Savannah Marshall made history last weekend when she became Britain's first female boxing world champion. But what transforms a quiet teenager from Hartlepool into a star of the ring? Scott Wilson and Paul Fraser met some of the people who have helped the North-East Olympian along the way


The Northern Echo: Christine Dee

"Savannah has always been shy, but from the moment she said she wanted get in to the ring we always got right behind her.

"I never dreamed she would be a world champion until I watched her fight for the first time. I knew straight away she had something special.

"She wanted to be a boxer like Amanda Coulson (Hartlepool's other leading woman boxer). There were a few girls during her school days who might have said a few nasty things to her, but we always just told her to walk away.

"Now look, it's an amazing achievement to be world champion.

"From the moment she started boxing, the Olympics was always her goal. She always wanted to get that chance to fight for a gold medal and when she qualified by winning in China she rang me up and was very emotional.

"That's how much this means to her. She might be quiet, but she has always had that desire in her to get what she wants - just ask her brother, Charlie, who used to fight with her.

"Savannah thrived on working hard in the gym, even before the demands of Team GB took over, and she is feeling the benefits of all the hard work.

"As soon as I watched the first fight when she was 13 or 14 it was pretty clear just what sort of potential she had.

"I've heard so many people talk her up and talk about how far she could go.

"In the build-up to her first fight, her nana - Rosie Dee - a really strong Catholic gave her a little blue Our Lady to carry with her.

"She was really close with her nana and we lost her through ill health in February last year.

"Her nana never went to watch her fight, but Savannah has carried that little Our Lady around with her to every fight she has ever had.

"It was with her in China at the World Championships and it will be with her at the Olympics.

"Her nana like all of our family would be so proud."


The Northern Echo: Amanda Coulson

"I started boxing in 1999 and was one of the first women boxers in the country.

"I still fight now, although unfortunately I missed out on a place at this summer's Olympics.

"I'm also from Hartlepool and I know Savannah really well. She's a friend of the family. My cousin was best friends with her sister, so I've known her from a really young age.

"I remember going round to see her when she was 11 or 12 because her family had told me that she was thinking of taking up boxing. They wanted to know what I thought.

"I sat down with Savannah and told her that if it was something she wanted to do, she should go for it. I told her how much I enjoyed my boxing and said she would really get a lot out of it.

"But I also said how hard it was and how she couldn't really do it half-hearted. As a woman, it's always going to be hard to be taken seriously in a sport like boxing, so you have to give it everything you've got. I think it's fair to say she took those words on board!

"It's been fantastic to see her career progress and it's great that she's now a world champion. They must breed us hard up in Hartlepool.

"Savannah's success is all down to her own hard work, but I guess the chances might not have existed if we hadn't banged the doors down so hard a decade or so ago.

"At the time, the boxing authorities didn't really want to know about women. It was hard to get fights, there was nothing in the way of financial support and the main championships were going on without British women being involved.

"That's all changed now, but we had to really push for it. Now, our women boxers are some of the best in the world and I'll be cheering for Savannah in the Olympics this summer."


The Northern Echo: Neil McDearmid

"I was Savannah's head of year for five years at English Martyrs in Hartlepool. Understandably, we're all absolutely thrilled about everything that's happened.

"It wasn't until she was in year nine that we knew anything at all about Savannah's boxing. And even then, the only reason we found out was because the Hartlepool Mail did a front-page story about her winning a national title.

"I cut the picture out and put it up in the classroom, and I think at first she was a bit embarrassed. She wanted to keep her boxing secret from the other pupils.

"But after a while she realised we were only doing it because we were proud of her. We wanted her to be proud of her success.

"She was like a gentle giant. She was a very quiet girl really, but it was quickly clear how much she loved her boxing. She went all over with it, but she never let her school work suffer.

"She had 100 per cent attendance unless she'd been given permission to miss school for a tournament or something, and she had a really bright personality. She always had a smile on her face.

"There was never any danger of her bringing her boxing into the playground she just wasn't like that. If you'd asked me to make a list of 50 people who might have gone on to be boxers, Savannah's name wouldn't have been on it.

"But once it all became clear, it was obvious she was going to be a success. With Jemma Lowe (swimmer) also having been a student at our school, we're so proud to have two Olympians."


"I'll be honest, when Savannah first came to the gym at the Headland as a 12-year-old, my first thought was, 'Where on earth is she going to get changed?'

"We'd never had a girl at the club before, and we didn't really have the changing facilities to deal with it. We do now, but we didn't then.

"Savannah was always quite a shy girl and the first couple of times I think she got changed in the boys toilet. Then she started turning up to training fully changed.

"I'd never had any dealings with women's boxing before Savannah. I probably had my thoughts about it, and I guess I just wanted to get shot of her. I put her in with a tough lad and hoped if she took a few whacks I wouldn't see her again.

"But within a few minutes of getting in the ring for the first time, I saw the aggression and desire in her when she was trying to land punches. I knew she was something special, and she's got better every day since then.

"To be honest, the biggest problem with Savannah was getting her someone to fight against. There wasn't a lot of female boxers in the area, and because Savannah was always very tall for her age, it was really hard to get opponents sorted.

"I remember going to the ABA finals when she was 15 or 16 and thinking, 'I have no idea how good this girl is'. She'd only been sparring against boys in the gym so we had nothing to gauge her against.

"But she went into her first fight and stopped the girl she was up against within about 30 seconds. That pretty much answered our questions.

"She's a lovely girl, so dedicated and professional, but even though she's achieved so much, she's never lost track of her roots. After she'd won at the World Championships, the first thing she asked me was how another of the girls at the gym had got on in her first fight.

"She takes no notice of what people say to her or write about her. Sometimes, I wonder if she realises just how much she has achieved.

"How many kids from Hartlepool get to go to the Olympics? I think she's going to be the most famous person ever to come from the town. So famous, one day people might even stop talking about the monkey!"

Now a BBC commentator

"Savannah has proved that the old myths about women's boxing no longer apply. Along with Nicola (Adams) and Natasha (Jonas), she has shown tremendous skill and technique and is such a good ambassador that seeing her in the Olympics can only increase participation in women's boxing.

"I remember watching training with the England squad and the coach at the time told me this girl was going to be world champion one day. She had so much talent for someone so young and inexperienced.

"She might be shy outside the ring but inside she is so cool and collected and nothing fazes her. She will even take all this media attention in her stride. I have every faith she will go on to get the gold."

Also qualified for the Olympics

"Before I sparred with Savannah, I'd never sparred with a girl before, so of course you think about taking it easy and not punching too hard. But I soon realised Savannah could give as good as she got.

"I think we have both benefited enormously from our sparring sessions. Savannah winning the world title will give the British team a lift, and help us all find that extra five per cent that might make the difference."