Senior Boxing Journalist @JamesDielhenn
Ramla Ali: Boxing queen who inspired Meghan Markle
"It means a great deal to inspire young women, and to show them that they can have dreams beyond being a housewife"
Last Updated: 11/08/19 5:41pm
Ramla Ali, the war refugee turned boxing champion, hates phone calls from private numbers. Who doesn’t?
"I think someone will try to sell me something - 'have you been in a car accident?' No I haven't!"
But the phone kept ringing.
"I answered and she said: 'Ramla? This is Meghan'."
Ali was one of 15 women hand-picked by Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, to grace the cover of the September issue of British Vogue entitled 'Forces of Change'.
"She called me to say thanks for being on the cover - as if I'd say no!
"Three times, she called. It's quite funny that she was chasing me!
"She said: 'Thank you so much for being on the Vogue cover'. I said: 'don't worry, I will make time!'
"She didn't call herself the Duchess, she was so down to earth. It was amazing."
Did she save the phone number to Kensington Palace?
"It was private…"
Ali's inclusion on the Vogue cover alongside other inspirational females humbles her, and is the result of her work for Somalia, the country of her birth, and for fellow Muslim women.
Her life story so far warrants a movie, let alone a magazine.
Ali's family fled Somalia during its Civil War in the early 1990s. The state of the country meant that she isn't certain of her birth date, but she was a baby when they left. Her brother had already been killed by a stray grenade.
Via a dangerous boat journey to Kenya, the Ali family settled in London's east end. Young Ramla grew up in a traditional Muslim household.
In her early-teens, overweight by her own admission, she went to a boxing class. Somehow she hid this growing love from her parents, despite coming home with black eyes, until she was seen boxing on TV in 2014. By this point, her talent had been spotted but that wasn't welcome news for her parents who didn't believe it was an appropriate pastime for a young Muslim girl.
Ali married her trainer, Richard Moore, as she navigated the second perilous journey of her life - appeasing her family's religious beliefs and also her personal ambitions.
She won three major amateur tournaments in 2016 and represented England at the European Championship but only when her parents realised their daughter's desire to help people in Somalia did they finally accept her career choice.
"It means a great deal to inspire young women, and to show them that they can have dreams beyond being a housewife," she says. "If they want to get into sport they can. But I am also proud to be British - it's the only home I've ever known."
Ali set up the first boxing federation in Somalia and dreams of representing the African nation at the 2020 Olympics. But her commitment to her birth country has been tested.
"The mayor, who was a friend of ours, was killed the other day," she says.
Abdirahman Omar Osman, the mayor of capital city Mogadishu, was the only politician to support Ali in creating a boxing federation.
"A suicide bomber got into his office and blew herself up, killing him and six other people. These are the issues that are important in Somalia. Sport is right at the bottom but putting Somalia on the map is hopefully something."
Ali is not alone in her bid to raise the profile of Somalia in a bid to help with its problems.
"When I was younger it was a cuss to be Somali," she said. "I would hide it. I would say I was Arabic or Eritrean.
"Now, not just myself, but [model] Sabrina Dhowre or [Radio 1 DJ] Maya Jama, it's cool to be Somali.
"They message me. I met Sabrina Dhowre and was starstruck. I said: 'I love you, can I have a picture?'
"She said: 'I wanted to ask you for a picture!' I asked if [her husband] Idris Elba was there, too."
Ali has been signed to Anthony Joshua's management team but the bigger picture for her goes further than boxing.
"It's not just about Somali women, but all women," she said. "Have dreams to do whatever you want to do. There is more female boxing, and more sportswomen, in Africa now.
"Sport is booming in Africa and that's amazing to watch."Vasiliy Lomachenko faces Luke Campbell in a world lightweight title fight, Charlie Edwards defends his flyweight title, and Hughie Fury meets Alexander Povetkin in a heavyweight battle, on August 31 live on Sky Sports Box Office.