimming pool – I thought that was amazing.”

Currently teaching the next generation of filmmaker’s through his Barking film school BossCrowns, Wayne also plans to make another documentary about the visit, by interviewing others who were there on the day.

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