From Burnley to Perth: The bouncer-turned-doctor on his lifelong 'metamorphosis'

From Burnley to Perth: Boxer, Bouncer, and Now a Doctor by Doctor Jeff Slater
From Burnley to Perth: Boxer, Bouncer, and Now a Doctor by Doctor Jeff Slater

It was 1974, and Jeff Slater was in the pub with a few mates.

"I wanted to see the world," says Burnley-born Jeff. "We were in a pub in Worsthorne and said 'yeah, we'll go and see the world, we'll go to California,' but we were just young lads dreaming. You needed a Visa, a work permit, money, all of which we didn't have."

Jeff in his weightlifting days

Jeff in his weightlifting days

Now 63, Jeff has a story to tell. At 14 when he first set foot in a boxing gym, he weighed barely six stone - frail and constantly bullied and beaten up. By 20, was a 16-stone boxer, power-lifter, and ferocious street fighter. Jeff describes the transformation as a 'metamorphosis'. But his physical transformation was nothing compared to his academic evolution.

"Life was pretty tough at 18 in 1974 and there wasn't a great deal of opportunity in Burnley," explains Jeff with a chuckle. High on the dreams of far-flung locations and bereft of anchors keeping him in his home-town, Jeff resolved to come good on his resolution to see the world. California may have been off the table, but he was far from dissuaded.

"I realised you could go to Perth in Australia without a Visa," said Jeff. "In those days, you could pay £10 for passage and go with your family - they called them ten-pound Poms - but I went free with a pal called Steve. It was completely on a whim but it was tough. Really tough."

At 18, Jeff went to the other end of the Earth, heading Down Under in search of something new. But he swiftly became entangled in the seedy underbelly of Perth's nightlife.

Dr Jeff Slater

Dr Jeff Slater

"There were dark times," explained Jeff. "I ended up being a stand-over man for some pretty grim moments; I did most things for money. I used to make sure bikers didn't beat up men engaging in sex with each other in public toilets. I fought in the streets and I worked as a bouncer at this place called The Royal Show where you had to last so many rounds with a boxer.

"I was a tough kid and it was a tough life," he said. "For two years, it was hard."

During their time in Australia, Jeff, Steve, and a local friend of theirs undertook a gruelling 3,000-mile drive from Perth to Sydney across the country's scored heartlands. "We drove across the desert in a 1966 Ford Falcon," Jeff said. "The trip took us seven days and the population of Australia in those days was only about 15 million and it's massive. If you broke down, you were dead. We were putting our lives at risk."

Soon, disenchanted by his life Down Under, Jeff decided to return to Burnley. "At 21, with no education or contacts, I was getting nowhere, so I came back," he said. "I felt if I was going to achieve anything, it was going to be in England, so I moved straight back to Burnley and got a job at The Sands in Nelson and at Lucas Aerospace as a labourer in 1977.

Jeff Slater receiving his doctorate

Jeff Slater receiving his doctorate

"I remember saying to the guy 'how can anyone work in a factory for 20 years?' and he just said 'you'll be the same - you'll get married, get a mortgage, and you'll be effed'.

"The realisation hit home to me: as a working class lad with no contacts and no rich parents, the only way to make money was to get educated," said Jeff. "I'd only got five O Levels at Burnley College but there was a revolutionary new thing called B-Units which were equivalent to two A Levels, so I did that at Nelson and Colne College.

"Throughout my studies, I worked as a bouncer at the bars and pubs in Burnley; I did that for nearly 20 years - The Angels, The Sands, Circulation, Smacks..."

Fascinated by adolescent psychotherapy, Jeff went to the University of Bradford and completed two degrees - a BA in Social Psychology and Sociology and an MSc in Industrial Sociology - before undertaking a doctorate at Lancaster University on violence in working class culture with a focus on social psychology, anthropology, and the real meaning of violence. He loved it, finally completing his PhD in 1996 at the age of 39.

Dr Slater now lives in Worsthorne, having built up an impressive property portfolio which has seen him be financially independent since the age of 35. "There's a lot of pride in what I've achieved," he said. "It's far from my times in Perth but, looking back, I have no regrets."

And the former street fighter now has a book coming out.

Titled Boxer, Bouncer, and Now a Doctor, his book is a reflection of his life and his doctoral studies. "When I finished my PhD in the '90s, I said 'I could write a book about this: I think I will'," said Jeff. "It's only taken me 23 years!"