Bill Tibbs chats with publicist Rachel Charles on her career in boxing
By Bill Tibbs
From a hardscrabble council estate life in Chelmsley-Wood (Birmingham) England to the sun and surf of California, life has been an interesting journey for Sheer Sports’ Rachel Charles. A single mom at 17, Charles never envisioned herself working in boxing but that is exactly what she has been doing for the last (close to) 2 decades. After her start with (the late Dan Goosen’s) Goosen-Tutor Promotions, to Joe DeGuardia’s Star Boxing, to her current role as the publicist for Los Angeles’ Sheer Sports Management, Charles’ life has been boxing. An infectious laugh and warm friendliness is evident through her Birmingham accent but belies the iron-tough survivor that has triumphed on a tough road fully travelled for the Woodland Hills, California resident; it was a pleasure spending a few minutes chatting with Charles from her home in Los Angeles.
Bill Tibbs: Good morning Rachel, thanks for taking a minute to chat. How are you?
Rachel Charles: Good morning mate, I’m good, I’m good.
BT: So, let’s get right into it. How does a girl from Birmingham, England end up in Los Angeles, California working in boxing? Or, before that, how do you end up in California?
RC: My father, who actually lives quite close to me, was in California when I was growing up. My Dad was a Motown musician, a drummer, for Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross and many more. He was actually from Oklahoma but lived in California. I also have an uncle, King, who was the percussionist for Neil Diamond, forever, and he was always touring and every year when they toured they’d come to England. So, growing up I’d be going to see Neil Diamond and of course got to know the band and so on over the years. Fast forward to a few years later, I’m 21, a mom with a young daughter and Vince (future husband, Charles), Diamond’s percussionist, and I started to have a relationship. He said to me ‘do you want to come to America with me?’ And off I went to California.
BT: Doesn’t sound like he had to ask twice. ‘Wanna go to California?’… ‘Why yes I do, funny you should ask’ (laughs).
RC: Oh, mate, I was packed and ready to go. I always had the idea that I wasn’t meant to end up in Birmingham, I knew I would get out of there one day. I of course had no plan how to do it, but I just knew I wasn’t meant to stay there. So, I was off like a shot, married, a mom and heading to California. It was all very exciting at the time. It is very surreal; in fact it was the most surreal thing in the world.
BT: We are going back a few years here. It’s not totally pre-internet but it wasn’t like the small world we live in now where everything and every place is a website away. I mean, for me, growing up, places like California were like a dream place on the other side of the world somewhere.
RC: Oh. Believe me, like I said when I got there from the council flat in Chelmsley, the drab and drizzle of England, to the sun and palm trees of California it was a very surreal time in my life. You can’t quite believe it is happening but all very exciting at the same time. Keep in mind, my Dad lived in California so I would go and visit him every few years growing up so I had seen it and I was a little bit familiar with it. I knew I wanted to get out of Birmingham some how, some day, and get there but it was still very surreal when it happened.
BT: So, you settle into life in Los Angeles and what’s next?
RC: Well, it was the Diamond life as we called it (laughs). My husband Vince was the percussionist with Neil Diamond and it’s life on the road – tours, concerts, the whole bit. The crazy life of a touring musician, this is all new to me. Back at home we’d have people dropping by, stars, Fleetwood Mac, Stevie. Some people who were famous, some I didn’t know were famous. It was just normal to Vince; these were the people he worked with in the industry.
BT: Your marriage doesn’t last though. Were you able to remain friends after you split?
RC: No, it doesn’t last very long. We were married from 1991-1997. I spoke to him 2 times after we split up and that was just because I ran into him by fluke. But, I will always say it was Vince that got me to the United States and to Los Angeles, he gave me that opportunity. But, I had to get on with my life. I was busy trying to figure out what I was going to do next. We had split up and then it was, ‘ok, what is next? I had to figure what was next. I had to get on with my life’. But, looking back, I will always remember Vince for giving me a life out here. Vince sadly passed in 2001 and I’ll never forget him; I try to honour his name everyday.
BT: But, a life in boxing is not in the plan at this time. Correct?
RC: Bill, I didn’t know an upper cut from a hook at this time (laughs). No idea what I’m going to do and no idea how I’m going to do it. But, I needed to find a job, decide what is next. So, I get a job at Nordstrom’s. People at work were saying there that ‘you could do more than this; you should look for something else’. And, I did. I worked at different jobs, got some better jobs, worked my way up to Beverly Hills to an ad agency, had a lot of fun there. But, then, boom. I lost everything. I was in my 20’s having a good time, not keeping track of things, bills, expenses, all of a sudden, I lost my home, my car, everything except the shoes on my feet. Seriously, my daughter is looking at me like, ‘what have you done here? You are the only parent I have, what is going on here?’ I mean I have zero, nothing and I’m not sure what is next.
BT: Is boxing on the horizon somehow at this point?
RC: Well, this about 2003-2004 and a very good friend of mine knew this guy, she was a friend of his, and he was a boxer. She says to me ‘you have to come meet this guy, he is a boxer and you have to meet him’. I was like, ‘Ok, sure, whatever, I’ll meet him’. Well, I go meet him and that guy was James Toney.
BT: And, other than being your friend’s buddy, you have no idea who this guy is?
RC: No, don’t know him at all. But, I meet him and I think he’s nuts, in a good way, I mean James is just a big presence, larger than life and I think this guy is bonkers, but I loved him. Anyway, we get to know each other and start talking and I’m looking for jobs as always and guess what? He introduces me to Dan Goosen. I walk into his office and I know zero about boxing and he asks me, ‘what do you know about boxing?’ I said ‘nothing but I can learn’. I can sell myself, the gift of gab, all that, maybe the English accent helped a little, who knows? Anyway, he hires me on the spot to answer phones, hires me as a receptionist. So, now I’m working for a boxing promoter.
BT: Do you keep in touch with James?
RC: I actually saw him recently, we ran into him at the gym. He didn’t know I was working with Aaron and Stevie (Mckenna, undefeated Irish brothers) so we were talking about them. It was great to see him, he is doing well. James is a little rough around the edges but he has a huge heart.
BT: So, back to Dan Goosen.
RC: I’m working for Goosen-Tutor as a receptionist and I hear the office chatter that they are looking for someone to do PR. I know I can do that. I know how to talk to people, I know how to work a room, and I get things done. I walk into Dan’s office and I ask him about the PR position and he says, ‘Do you know anything about boxing?’ I said that I didn’t but I can learn, I’m a hard worker and I tell him that I will get things done. He says, ‘OK, go out and learn about the boxing business’. It was like that; he hired me on the spot. And, we had a serious roster of talent back then. We had James (Toney), just signed Andre Ward, Robert Guerrero, Glen Johnson, lots of guys.
BT: How were you received in the industry?
RC: Great, it was great. I was working hard and just trying to learn all the time. The guys who helped me a lot were guys like Kevin Iole, Robert Morales, Steve Springer, and Tim Smith, guys like that. Rich Morotta, he was amazing and would always pump me up; such a great guy. I could ask them anything and they would help me, give me advice, they all helped me a lot. The guys were great, the girls not so much at times (laughs). I stayed with Goosen-Tutor until 2007.
BT: What were you doing after that?
RC: After that I went and worked for Joe DeGuardia’s Star Boxing. He was out of New York so I would be back and forth to New York sometimes. I stayed there for a short while and then I was out doing my own thing. I stayed with my foot in the door a little bit, sort of in, sort of out, but I just worked my own thing, being independent. Then, Sheer Sports was putting their team together and they had Courage Tshabalala (former heavyweight contender) as their trainer and evaluating their fighters they were considering signing. He went to Ken Sheer and Lyle Green and said that they really should get me on board as part of the team. I had known Courage from working with him years before. So we met, I joined the team and here we are.
BT: What is your favorite part of the job?
RC: You know I just love the fight life, love being around the fighters and working for them and getting them the ink they deserve. I’ll do anything for my kids and I really enjoy being around the fighters, in the gym, the fights, everything. I see how hard they are working everyday in the gym, giving everything they have; I see how much they give of themselves. When I see that I just know that the least I can do for them is hit the streets and work just as hard for them and I do – I’ll do anything for my fighters and they know that. I’ll do anything for my boys.
BT: A busy life in boxing.
RC: Just a busy life (chuckles). It’s been a real tough road at times Bill, so many ups and downs. Life is busy and crazy and everything. So many things have been a fluke and luck and timing and all sorts of things. But, life is good. I have an incredible daughter, Georgia, who is 34 and living in Hawaii. She is a social worker and has a Master’s degree from USC. She is amazing. And, I’m blessed to work with the great group that I do a Sheer Sports. I’m blessed.
BT: Thanks Rachel, always great to touch base with you.
RC: For sure Bill, anytime.