Mother of murdered soldier Lee Rigby speaks of support from wrestling legend Kendo Nagasaki

The famous unmasking of Kendo Nagasaki has been recreated to raise money for the Lee Rigby Foundation

Legendary wrestler Kendo Nagasaki, aka Peter Thornley, was unmasked by Lyn Rigby
Legendary wrestler Kendo Nagasaki, aka Peter Thornley, was unmasked by Lyn Rigby

It is perhaps hard to believe in this day and age that 14 million people would tune in to a British wrestling event.

But that is exactly what happened in 1977 during the highly-anticipated unmasking of wrestling legend Kendo Nagasaki at Wolverhampton Civic Hall.

It was a time before Netflix and BBC iPlayer - when families up and down the country crowded around their TV sets to watch ITV's World of Sport.

And that famous unmasking of Kendo Nagasaki - real name Peter Thornley - was recreated at Darlaston Town Hall to raise money for the Lee Rigby Foundation.

Lee's mother Lyn did the honours more than 40 years on from the event, by removing the mask in front of excited fans.

Lee Rigby

Peter and Lyn have become close friends over the last couple of years through work they have done together for the foundation, named in honour of her son who was horrifically killed by terrorists in London in 2013.

She now lives on Peter's estate in north Staffordshire.

Kendo's appearance at the event, which also featured wrestling matches, also saw him launch his autobiography 'Kendo Nagasaki and the man behind the Mask', which forms part of a bid to raise £1million for the Lee Rigby Foundation.

In contrast to his sporting persona, Peter Thornley is a Zen Buddhist who, until now, has strenuously avoided the limelight. However, his book sees him delve into his life inside and outside the ring.

Peter said of his friendship with Lyn: "I spoke to her and thought we could do more together and that I could help her. She came to live on the site and we got closer and closer. We are a real sort of family unit."

Lyn said: “I owe my life to him for doing this for my family.”

“He is portrayed as this evil wrestler but Peter Thornley has got a heart of gold. He would do anything for anybody.”

Grieving mother who found a new purpose

“It has given me peace. It has helped me sleep at night.”

Five years on from the moment her world came crashing down, Lyn Rigby is content. And it is all thanks to an unlikely partnership with a former wrestler.

Her son Lee Rigby is known to everyone, his name instantly recognisable and synonymous with horror and terror.

And while millions shared in the grief following the solider’s shocking killing on the streets of London in 2013, no-one felt the loss like Lyn and her husband Ian.

The death of any son is traumatic – but Lee’s young life was taken in the full glare of the public eye, in such as sickening and shocking way as his name became a byword for terrorism. Thrown into the spotlight of the national media, their lives would never be the same again and it all became too much for his mother Lyn.

The death of Lee Rigby remains one of the most shocking attacks in the UK and the five years since have been dominated by grief, anger, trauma and heartache.

Far from the chaos of London, where Lee died aged 25 at the hands of sadistic terrorists, and the suffocating daily ordeal of Manchester, where the family lived and had to cope with police interviews and reporters camped on their doorstep, you will now find the family in rural Staffordshire, where they have found a new home and a new calling.

Lyn’s grief and loss has turned to strength and is being channelled to help other families who have suffered tragedies as well as ex-servicemen adapting to life outside of the forces.

On a country estate in the north of the county lies Lee Rigby House, a place where grieving families can get away from it all, talk, recover and reconnect. In fact, they can do whatever they please – that was the whole point of the venture.

Ian and Lyn Rigby, step-father and mother of murdered soldier Lee Rigby

The man the Rigbys have to thank for this is Peter Thornley, better known to many as Kendo Nagasaki, the wrestling TV star of the 1970s who was famously unmasked at Wolverhampton Civic Hall.

Peter reached out and offered to meet Lyn and help her boost the Lee Rigby Foundation. He gave her a building in the grounds of his Staffordshire mansion, near Cheadle, which was transformed to become Lee Rigby House.

Lyn, aged 52, has said she fell into a ‘deep, dark hole’, following her son’s death but working with Peter to establish the house has given her a new focus.

She told the Express & Star: “When Lee died we didn’t really get any support. Most charities didn’t support us as we weren’t classed as next of kin. I got talking to military bereaved mums in the same situation and they asked me to set up a retreat, somewhere to go and escape together as a family. It was difficult for us to get together with the police, reporters and everything.

“We started the foundation but we got a lot of knockbacks in the first year. It took us three years to get a charity number then out of the blue one of the team mentioned Kendo Nagasaki.

"He showed us round the estate, we got chatting and when we came to the property I just cried, I burst into tears. It is so peaceful. We invited bereaved military families and we have had veterans and families of victims of terror.”

“We had a mother and daughter stay who didn’t see much of each other and they spent a lot of time together. It has all been positive and people are rebooking.”

As well as helping visitors, the project has had a cathartic affect on Lyn. She said: “Peter invited us to come and live down here. It was very hard for me because I lived in that house for 20 years, with Lee growing up, but it is the best thing I have ever done.

“When I lived in Middleton I never went out of the door, I was crying all the time and had nothing to do. Here I can go into the town and people are not staring at me, they are smiling at me now. It has given me peace. It has helped me sleep at night.”

Peter said: “We do things Lyn wanted to do, looking after families who have had bereavement. It is very touching. If you are exposed to it, it is hard to resist helping. We have become very close and have become like family.”

Lyn said she is indebted to Peter, whose character couldn’t be more different to his nasty wrestling persona.

She said: “I owe my life to him for doing this for my family.”

“He is portrayed as this evil wrestler but Peter Thornley has got a heart of gold. He would do anything for anybody.”

Lyn added: “We are looking to the future, building a legacy for Lee, keeping his memory alive and helping others. We want Lee to be remembered for this, not the brutal murder he went through.”

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