He captured the hearts of people around the world and was truly a global icon. So it proved to be a memorable occasion when Muhammad Ali visited Alnwick in July 1977.
The three-time heavyweight boxing champion of the world, who died on Friday, came to the town during a stint in the North East, when he toured local boxing clubs as well as taking in the sights of the area.
Ali, who was champion at the time, visited Alnwick Castle and later sent a signed photograph of himself to the then-Duke and Duchess of Northumberland.
A contemporary report in the Gazette, dated July 22, 1977, reads: “Ali’s wife expressed the wish to see ‘a good castle’ and Alnwick was the choice. Word soon spread round the castle, and crowds of lucky visitors were assembled to give the champ a rapturous welcome.
“The Ali party arrived in style in a string of Mercedes together with a posse of pressmen. They stayed for about an hour and had a good look round the castle and Ali autographed a number of guide books. It was quite an occasion for everyone.”
Ali did not meet the Duke and Duchess, as they were away from the castle at the time. However, the legendary boxer sent a signed photograph of himself to the Duke and Duchess two years later. It read: ‘To the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland. Best wishes from Muhammad Ali, three times Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the World. Service to others is the price we pay for our room here on Earth. 19.11.1979, time 1.55am, Los Angeles, California.’
The photograph went on show in 2011 during anniversary celebrations at the castle.
One Gazette reader said Ali stayed overnight in Felton and was pictured with long-serving Alnmouth policeman PC Norman Foster.