Since he was thrust into the limelight at 20, Alex Turner has cast himself as a writer, not a fighter. Onstage the Arctic Monkeys singer may play the swaggering frontman, but off it he has the bookish air that comes with quoting John Cooper Clarke poems, extolling the virtues of Leonard Cohen and Scott Walker and dreaming up concept records about interstellar ennui.
It’s an image that suits the finest lyricist of his generation, but one that’s hard to square with a devotion to Muay Thai, the intense Thai kick-boxing style known as “the art of eight limbs”. In August, shortly before announcing the imminent release of seventh Arctic Monkeys album The Car, Turner told French paper L’Equipe he’d been practising the combat sport for more than a decade. “I discovered this discipline about 12 years ago, when I was in a nightclub in New York,” Turner said of Muay Thai, which is similar to Brazilian jiu-jitsu or MMA (mixed martial arts). “I was talking to a security guard from the north of England and he encouraged me to train with him. I really enjoy it; it’s good for your body and your head. During the sessions you don’t think about anything else.”
Turner is far from the only celebrity figure to fling himself into the ring. Venom actor Tom Hardy recently won three jiu-jitsu tournaments in the space of a month, while the late chef and travel show host Anthony Bourdain was also a regular competitor. In the L’Equipe interview, Turner played down the likelihood of him ever following Hardy’s Action Man-esque lead. “I have to be honest,” said Turner. “I will never have the level to fight one day in a cage like a UFC fighter.”
Still, even if he has no plans to challenge Conor McGregor to a dust-up there’s clearly something about Muay Thai that has helped Turner stay fighting fit. The singer and I are around the same age, yet the only forms of exercise I’ve ever excelled at have been hiking to and from the pub and crawling in and out of bed, often several times a day. Like many writers, my life has involved a lot more Mai Tais than Muay Thai. I struggle to think of much that appeals less than voluntarily getting kicked in the head by a stranger, yet I can’t help but wonder if this lack of discipline is the reason I’m yet to appear alongside Turner on the Sunday Times Rich List. Maybe there is something of value to be learned in the ring.