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EXCLUSIVE | How South Africa and a passion for boxing inspired Idris Elba’s Fight School

Idris Elba in Idris Elba’s Fight School.


In Idris Elba’s Fight School – which premieres on BritBox SA on 16 June – the award-winning actor transforms seven young people’s lives through an experimental boxing school.

Elba drew inspiration from a boxing club in a township in South Africa.

“During my experience of filming Fighterwe were introduced to this amazing boxing club in South Africa, a group that championed the discipline and structure of boxing in a country where resources towards young people are sparse,” he explains.

“This gym gave so many young people refuge, a place for them to develop and grow; they went from young boys and girls to young men and women.”

In this exclusive Q&A, the Luther actor shares more about why he decided to do the show and the power of sports to transform lives.

Why did you want to make this TV series, and why now?

Young people around the UK are going through a tough time; the challenges I had to face as a young person are now amplified with the added pressure of social media. So many voices. For me, boxing was a way to tune out the noise. When you’re in that ring, it’s just you; you have to be able to shut it all out. I wanted the students to have the opportunity to learn this skill; with all that’s going on in the world, they need to be able to shut out all the noise and focus on themselves. They need to learn the necessary discipline and commitment to do one thing at a time. The show’s aim was never to create the next world-class boxer but to give the opportunity to young people looking for their way out.

Would you consider doing a show like this in South Africa?

So many significant initiatives already exist in South Africa, and I would want to push their voices to the forefront. This is such a great way of championing young people, so I would love to do this in South Africa with the right person leading the young people.

What do you think is the power sport has that it can transform people’s lives?

In the words of the late great Mandela, “sport has the power to change the world… sport can create hope where once there was despair.” Nothing could be more accurate; I’ve seen it throughout the process; these students imagine a new future for themselves based on their participation in this sport, something to be hopeful about. The family and community they’ve built during their individually challenging experience have opened their minds to opportunities beyond their home and past lives.

Idris Elba in Idris Elba's Fight School.

Idris Elba in Idris Elba’s Fight School.

This series is very different from anything else you have done; what was challenging about the process?

During the show’s casting process, it was easy to imagine what could happen on paper. Still, nothing could prepare the production team and me for the ups and downs of the process. This was my first time filming something like this, a social experiment of sorts. So many complex young people come together in one house, fighting their own demons and occasionally each other. Taking on the responsibility of them was something I could not take lightly.

I found myself being a big brother to the students, championing and encouraging them but also keeping it real with them to help them develop and become better versions of themselves.

As the process went on, we dealt with our fair share of injuries, and sadly some of our students were not able to stay throughout the duration of the show. Saying goodbye was the hardest part.

Can you describe the feeling of seeing these people’s lives being transformed by something so close to your heart?

I knew the power of boxing because of my own experience. Still, I couldn’t have imagined the transformation the students made, from conquering their fears to gaining newfound confidence. By the end of the process, I was so proud of them and grateful that they came on this journey.

The show has changed these contestants’ lives; what kind of support do they get after the show?

All the contestants have not had it easy in their past lives, and we put great systems in place to help them express their experiences, from life coaches to physiotherapists. These continued even after the show aired. We also explored some of the student’s career goals during the process, and we introduced them to professionals in these fields with whom they had some work experience. For some, this truly ignited new ambitions in them, and some have gone on to continue on these paths.

Boxing is not everyone’s cup of tea; what other coping mechanisms have you learned when you can’t box?

Boxing is just one example, but I think whatever activity shuts out the noise is a coping mechanism. If that’s baking, bake! If it’s dancing, dance! If it’s singing, sing until your heart’s content!

A scene in Idris Elba's Fight Club.

A scene in Idris Elba’s Fight Club.

Idris Elba’s Fight Club will be available to stream on BritBox SA from Thursday 16 June.

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