From being bullied to millionaire businessman
BLM met with Matt Fiddes – successful South West entrepreneur and celebrity, to find out more about what it takes to succeed.
“I didn’t do too well at school. I was shy and bullied and I’d been to five different primary schools to try and solve the issue. I then came across martial arts and Tae Kwon Do in particular.
“I became hooked on it. I was in awe of my instructor and I came back energised and realised there was something I was good at.”
Training every night
“I became a martial arts addict and I was training every night. The bullying stopped at school; not because I could defend myself, but because I learnt how to avoid conflict.
“I soon decided I wanted to become an instructor – but it was a ridiculous idea as there was no such thing. My mum was a lawyer and my dad worked for British Rail.
School was irrelevant
“Despite doing my best at school I failed everything. I remember being in Maths class once and felt the test and lesson was pointless. The whole thing was nonsense. So I wrote a list of goals on the back of my Maths book – one of which was to become the world’s greatest martial arts instructor.”
“This was when I was 13 and my mother still has the book. I just felt that school was irrelevant to how you become successful in business. Don’t get me wrong, school is important if you want to be a doctor for example, but it wasn’t for me.
“I wrote down goals and put timeframes next to them. One of them was that I wanted to be a millionaire by the time I was 20, and I made it happen.
“I left school at sixteen with no qualifications. My first job was as a personal trainer because I wanted to gain some experience.”
“I had no money whatsoever and decided to move to Barnstaple, Devon, and work as a lifeguard. I used my time wisely and started to study great business people and martial arts experts.
“I was eighteen and my girlfriend and I were living in a bedsit and she said to me ‘you keep talking about this dream of yours, just go and do it’. So she gave me a briefcase and said get on with it.
“I had no choice. I went for it and opened my first martial arts school. Within six months I had 500 members all paying decent money.”
“A friend said to me the USA was way ahead of the UK in regards to martial arts as they had thousands of schools with thousands of members, we just haven’t cottoned on to it in the UK.
“So I went to the USA and I was blown away. Back in the UK, I tried some of these methods. Some worked but some didn’t.”
First to make martial arts professional
“The result of my trip to America was that I was the first in the UK to make martial arts professional, and instead of collecting money at the end I put people on direct debits like gyms do.
“I kept studying the greats and brought the best back to the UK and implemented it.
“The school went mad and when I was 17 I opened my first proper premises. I couldn’t sign a lease because of my age but my girlfriend at the time, who was 18, changed her surname to mine and signed it.
“This opened in January 1996 and in seven months it was full up with 800 members. I was gaining serious media attention and people were saying ‘who the hell is this teenager in Devon doing this?”
“Magazines were interested and put me on the front cover as a wonder boy. But there was massive resistance and death threats from others operating in the industry. Things like graffiti and smashing my cars up – you couldn’t imagine it.
“I was the lead dog and that meant people were going to shoot me down. I was the first to commercialise martial arts in the UK.
“With so many people trying to destroy my reputation it just motivated me to go harder and succeed.
“And you know, the most exciting thing wasn’t making my first million but making my first thousand pounds.”
Hitting the million
“I’d never earnt a thousand pounds before in my life so when I did I was on cloud nine. It was better than hitting the million because at the time it meant more.
“I ended up with 118 schools across the South West and a news agency picked up on this.
“It was a guy who would supply stories to national newspapers from the Devon and Cornwall region. Not a lot happens there and he wanted to do a feature on me.”
Bullied boy becomes millionaire
“I naively asked if it would make the local paper. The next day it was in every national newspaper – bullied boy becomes millionaire.
“My story got the attention of businessman and celebrity Uri Geller.
“He liked what I was doing – helping kids achieve their goals and wanted to do an anti-bullying video with me.
“We produced the video and through this became very close friends. He was my mentor. If I was upset by bad press he’d say ‘big deal don’t worry about it and call me when you have a real problem.”
Didn’t believe in time
“One of the things about Uri is that he doesn’t believe in time. There was one time when he called me at 3am in the morning. He said come to my house now or you’ll regret it for the rest of your life.
“It was a three-hour journey and it seemed very strange but I left and got to his house. I could see three black SUV’s on the drive. I walked into the house and this guy came up to me and shook my hand. It was Michael Jackson.”
“I thought it was a prank. But Michael was being ripped off by security firms and he needed a bodyguard and security. I was financially free and I didn’t want anything from Michael. Uri trusted me and Michael could trust me.
“So I became his bodyguard. It’s hard to describe his life until you live it.
“Michael was a huge motivator to me, you don’t become the biggest star in the world unless you’re one clever man.
“He was very business-like and shrewd. It’s hard to get this across but, for example, when we went to a new city he would sit down and workout how he could be on the front page of all of the tabloids that week.
“How could he override a speech to the queen? And he always managed to do so.
“And if it wasn’t for him Matt Fiddes Martial Arts wouldn’t be where it is today. I was moaning to him and saying I couldn’t get it out of the South West.
“But he said that I was talking rubbish and said that if he could sell albums all over the world then I could do it too. He said just franchise it.
“So I went to a firm in Bristol and they said what you are running is a franchise anyway – you’ve just got to let people buy it and run with it. The rest is history.”