'Mean Machine' medallist really changes his tune

Guitar man ... Neil Brooks busking in London "making a few bob, putting food on the table".
Guitar man ... Neil Brooks busking in London "making a few bob, putting food on the table".
Olympic heroes … Mark Kerry, Peter Evans, Neil Brooks and Mark Tonelli.

Olympic heroes … Mark Kerry, Peter Evans, Neil Brooks and Mark Tonelli.

THE ''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.

The former swimmer 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 is 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, he said he was finding it impossible to get work because of media reports on his business dealings.

Brooks said it was unlikely he would return to live in Australia, at least for now.

''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, and related to alcohol - a battle he now claims he has won.

A major reason for Brooks's departure from Australia was his 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 Brooks'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 songwriting has started to really develop.

''Before the weather got too cold in the UK 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 Cold 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 that many of his problems 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.''

Neil Brooks's autobiography In The Deep End will be released through Amazon on March 20.

This story 'Mean Machine' medallist really changes his tune first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.