After winning a major competition three years ago, taekwondo champion Bianca Walkden decided to use the prize money to create a business with her family and opened Di Scala Pizzeria in Liverpool.
As she prepares to represent Team GB in taekwondo at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, we chatted with Bianca and her parents at their restaurant about the importance of home support, family, and her dreams for Tokyo.
Why did you decide to open a pizza restaurant?
We’re Italian so we’ve always wanted a restaurant, and it’s coming up to three years since we opened our pizzeria. I earned some prize money from the World Championship and instead of blowing it like normal, I thought I want to do something with the family and create a little business together. We love pizza, we love bread, so we thought it was a perfect opportunity to open the pizzeria. It’s nice to have something for after taekwondo as well.
It’s amazing to be able to do it with my family, my mum and dad, and be able to show a different side so it’s not just taekwondo all the time. I can show the Italian in me, the food I love, and show it off to the world by selling some pizzas!
Who is the boss in the restaurant?
The boss in the restaurant is technically me but I think my mum wins that one. If I come back from Tokyo with gold hopefully we can make a golden pizza – you’ll have to wait and see what happens.
How have your parents supported you?
My mum and dad have supported me since day one along with all my siblings. They’ve always made us feel that no matter what you want to do in the world, you can do it. They are so positive about it and encourage us to train hard and put the hard work in. We are the people we are today because of my mum and dad and we couldn’t have asked for any more.
I was a bit of a wild child, always doing something or playing out. I wanted to play in the park all the time and I was a bit of a tomboy. I grew into being quite competitive and before I knew it, when I was 11 I joined taekwondo with my friend Becky one day after school and I’ve never looked back. I remember seeing everyone kicking and screaming at each other, with these different coloured belts on and white suits, and thinking ‘what the hell’s going on?’. But I absolutely fell in love with it and before I knew it I’m sitting here as world champion.
Why is home support so important?
We know that supporters will be watching on TV and hopefully they’ll put the flags up to show their support. I've already seen the Purplebricks Home Support artwork outside homes and it’s amazing. To know everyone is behind us from home is the push we need as we go out to Tokyo and do it for the nation.
As a Liverpudlian, we all make sure we support each other and back each other up. I have that natural Scouse fighting spirit inside me and hopefully I’ll come back to Liverpool with that gold medal.
Tell us about your Grandad.
I’ve got my grandad’s necklace, who is no longer with us, and I’ll be taking that with me to wear for the Olympics.
Di Scala is my mum’s maiden name and my grandad is the Italian one. He was born in Naples and we created this through him. This keeps him alive. The day he passed away was the day of my first senior World Championship gold. I just remember trying to ring home to tell him and he wasn’t there. With this restaurant and with the family, it keeps him alive and that’s the biggest thing we take from it, trying to keep his legacy and the family name alive.
What do you love most about taekwondo?
The biggest thing I fell in love with was the different kicks and actions you could do. It wasn’t straightforward, there were so many techniques and patterns to learn. To be honest, I liked the fighting side mostly! It was just the dynamic and the fact that in one second everything can change and you can go from winning a match to being knocked out or bringing it back from losing. I like that unknown more than anything.
I was 15 when I got on to the Great Britain team and had to move from Liverpool to Manchester. I had to change schools and say goodbye to my mum and dad. It was a big change for a child, being so young. It was something I took a leap of faith with and just went for. But I had that support from my mum and dad - they’d be ringing me every day to make sure I was ok, giving me more pocket money if I’d spent it. It must have been so different for them but I’m just happy they supported me to pursue my dream.
My parents would come to big competitions in Manchester but it’s so expensive to go away, especially when I was competing abroad, so internationally I would go with the team. Every time I had the chance to fight in the UK, my parents were there supporting me all the time and cheering me on. Everyone knows them now – especially my dad, he shouts so loud in the crowd, shouting ‘no mercy’ and making sure I give everything I’ve got. We’re more known for him shouting than me fighting!
My dad used to box when he was younger so has that natural fighting instinct in him, that’s why he says ‘no mercy’ to me all the time. I have definitely taken that from him. My mum is so positive and creative and makes us believe we can do anything. I have elements from both mixed in and I couldn’t have asked for any more.
What are your memories from Rio?
My family came to Rio with me. I remember walking out for the semi-final, going for my medal, and there were so many mixed emotions at the time. I remember walking out and seeing them in the crowd, which made me think ‘I’m going to do it for them’. For them to not be here in Tokyo is not going to be the same but I know they’ll be here for me day in, day out and I have their support from home. I’ll always know that and cherish that when I’m out in Tokyo.
Everyone tries to switch off and not speak to people but I’ll probably ring them the night before. I won’t ring them on the day – I won’t speak to them until I’ve won that gold medal. On that one day it’s tunnel vision concentrating then hopefully I can Facetime them and show them the medal.
It was just the fact I knew I could run to them in the crowd, no matter what happened on the day, good or bad they would have been there for me. That’s the biggest thing to take from it; our families are there no matter what in the highs and the lows.
Do you feel ready for the Olympics?
If you ask any athlete, they’ll always want more time to make sure they are in the best shape but I feel ready to go. Coming back from winning the European Championships was a nice boost. We haven’t had many competitions through lockdown. But going out and winning the Europeans has made me feel ready.
To hear the anthem play made me think ‘I want to be hearing this in Tokyo’, looking up and holding that gold medal. It makes you motivated and committed for the Olympics.
What other sports do you enjoy?
I love watching gymnastics, that’s the best thing to watch. We know Max Whitlock quite well and it would be great to see him defend his title. Internationally, Simone Biles is unbelievable so I’d love the chance to see her if we are allowed to. Dina Asher-Smith, Adam Gemili, everyone – they are fantastic athletes and I’ve got to know them on the road so I’d love to be there and support them.
In Rio I became really good friends with Asha Philip, she’s a great athlete and hopefully she can upgrade her bronze into a gold as well.