Ten years after becoming a world boxing champion, Stuart Hall is marking the anniversary with a special fundraising event in aid of a 10-year-old Darlington girl being treated for bone cancer. PETER BARRON reports

JUST as he was wondering how to mark the 10th anniversary of achieving his dream of becoming a world boxing champion, Stuart Hall found the answer on the school run.

He was dropping off his daughter, Rio, at Whinfield Primary School, in Darlington, when he saw another little girl in a wheelchair, waiting at the gates with her mum.

“Rio told me she was called Aimee, that she was really lovely, and that she had cancer,” says Stuart. “I couldn’t sleep that night, worrying about her, and wondering what I could do to help."

The result is that Stuart is arranging a fundraising event for 10-year-old  Aimee Johnstone (pictured below) at the Dolphin Centre, in Darlington, on the evening of December 11.

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“I'd been trying to work out what to do for the 10th anniversary and, suddenly, I knew the perfect way to mark it would be to try to support that little girl,” says the father-of-three.

“When I was boxing, I had to be a warrior for one night – Aimee is having to be a warrior every day.”

Indeed, 10-year-old  Aimee is known by her family as “Our Warrior Princess” because of her courage in coping with the treatment for Ewing sarcoma, a rare type of bone cancer.

The first sign that she was ill came during the summer holidays when a lump appeared on her jaw.

Initially, doctors suspected a swollen lymph node, and it was treated with anti-biotics. But when the lump didn’t go away, an ultrasound and MRI scan were arranged.

Aimee was referred to the Royal Victory Infirmary, in Newcastle, where the family met Dr Gail Halliday, a consultant paediatric oncologist.

"She is the most amazing lady I've ever met," says Aimee's mum, Jo. "She's so upbeat and promised us from day one that she would never lie to us."

A biopsy was carried out on September 6, Ewing sarcoma was diagnosed on September 11, and Aimee started the first of nine doses of chemotherapy within days.

In January, she'll undergo surgery to remove the cancer and replace her jawbone with bone from her leg.

The 10-hour operation will be followed by more chemotherapy, followed by six weeks of protein beam radiotherapy, which can only take place in either Manchester or London.

That means Aimee and her mum will need to relocate while dad, Darren, and the couple’s other children, Nathan, Jack and Katie, remain in Darlington.

“Aimee’s amazing," says Jo. "She’s taking everything in her stride, with a smile on her face, even though she’s going through things that no child should have to endure.

“It even includes fertility preservation – having her right ovary frozen – in case the treatment stops her from having children further down the line.

“She just loves to be with her friends and, if she can’t be with them, she likes to keep in touch through video calls.”

In addition to her friends, Aimee’s now got a former world boxing champion in her corner, with Stuart busy planning the Dolphin Centre fundraiser.

It will be my honour to interview him, in front of an audience, about his life story.

And what a story it's been. From growing up in Darlington as a self-confessed "bad lad", he went on to become British bantamweight champion in 2010, Commonwealth champion in 2012, then IBF World Champion  by beating South Africa's Vusi Malinga in December 2013.

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On top of reflecting on his achievements in the ring, Stuart will also be talking about “going off the rails” as a kid before joining the Darlington Amateur Boxing Club, run by the inspirational Lol Degnan.

“I was always in trouble – I got excluded six times from school – but boxing changed my life,” he says. "When I won that world title, and brought the belt home to Darlington, it finally meant I was a somebody."

These days, Stuart is on a mission to guide other youngsters away from trouble. He has his own business, called Hall of Famers, and works in partnership with Michael Snaith, who runs the Evolve Sports Academy.

Based at the Dolphin Centre, but also taking “Ringside Education” workshops around the region, Stuart helps schools with children who need additional support, beyond mainstream education.

“I want to put something back, and help kids avoid the mistakes I made when I was young,” he says.

“I urge them to follow their dreams – telling them that if they feel they can achieve something, they mustn't ever let anyone tell them anything different.”

At 43, Stuart remains in great shape. He’s gone two years without alcohol or caffeine, and is a firm believer in the benefits of an ice bath every morning.

“I feel a million dollars, so I’m putting all my energy into being a good dad, and trying to make a difference to other young lives. I want that to be my legacy,” he says.

While managing his business, he’s also been back into his old school – Hummersknott Academy – to run training sessions.

How ironic that someone who was expelled half a dozen times, is now honoured with a signed pair of his boxing shorts displayed in the school's reception area.

For now, his energy will be focused on helping Aimee with the fundraising evening on December 11.

"What's happening to Aimee has really touched my heart," he says.

"As a parent, all you ever want is for your children to be happy and healthy. This could happen to anyone, so let's do whatever we can to help."

The offer of support clearly means a lot to the Johnstone family: "I think it's lovely of Stuart to do this for us, especially as we're strangers. We're so grateful for his kindness," says Jo.

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Aimee's cancer treatment meant that a planned family trip to Disneyland Paris had to be cancelled. Instead, she's undergoing chemotherapy and preparing for surgery.

Once that's over, wouldn't it be wonderful if enough money could be raised to pay for her to visit Disneyland – perhaps even in Florida?

  • Tickets for the fundraising event in support of Aimee cost £25, and can be obtained through the Dolphin Centre, or by contacting Stuart Hall through social media.