Growing up in Staffordshire, Darren Matthews always wanted to be a wrestler. Today, as William Regal, he is one of the best known stars on the roster of American sports entertainment giant World Wrestling Entertainment. It's been an eventful journey, he tells Chris Pryke...
Wrestling may not seem an obvious choice of career. But it was the only thing Darren Matthews ever wanted to do.
Growing up in Codsall Wood, Staffordshire, in the 1970s, he was captivated by the exploits of Marty Jones, Cyanide Sid Cooper and British wrestling's other big names on ITV'sWorld of Sport on a Saturday afternoon.
Having had his appetite whetted further by trips to shows at Wolverhampton Civic Hall, he left home as a teenager and moved to Black-pool to pursue his dream.
Today, as William Regal, he is one of the most experienced and widely respected wrestlers on the roster of the multi-million-pound American sports entertainment company World Wrestling Entertainment.
But the glitz, glamour and razzmatazz that surrounds wrestling in the US is a far cry from the shows that first got him interested in the business.
"Originally I watched the shows on Saturday afternoon at 4pm, and my grandfather had done a little bit or wrestling and boxing and it was the wrestling side that fascinated me, the whole spectacle of it all," the 37-year-old said.
"Something captivated me and it's never left me, and I've been lucky enough to do it and make a living out of it.
"When I was 15 I started hanging around at Blackpool Pleasure Beach because they had a wrestling booth there and eventually they took me into the show and I've been doing it for 22 years now.
"I moved to Blackpool when I was 16 and that's where I consider home, even though I've lived in America for 12 years."
After getting his first foot-hold in the business in Black-pool, he wrestled all over the UK for a variety of different promotions - finding himself
in the ring with people like Big Daddy, Giant Haystacks and Kendo Nagasaki - and also travelled across the world. Then, in 1993, he moved to America and has lived and worked there ever since. But he still misses England and always enjoys coming back here to wrestle.
"I love coming back to the UK and doing the shows. If it was up to me I'd do a lot more here," he said.
"I get very homesick. Even though I've been living in the US for 12 years now I still call England my home and I always will.
"I may be a bit biased but the fans seem to me to be far better than anywhere else. They're more enthusiastic and loud."
And despite William Regal being one of the WWE's best-known bad guys, he always gets welcomed as a hero by UK audiences.
"They've tried everything to get people to boo me," he said. "The thing about the stuff I do is, in the US they take everything seriously - even when I do funny things they can hate me at the same time. Over there they know it's all a big wind-up and just enjoy it. The more villainous I am, the more they go with it."
Surprisingly, Midland rock legend Noddy Holder features prominently among the key influences on Regal's in-ring character.
"The things I remember from my childhood are watching wrestling, the show The Comedians, and Slade, and I think all three of those things had a big influence on me.
"Noddy Holder had a big influence on me with the charisma part of my character and The Comedians with the comedy, and luckily enough I've been able to use it all."
When he arrived in America in 1993, he wrestled for WWE's then arch-rivals WCW and, like other British wrestlers before him, his in-ring character was a posh Englishman keen on civilising the natives. It is a character that he's developed over time and enjoys playing.
He said: "Pat Roach was in the US in the early 1970s and wrestled as Lord Pat Roach and all the English wrestlers worked as lords. At first I started with a very Terry-Thomas voice and it went from there.
"I just got comfortable with being myself over a period of time and I'm comfortable with the character. It's not the way I am in my personal life but it's not a stretch for me to do it."
His journey to the top has not been without its problems, however.
A battle against drink and drug addiction nearly killed him and almost destroyed his family. Then a major heart problem left him seriously ill in hospital and facing the prospect of a heart transplant and the end of his wrestling career.
But he defied the doctors, battled back to fitness, and is now back performing in one of WWE's two flagship shows, SmackDown! He still looks forward to getting into the ring as much as he did at the start of his career, although he admits that has not always been the case.
"I do enjoy it," he said. "I got sick a few years ago but before that, although I didn't realise it at the time, I'd allowed myself to fall into the trap of just coasting by.
"I ended up not enjoying it because I was working doing matches to other people's abilities instead of trying to push it as I was taught to do. I came back with a new attitude and now I go out and tear it up every night."
And, despite having lived and worked around the world, when he returns to the UK he always spends time in the Midlands visiting family.
He said: "My nan lives in Warley, my dad lives in Codsall, so I'm in that area quite a bit when I'm in England."