“Like Harry Redknapp, I can’t write but it’s not stopped me from becoming a multi-millionaire – I hope my story inspires others.”
Celebrity bodyguard/trainer and local fitness entrepreneur Matt Fiddes reveals how football boss Redknapp has inspired him to come clean after hiding his secret for years.
Matt said: “My handwriting was always terrible when I was at school and I just wasn’t very academic either. I was then sent for tests and they discovered I was left-handed and for years I had been forced to write with my right hand which explained why my handwriting was a mess.
“They tried to get me to change but it was too late – it was too late for me to turn it around.
“I failed all my exams when I was at school. I can read just fine and I like to read a lot of non-fiction, I just can’t write but when I was at school, I decided it didn’t matter if I couldn’t write as I already knew I wanted to train and focus on being a martial artist and to teach martial arts. It’s what I have always been good at naturally.
“School was a waste of time for me. I didn’t want to be a doctor or a vet or anything that needed academic qualifications.”
Matt is not wrong. More than 20 years after he opened his first school in Braunton in 1997 and then his full-time centre on Castle Street in Barnstaple in 1998, he now boosts over 1,200 schools all around the world.
Matt first began to show interest in martial arts as a young boy at school because he was being bullied. Matt in the end moved schools four times to escape the bullies.
He said: “My mother was worried at the time and encouraged me to take self-defence classes after school. Once I’d started, that was it, I would then sit in class day-dreaming of the day I would own the most successful chain of martial arts schools in the world.”
Matt began his business at 17 with £100 he has saved up from lifeguarding at the local swimming pool at Barnstaple’s North Devon leisure centre, working for £2.75 per hour.
With this money he opened his first class in Caen Street primary school in Braunton on a Sunday in 1997.
“Unfortunately, it was a total failure,” explains Matt. “No-one turned up that day, I was gutted! I then went home and turned on the TV to find out that Princess Diana had been killed in a car crash.”
Matt decided to re-launch a few weeks later and a dozen or so people showed up at his Braunton class. Matt was soon so busy he took on a lease in Barnstaple at the Castle street building – which he still has to this day – and quickly the word spread.
And fast forward two decades he is highly regarded as the industry expert for martial arts and a leading fitness entrepreneur and sought after by celebrities and businesses to consult them on the way forward. Ironically his story would lead him into the inner circles of Princess Diana’s world and superstars such as Michael Jackson, Kim Kardashian and Britney Spears.
He says: “I want kids to know not to give up on your dreams and you can go on to achieve success without formal qualifications.
“I’ve been inspired to talk about not being about to write after I found out Harry Redknapp also doesn’t write well. People laugh at my handwriting and wonder what language it is!
“I’ve managed to hide the fact that I can’t write for years. My wife Moniqe couldn’t believe I struggled to write and when we first met I hid it from her. Then one day she found the notes I write to myself in my scrawled, messy, child-like writing and I told her the truth. My wife has to fill out forms for me when needed, I just have to sign!
“Now I want to talk about it to help others realise there is nothing to be embarrassed about and I hope that my story might help a child or teenager who is being bullied for their inability to write.
“I was bullied for years when I was at school because of it but it didn’t stop me from starting my own business and creating a successful international franchise worth £30m and property empire.”
Since the age of 18, Matt has been investing in accommodation for families in Devon and now has plans to expand his Devon property portfolio.
In a bizarre twist of fate, Matt’s first school bully Anthony Reape reached out to him and they met for the first time in 30 years on ITV’s This Morning to encourage forgiveness.
They returned to the show 12 months later after becoming firm friends and now run anti-bully talks together. Anthony is the Matt Fiddes Martial Arts official anti-bullying ambassador.
He is now planning to invest millions back into the community and will be providing affordable housing across Devon.
He added: “There is a shortage of rental property in Devon and I want to change that over the next five years.”