Sport
Gari Glaysher

From roundhouse kicks to the Royal Albert Hall: The Taekwondo national champion turned opera singer

By Alasdair McDowall
April 11 2020, 09.30

The vast majority of us have gone through careers of all shapes and sizes in our lifetimes. 

From working the weekend shift pouring pints behind the bar to the Monday morning grind in the office – it’s something most people can relate to. 

Even athletes aren’t averse to changing course, just look at the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career in politics.

But few of us would have undergone as remarkable a transformation as musician Gari Glaysher. 

The 58-year-old from Bromley has an extraordinary resume – he’s sung at the Royal Albert Hall on several occasions, worked with Pavarotti’s daughter and Andrea Bellentani, and even performed for the Prince Albert of Monaco. 

A truly breath-taking career in its own right, but before taking centre stage as a classical musician, Glaysher took to the dojang and enjoyed a career as a three-time Taekwondo national champion.

He became the fastest person to receive his second-degree black belt in England in 1990 after only 18 months of training and also went on to represent his country in the world championships despite having started his career late at the age of 26.

Even before his humble beginnings in the sport, Glaysher was working a plasterer on building sites.

The former national champion credits his background in Taekwondo for teaching him discipline, self-control and focus, all of which have been invaluable to him as a professional singer. 

He said: “My proudest moment was getting my black belt because I came out of school without many qualifications. So getting my black belt was the first thing I ever achieved.

“There’s a lot of study that goes with it, it’s not just learning how to punch and kick and get fit, there’s a mental toughness to it and it was a proud moment for me.”

In a heart-warming turn of events, Glaysher’s journey came full circle when he was asked to perform the national anthem at the ITF World Cup opening ceremony in Brighton.

Gari Glaysher singing at the 2014 ITF World Cup opening ceremony in Brighton

Taekwondo instructor and old friend of Glaysher’s, Howard Mayes, was once a training partner of his and recalled how determined Glaysher was when he first started.

He said: “I used to fight him two or three times a week and he was a scary guy to fight, if he got close enough to you it was a frightening place to be.

“He was a very powerful guy, I was a couple of ranks ahead of him but he caught up quickly and we both upgraded to a black belt at the same time.

“When Gari was determined to win nothing was going to stop him.” 

Glaysher’s friends were initially bewildered to hear of his musical exploits as he recalled a time when he had been to the Royal Albert Hall only for them to believe that he was working on the door. 

Gari Glaysher doing a back kick

The Londoner has enjoyed 19 years as a professional musician but still keeps up his Taekwondo and has raised thousands of pounds for charity with boxing fights and iron man challenges since his retirement from the sport. 

His current training partner and good friend Darren Jackson understands why people didn’t believe his experiences to begin with.

He said: “He’s still got that drive but he’s never one to boast and is still the same from as he was the day we met. 

“He trains hard, he’s clearly still very passionate about it and just as good but he’s so humble.”

The tenor insisted that he wasn’t even aware of his talents until he started to play guitar again and joined a band. 

He said: “I never planned it really. It all seemed to just happen. It just came naturally. 

“The next minute I find myself in a band playing the guitar with some backing vocals.

“I eventually decided to have some lessons and then my life completely changed. 

“Within a few years, I’m at the Guildhall being told I’ve got a real Italian tenor operatic voice, something I would’ve never have thought in a million years. 

“It was all honestly a case of being in the right place at the right time.

“It took four years from that singing teacher to performing at the Royal Albert Hall, it’s nuts.”

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