Big Daddy’s ‘little princess’ reveals softer side of wrestler

Jane Ward
Jane Ward

He was one of Halifax’s most famous sons who became a household name to millions.

Now, the real man behind Shirley Crabtree - better known as Big Daddy - has been revealed in a new book ghost written by his daughter Jane Wade, of Siddal, Halifax.

A victorious Big Daddy

A victorious Big Daddy

She said away from the wrestling ring Big Daddy liked the simple pleasures in life and was a very private person.

Jane recalled her memories for the book by Ryan Danes, a lifelong wrestling fan.

“He was a normal guy who left good memories,” she said.

“He liked nothing better than calling at Brackenbed Fisheries for fish and chips and bringing them here on a Friday night to watch Shooting Stars.”

Big Daddy was born into poverty in Halifax in November 1930 and died in December 1997.

He became a double European heavyweight champion and was known for his 64in chest, which earned him a place in the Guinness Book of Records, and Big Daddy leotards.

Twenty-six stone plus Big Daddy was still wrestling up to the mid-1990s by which time he was hero worshipped by millions from his regular stints on ITV’s World of Sport on Saturday afternoons.

Jane said in his later years as his health deteriorated and he couldn’t train it was very difficult for him as he loved wrestling.

“He used to train every day without fail and always polished his wrestling boots before he went to bed, no matter what time he got back.

“Wrestling was his life. He loved the buzz off the crowds and making people happy. That is why he struggled with having to pack it up.”

Jane recalled his time on This is Your Life with Eamonn Andrews in 1979 when she was just eight-years-old.

“I forgot my words and that was edited out. My dad thought it was funny,” she said.

Jane said helping write the book had been therapeutic and she was proud to have been his “little princess.”

Big Daddy adopted her as a toddler after meeting her mother Eunice, and for many years the family lived at Mill Bank.

Jane often travelled with him to bouts around the country and it was only when she was older she became aware of how famous he was.

“He got a buzz from it but he’d walk through the door at home and he was just Dad, quiet and low-key,” she said.

“He was the kind of man who was happy with two pounds in his pocket, a flask of tea and his boots.”

He suffered a series of minor strokes and died of a stroke in Halifax General Hospital.

“Who’s the Daddy? The Life and Times of Shirley Crabtree” by Ryan Danes is published by Pitch Publishing, £17.99, and will be in stores from August 22 and online.