''MEAN Machine'' gold medallist Neil Brooks is busking on the streets of London, trying to earn a living.
Brooks, part of the 1980 Moscow Olympics gold medal-winning swimming relay team, went on to become a high-profile Channel Seven presenter before fleeing Australia with his wife Linda and son Levi and daughter Brooke in September 2010, after multimillion-dollar business deals collapsed amid claims and counter-claims of fraud.
Brooks was attacked on the Gold Coast by two men, and he claimed his life had been threatened, forcing him to go into hiding, first in France and then in England.
Brooks is now preparing to visit Australia with plans to sue Channel Nine's A Current Affair for defamation over stories it ran on his business collapse.
Brooks said he was putting his Olympic gold, silver and bronze and four Commonwealth Games gold and silver medals up as surety to pay legal fees.
Speaking from London this week, he said he was finding it impossible to get work because of media reports on his dealings. He said it was unlikely he would return to live in Australia, at least for the foreseeable future.
''The perception of being a fraud - albeit not true - is really difficult to live with. It hangs over my head every day like the toxic cloud that it is.'' Brooks agrees that many of his problems throughout his media career were self-induced, much of it down to alcohol - a battle he claims he has won.
A major reason for Brooks' departure from Australia was fear for the safety of his family. He's less anxious now.
''I totally have the booze under control,'' he said. ''There was a time when drinking was simply habit, but I lead a much healthier lifestyle now. I've started doing triathlon again and want to compete at the 2015 world championships in Adelaide for my age group, so I'm back training twice a day.
''Since leaving Australia in 2010 I've become an instructor in hand-to-hand combat specialising in knife and gun attacks and trained with guys that work with the CIA, Mossad and Secret Service.'' Now music dominates Brook's life. ''I've been a social musician most of my life, which was always just a bit of boozed-up fun most of the time in pubs and clubs,'' he said.
''But now I take it really seriously and because I've had so much spare time over the last couple of years I've worked really hard on my guitar playing to get to a level where I can seriously put something to market. And my song writing has started to really develop.
''Before the weather got too cold I was busking in town most days and making a few bob putting food on the table.
''I had an Aussie bloke walk past me one day with a few of his mates, they were backpacking around Europe and he says, 'Hey mate, do you know Khe Sanh by Chisel?' ''They thought I was just a local geezer, so I said back to him in a cockney accent, 'put five quid in me guitar case and I'll give it a go'. Easiest fiver ever made.'' Brooks admitted many of his problems throughout his career were down to his own reckless nature. ''I was always a flawed human being that generally came undone through not managing a serious drinking problem, particularly in my later swimming days and media career,'' he said.
''At the end of the day I can live with that but I'm not a fraud and I didn't steal $2 million. I have just had to remind myself that I am rebuilding every day to give my kids a legacy to be proud of.''
Neil Brooks' autobiography In The Deep End will be released through Amazon on March 20.
The story Busker Brooks tunes in to haul himself out of the deep end first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.