And behind Our 'Enry Cooper's success, lay a very poignant love story
Henry Cooper, tall, broad-shouldered and athletic, cut an imposing figure as he moved through the smoky surrounds of Peter Mario’s restaurant in London’s Soho. It was the late Fifties and the up-and-coming heavyweight boxer shyly acknowledged the back-slapping welcome of the gamblers and card sharks who were regulars at the popular Italian diner. But he had eyes for only one person – a petite, dark-haired Gina Lollobrigida lookalike called Albina Genepri, one of the waitresses and the secret object of his affections.
It would be two years before the diffident sportsman finally plucked up the courage to ask her out, but theirs was to be an enduring marriage that lasted 47 years.
Sir Henry, whose death last Sunday at the age of 76 unleashed a torrent of tender tributes for the best-loved of all British boxers, exemplified the plucky Englishman, gracious in victory, philosophical in defeat. His name was synonymous with integrity, decency and honesty.
The former plasterer from Beckenham in Kent became the nation’s champion and most popular sportsman, even though he never won a world title. He is the only boxer to have been knighted by the Queen – an honour he received in 2000.