My Dad The Guv’nor: Growing up in the shadow of one of East London’s most notorious fighters

Guvnors daughter

Guvnors daughter - Credit: Archant

Kelly McLean wants to reveal a different side to her dad in her debut book after learning more about her own mental health

Lenny McLean was six foot three and over 20 stone at his peak; a bare-knuckle fighter, bouncer, and towards the end of his life, actor in Guy Ritchie’s film Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Nicknamed the Guv’nor, he was known for his ties with notorious East London gangsters, his hot temper and surviving multiple attempts on his life. So what was it like growing up as the daughter of one of the old East End’s most formidable hardmen?

Kelly McLean wants to reveal the softer side to her late dad in her debut book My Dad The Guv’nor (John Blake Books £8.99), which has been released today through Bonnier Publishing. It chronicals key events in the McLean family life from Kelly’s perspective; from her earliest memories of living in the East End to what life looks like now after her dad died of lung cancer in 1998. It also tracks the family’s trajectory, often living just outside the law.

“People only know one side of my dad, which is the aggressive side - and there’s always two sides to people,” Kelly says. He had such a big heart. People say he was 20 stone of muscle but he was human and he was a proper dad. You’ve got other dads that were out drinking all the time, we always got up early on Sunday morning for rounds of toast.”

According to Kelly, he was a force to be reckoned with, a big joker and someone who showed his affections by “showering [his family] in gifts.” Kelly recalls when she was upset over her first ever break-up, her dad took her out and bought her a £10,000 jeep. She laughs: “We got back home and he asked me how I felt about George and I was like ‘George, who?’ He turned to my mum and said: ‘I told you that would work.’”

Lenny McLean earned a reputation for his violent reactions both in and out of the fighting ring. Kelly has a theory to explain her dad’s erratic temperament that has been informed by her own mental health struggles. She was diagnosed with cyclothymia, a chemical imbalance that manifests itself as a mild form of bipolar disorder where people swing between high and low moods.

In her book, she says she was told that the condition is hereditary and believes her dad must have had it too. She says she has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder since the book was published.

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“If I would have known then what I know now things might have been different and we could have helped him. It’s hereditary and I feel like he must have the same condition as me. I think a lot of the things he did weren’t his fault. I can only base it on my own experience, but someone could walk past and say something, I’ll hear it as someone having a pop at me and challenging me. Chemical imbalance means you don’t always see things how they are,” she says.

“My dad struggled with life, with silly little things that would just make him turn. He would go back to bed during the day. I do that too, it’s the best sleep I get because my mind is going a million miles an hour at night.”

Born into a working class family in Hoxton in 1949, Lenny McLean’s father died when he was six, leaving him to be raised by his mother, Rose, and later stepfather, Jim Irwin. A local conman, Irwin physically abused McLean throughout his childhood, unleashing regular beatings on him and his siblings. Filled with rage, Lenny became a fighter as he grew older, before mixing with gangsters – at one point associating with the Kray twins.

Of his career as a fighter and the attempts on his life, Kelly says: “We was never scared, we always knew he was going to win. I remember when he got shot. I stayed at my nan’s but I wasn’t scared. It was an unusual upbringing, I’d never change it for the world. It was exciting, never boring.”

She adds: “That book, every single page, is all from my memory. I’ve not asked a friend or relative or anything. It’s all my experience of my life and mental health. It took me about a year and a half, I did beauty before then stopped doing it to focus on the book. I don’t want to be well-known as the Guv’nor’s daughter, I want to be known for my story about mental health and raise awareness of it. I’m hoping by reading my book it will help other people realise the stuff that we go through.”