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22 August 2023

Inside the soul of Tyson Fury

He’s too strange, too powerful, too honest and complicated to contain in a bite-size media persona.

By Clive Martin

Tyson Fury, the sometime heavyweight champion of the world, boasts one the most peculiar trajectories in British celebrity, segueing from Channel 5 prizefighter, to bigoted PR disaster, to national treasure status in just over a decade. While Fury is still undefeated in the ring, and still one of the biggest draws in boxing, he has become a thoroughly domestic figure – someone who brings together stardust and menace, panto and punch-up in the way only England can. He’s the missing link between Charles Bronson and Robbie Williams, Lenny McLean and Peter Kay.

His family, too, are carving out a name for themselves in show business. Paris, Tyson’s wife and mother to Prince John, Prince Tyson, Prince Adonis, Venezuela, Valencia and Athena, is a media figure in her own right, appearing regularly on Loose Women and writing a number of books. His father, John, has become an unlikely star of Gen Z media, the object of a thousand TikTok compilations, thanks to his chest-thumping, olde worlde hyperbole when selling his son’s fights. His younger brother Tommy and Tommy’s fiancée Molly-Mae Hague (of Love Island fame) are marketing themselves as a Kardashian-style power couple, with her working as creative director at the fast fashion brand Pretty Little Thing and him becoming an influencer/boxer and purveyor of “paid partnerships”.

No wonder then that the clan have branched out into constructed reality TV with their new Netflix series At Home with the Furys. The series begins in the midst of Tyson’s retirement, as he struggles to adapt to civilian life. Still only 34, he spends his days driving the kids around, walking the dog, running along Morecambe Bay and dreaming up ways to make a living post-boxing. At the start of the series he seems listless and stressed out by civilian life. “I’d rather get punched to f*** by ten heavyweight champions than spend a week at home doing all these jobs,” he declares at one point.

At Home with the Furys. Photo by Netflix

At Home with the Furys is being praised for its depiction of mental health, and Tyson’s moods are shown with a candidness rarely seen in reality TV. It’s a fascinating insight into the bipolar mind: Tyson veers between wild upswings – where suddenly he decides he wants to visit Pompeii on a day’s notice – and low ebbs where he skulks off from a family birthday party. He isn’t afraid to be seen being a prick, and at times he can be arrogant, controlling and horribly insecure. He and Paris often have blazing rows, all played out in their lavish, baroque kitchen with its gold radiators and fine china. The whole effect sits somewhere between House of Gucci and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, and is at times almost skin-crawling to witness.

Yet it isn’t all traumatic exposition. The show is a fascinating look at contemporary aesthetic language, with each generation of Furys seemingly having their own interior design style. John appears to live (at least part-time) in an ornate vardo caravan, pitched up somewhere in a field in Lancashire. Whereas Tyson, Paris and the kids are holed up in a sprawling Morecambe McMansion, surrounded by marble, mahogany, quad bikes and huge gas barbecues; in the hallway is a Sistine Chapel-style fresco. Meanwhile, Molly-Mae and Tommy live in influencer purgatory, all matte black, gun-metal grey, decorative hollow books and horrifying prints reading things like: “I would find you in any lifetime.” Although there are only ten years between Tyson and Tommy, you can see two very different ideas of status at play; one is luxurious and louche, the other muted and chillingly blank.

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The show tries its best to make Tommy and Molly-Mae a main plot point, whereas John is more of an intermittent figure of comic relief and occasional doses of earthly wisdom. In the younger couple’s arc, Molly-Mae becomes pregnant, and Tommy builds up to a fight against the YouTuber Jake Paul. Between that, Tommy reveals he has plans to become an actor (“but only in horror movies, because that’s all I watch”), they have an argument about how many children they should have (Tommy wants ten, Molly-Mae says a maximum of three), and whether or not they should go to school (Tommy suggests not, for Molly-Mae this is “non-optional”). The pair are mostly deathly dull, yet there is an interesting culture clash between this daughter of a Hertfordshire police officer and the scion of a notorious fighting dynasty.

The real entertainment is provided by Tyson’s increasingly bizarre flights of fancy. He goes to Iceland to confront the strongman Hafthór Björnsson, only to find out his rival is filming an advert in Rome. He flies Paris on a private jet to Cannes to re-propose to her (for the third time). He launches a whistlestop personal appearance tour, with dates as unglamorous as the Isle of Man. After his cousin is stabbed to death in a bar fight, he launches into a powerful, thoughtful speech about knife crime in front of a thousand pissed punters in a Spanish holiday resort.

At Home with the Furys is an attempt to turn the family into a brand, but really the whole thing falls under Tyson’s shadow. Within a few episodes he starts to dominate the series, and everyone in it – just as he has always dominated his opponents in the ring. Fury is one of British life’s most controversial, compelling characters – and what could have been a generic reality series turns into something much deeper and darker due to him. He appears often like Tony Soprano, walking round his classical-suburban complex in various states of undress, pulling people into his orbit of charm and then sucking the life out of the room with his moods. Keeping up with the Kardashians could never quite capture the ego, or the disturbed genius of its occasional star Kanye West, but At Home with the Furys has captured Tyson Fury.

Just like every other attempt to turn Tyson into a mainstream celebrity, the show eventually buckles under the weight of his charisma – yet it becomes deeper because of that. He’s simply too strange, too powerful, too honest and complicated to contain in a bite-size media persona. It all leaves you with the overwhelming sense that while the producers were aiming for The Real Housewives of Morecambe, they ended up with King Lear.

[See also: The rise of Citizen Celebrity]

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