By Ollie McAteer
I remember thinking at a very early age you can either be the sheep or the wolf.”
James Lambert chose to be the wolf.
He made a living gambling with his life in the ruthless underground world of bare-knuckle fighting.
Scenes of extreme and unforgiving violence were a normality. The mental trauma of what he’s witnessed continues to upset his sleep to this day.
If he wasn’t fighting for money (he never told me how much he made), he was fighting to defend members of The Outlaws biker gang.
One cold dark night in the Midlands was no exception.
“I remember hearing a distant rumble, at first I thought it was thunder,” says James, recalling his stint as a guardian for the notorious bikers.
He is a bouncer on a strip lined with bars run by The Outlaws.
His job is to stop members of the rival Hells Angels gang from getting anywhere near this part of the Midlands.
But that sound’s not thunder.
Some 70 Hells Angels bikers are coming for them.
James said he became flooded with fear as the gang sieged the high street.
They burst into bars, stole drink and started fights in what James describes as an extremely hostile and intimidating situation.
People’s lives were in danger.
Bouncers were seen fleeing from outside venues. They ran down the high street and told James to leave before it was too late.
But he didn’t move.
“I was preparing to go out on my shield,” he said, “but what happens next was almost a small miracle.”
After devastating a string of bars, the gang leader approaches James with his mob looming behind.
“It’s okay, we’ll leave this one,” the biker tells his clan.
72-hours before this same man had attempted to get inside the bar unaccompanied by any of his gang members.
James, who would have usually handled the situation in a less than peaceful manner, decided to change tack.
“I had treated this man with respect, and I believe it literally saved my life that night when I thought it was going to be the end.”
It was a defining moment. James had to leave that life behind out of fear one day his actions would catch up with him.
“It’s not like the movies,” he tells me.
“When someone gets stabbed they don’t get back up. When someone gets glassed in the face they’re left with visible scars.”
He said goodbye to the barbaric blood-soaked nights and, shamefully, a collection of broken hearts from a string of unsuccessful relationships.
It brought him here, in Horsham, years later at the age of 34.
We’re enjoying the peace and tranquillity of his quirky garden in The Pines. It’s a far cry from his home in the Midlands.
He sinks back into his chair and sips water.
James is covered in tattoos - including one of the Grim Reaper wielding a knife he wants removed - with a selection of gold teeth and a shaved head.
But you should never judge a book by its cover, my mum always said.
Because now this author and inspirational speaker has people queueing outside his home for happiness coaching.
“At the time I lived as James the fighter, I put a rod up my own back because I came away from myself and created this false persona that I began to think was real,” he speaks with such zeal and energy it almost looks tiring.
James tells me he remembers vividly a former headmaster poking him with two fingers in the chest and say nothing will ever come of him.
He blames no-one but himself for the life he’s led. And the grisly stories he has to tell ironically form the basis of his coaching.
Sharing these experiences and the journey to his own inner peace and happiness with the client is important.
It doesn’t involve religion which, I have to admit, is refreshing.
Most life-changing stories I’m blessed to hear will almost certainly be the work of God. At the risk of going to far - I think it’s the easy way out.
James believes: “There is a fighter in all of us.
“You don’t have to had physically grappled with a man to be a fighter, but grappling with those text books to learn, grappling with those lonely nights studying.”
The question he will ask is why you have come to him. ‘Why’ is his ethos.
“It always starts with a why,” he explained.
Why James had to change is because every time he fought ‘it was a matter of life and death’. He never lost a fight, but he could only be lucky so many times.
So what is the secret of being happy? I ask.
“Just be happy. A lot of people do this and do that, but we’re human beings not human doings. As soon as I realised that the whole world changed.”
He added: “The greatest treasures in life are hidden in plain sight. At the end of the day on someone’s death bed no one says ‘please bring me my Mercedes-Benz’. It’s the people we love.”
For James, it’s his wife Nickey, who he has to thank for his transition from brutal fighter to the happy man he is today.
He’s is certainly a talker. But he doesn’t bore me in the slightest. Time has flown by and before I know it I’ve given him my life story, really personal stuff too. Dreams, aspirations, love life - it’s all covered. I’m surprised I’m telling him all this but he’s taking so much genuine interest in me I feel like the most important person in Horsham.
The happiness coach motivates me, and when I get home that night I do something I should have done a long time ago.