CHANGE: MC Harvey [left] and Leon McKenzie
MUCH LIKE Harvey, McKenzie has also, sadly, hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Last month he was jailed for six months for sending bogus letters to police in a bid to avoid a driving ban. But even with the court case looming at the time of our interview, the former footballer was hopeful that others might learn from his mistakes and do better.
“I have made a load of mistakes,” the 33-year-old said remorsefully. “But my story can definitely help people. If I can do that through music and inspire kids not to make the same mistakes then that’s great.”
Many famous folks have been on the wrong side of the law and gone on to achieve success, so there’s no reason McKenzie can’t do the same. And with a strong desire to pursue his musical ambitions, it’s a relief that, unlike many other wannabe pop stars, he actually can sing.
Success for McKenzie, the son of former British and European boxing champion Clinton McKenzie, would perhaps be even more gratifying, when one considers some of the experiences of his past.
Boxing clever: young Leon with his dad Clinton McKenzie
In 2000, he lost his sister after she committed suicide at the age of 23, and in 2006, he went through a bitter divorce from his first wife. Having also battled with depression, things came to a head in 2010 when the sportsman tried to take his own life by downing a lethal concoction of Jack Daniels and sleeping pills.
“The last four years have been horrific,” he says. “Things that have happened in my life… I had to start all over again. I was in shock for a good few years, I wasn’t really myself. It wasn’t until later on in my career that [depression] caught up with me and knocked me side ways."
“But I got through it because I spoke to a lot of people. I have a fantastic family around me and I have beautiful kids,” says the father of four. “And of course, music helps. I used to go to the studio after training and record music. In the last year or so, if I didn’t have music I don’t know where I would be today. It fulfilled the role when my football career ended.”
Now, the singer has become an advocate against depression and helps other footballers who need support to fight against the illness.
“Unfortunately depression is still not taken that seriously. The reason I took it upon myself to speak about the illness when I was ready to, was because after I came out of the situation when I tried to take my life, I didn’t think there was enough support within football or from the FA (Football Association).
“Since then, I have done a few articles and TV appearances and I’ve had three footballers contact me; men I have never spoken to in my career who told me that my story has inspired them and how they are struggling and wanted to know how to get help.”
Looking forward, McKenzie believes that he has been lucky to embark of a musical career; something he owes, in part, to his long time friend Harvey.
“The transition [to music] and timing has really been a blessing and I couldn’t have done it without the team that Harvey has joined me with. It’s a team thing and I have to thank many people, in pushing me forward. Obviously, I owe Harvey a lot.”
Support: Harvey (back left) was there for McKenzie when he arrived at court for sentencing last month
Harvey explained the history that the two men shared, from their early days in south London to becoming well-known personalities.
“We’ve been friends since we were kids; we were both footballers before we were musicians. Leon was a guy that all the youngsters looked up to. He signed a professional contract at the age of 17 and was very good. I didn’t know anything about his singing until the beginning of last year and he sent me the stuff and I took it on. He sent me Finally in November last year and I just knew [it could work].”
For someone who has had an accomplished sporting career, McKenzie is humbled by the fact that he has a chance to produce music and build another dream career. He and Harvey have also launched their own record label M&L Recordings, through which they will release their single.
“I have been able to live two dreams,” McKenzie says. “I just want to make music that people will enjoy and I want to be accepted as an artist and respected as a singer. That’s the bottom line.”
Finally is out now on M&L Recordings