Monday, 9 June 2014 Prior to the upcoming World Cup, Brazil and inparticular Rio have been in the news a lot recently. Therefore I thought I would post the photograph above, taken there in 1988. I went to Rio several times in the ‘80s, with various English rock bands, and all were very keen to meet Ronnie whilst they were there. He always seemed happy to meet them too.
My recollection is of a friendly, humorous and intelligent man who was enormously welcoming. I went to his house, met his Brazilian family, swam in his pool and drank his beer.
I played him at pool once too. He easily beat me but then I suppose he had plenty of time on his hands to practice.
He seemed happy, keen even, to talk about his past but he certainly wasn’t a braggart. He didn’t seem particularly regretful but I think he accepted that he’d messed up and he certainly missed England badly.
I’m not one of those who lionizes gangsters and thugs but I do believe anyone is capable of achieving redemption. Whether Ronnie Biggs ever managed this it would obviously not be up to me to say. He certainly had enough time to contempt the errors of his youth. RIP Ronnie.
My photograph shows him happy and still in full health. After the series of strokes he had in 2009, the photographs that appeared of him in the British press did not show him at his best.
I loved Rio. It’s a huge city but one full of very friendly people and there is so much more to it than just the beaches, the favelas and the crime.
(For anyone who doesn’t know - Ronnie Biggs was a member of a large gang that robbed a mail train in 1963. They got away with £2.8 million, most of which was never recovered. The robbery was known as 'The Great Train Robbery' because, at that time, it was the most money that had ever been stolen in the UK in one go. He escaped from prison in 1965, went on the run and was a fugitive from British justice for 36 years. He died in December 2013.)