My life inside with Charles Bronson – who protected wimpy killers, dished out hugs and had a Broadmoor stalker

BRITAIN'S 'most violent' lag Charles Bronson is actually a caring con who protects wimpy killers, dishes out hugs and talks "sweetly" about women, a former jailmate claims.

And Bronson, 67, is also a skilled storyteller who's left fellow lags in stitches with tales from Broadmoor Hospital – where his own stalker constantly begged him for a "good hiding".


Secret 'softie' who hates bullies

Convicted armed robber Stephen Gillen – who was caged with Bronson for nearly three years before turning his life around – says the lag has a secret soft side beneath his notorious rep.

“Charlie was a very private person and didn’t have a lot of exposure to people, but with his friends and others close to him, he was very caring. He’d give you a hug," he tells Sun Online.

"He’s got clear ideas about behaviour, and strong values about vulnerable people, women and children. He hates bullies. Of course, in prison you get many of those.

"He stood up for this skinny kid, Chris, who was very sweet-natured in a place where you’ve got a lot of sharks. He was doing life for murder. Charlie said, 'look, you leave him alone or I’ll bully you.'"

'He's done stupid things – but should be free'

Bronson – who has changed his name to Charles Salvador in tribute to his favourite artist Salvador Dali – recently won the first round of a legal battle for his next Parole Board hearing to be in public.

And Stephen, 49, believes the lag should be freed from jail – despite him repeatedly attacking other prisoners and jail staff, and taking them hostage, during his 45 years behind bars.

"There are people who need to go to prison and even people who should definitely stay in prison – but Charlie isn’t one of them," says gangster-turned-businessman Stephen, now living in Windsor, Berks.

"Yes he’s done stupid and mad things – and yes he needed to be punished – but the way he’s been treated all the way through is wrong."

Bronson and Stephen first crossed paths, briefly, at Wandsworth Prison, south west London, in the early 1990s – where, years earlier, Bronson had tried to poison a fellow prisoner.

Stephen, then 22, had just been jailed for 14 years for attempted robbery and firearms offences after Scotland Yard's elite Flying Squad foiled his plot to rob a bank in the capital's East End.

During the ambush, he had fired two shots from a sawn-off shotgun – which Stephen says happened accidentally as he wrestled with a police officer. Fortunately, no-one was injured.

Back then, Bronson's advice to Stephen was "be strong".

Yet the young convict – also considered to be one of Britain's most dangerous prisoners at the time – struggled and rebelled behind bars.


Stalker 'begged to be battered'

With police fearing he might escape, Stephen was soon moved to Brixton Prison's Special Security Unit – a "prison within a prison"- where he found himself reunited with Bronson.

"They used to move us around a lot those days," recalls Stephen, who grew up in Belfast, Northern Ireland, at the height of The Troubles and later moved to London.

"It was called 'continuous assessment', but we called it the ghost train. It was block, to block, to block. The idea was to manage the most disruptive prisoners in the system and share the burden."

Locked up in neighbouring cells, the Category A lags "gelled" over their armed robbery backgrounds, pals they had in common, and "old school values".

"It was fair game to fight people who'd done something to you," adds Stephen, "but anyone else outside that fraternity – a straight-goer, especially women and children – you left alone."

At night, when the prison was quiet, the cons would talk out the window.

And Stephen says Bronson would have him in fits of laughter with tales from his time at high-security psychiatric hospital Broadmoor, in Berks.

"There was the toilet roll man in Broadmoor who used to cover himself in loo roll and run about like a mummy," he recalls.

"There was another guy who used to like a good hiding… this geezer used to follow him around and pester him and say, 'Go on, I know you can do it, give me your best shot please', like a pest."

This geezer used to follow Charlie around and say, 'Go on, I know you can do it, give me your best shot please'

He adds: "Even Charlie – though he may have been having problems at that point to be in there in the first place – said he looked at him and thought, 'this guy is crazy'.

"The way he told these stories, I’d be in stitches."

During his spell at Broadmoor, Bronson tried to strangle "big-mouthed" inmate Gordon Robinson to death and staged a three-day rooftop protest, causing £250k worth of damage.


Did press-ups with inmates on back

But at Brixton, Stephen says he didn't fear his notorious pal.

Caged for 23 hours a day, the pair only saw each other's faces fleetingly – mostly, through their cell windows when the other was in the yard, or through the cracks in their doors.

After several weeks together, they were separated.

However, four years later, the lags were reunited again at HMP Full Sutton, near York, where Stephen says Bronson often stood up to prison bullies and performed press-ups with inmates on his back.

"He'd go out every morning and do thousands of press-ups," he recalls.

"He was unbelievable at it."

M4 rapist's suicide

During the three months they shared a block in 1997, Stephen and Bronson's fellow inmate, 'M4 rapist' John Steed, hanged himself. He was found in his cell, next to Stephen's.

"They kept him in there all day, with the prisoners on lockdown, they had police and forensics in there," Stephen tells us.

"In the evening, they wrapped him up like a mummy, put him on a gurney and took him out the back of the prison."

Sex beast and killer Steed, 35, had been serving life behind bars.

And Bronson has previously admitted to being "made up" by his death.

"Charlie hated these kinds of people," Stephen adds. "So did I – everyone did. [Steed] was the scum of the Earth as far as I was concerned."


While at the top-security jail, Stephen – now author of new book The Monkey Puzzle Tree – also bonded with Bronson over their shared love of writing. To date, Bronson has penned at least 11 books.

“We really had nothing at Full Sutton," Stephen says.

"We had a bar of soap, maybe a book and a pen. Writing was an escape for me, a chance to create something beautiful. "

'Charlie's no jiggalo'

In later years, Stephen and Bronson also served time together at Wakefield Prison, West Yorks – where Bronson once spent 40 days naked in isolation – and HMP Woodhill in Milton Keynes.

Isolated from the outside world, Stephen says Bronson would often talk about women.

Yet he insists: “Charlie wasn’t crude about women. He was very much a one-woman man. He’s not your jiggalo type.

"He’s very caring, very, loving.

"In that way, he’s innocent – very sweet and quite pure."

He adds: "The other prisoners wouldn’t take the mick out of someone like Charlie for that. They know who he is. They’d just laugh – in a nice way."


 3 marriages & a tragic death

Bronson – who once took a librarian hostage and asked cops to get him a cup of tea, helicopter, and inflatable doll – has been married three times.

He first wed Irene Kelsey in 1972, when he still went by his birth name of Michael Peterson. After they divorced, he tied the knot with women’s shelter worker Fatema Saira Rehman at HMP Woodhill.

Bronson later married his third wife, ex-Corrie actress Paula Williamson, in HMP Wakefield's chapel in November 2017 after a whirlwind romance.

As Paula walked up the aisle, the prison hardman burst into tears and told her: "You are the most beautiful bride in the world."

However, the couple's marriage later fell apart after photos surfaced of a lad burying himself in Paula's boobs on a Tenerife getaway – with Bronson branding his wife "a drunken tart".

They began the process of getting the marriage annulled – on the grounds they had never had sex – but last July, Paula was tragically found dead at her home in Stoke-on-Trent, aged just 38.

Her death left estranged husband Bronson "truly shocked".


A year on from the tragedy, the lag is "hating" his life behind bars – though he has found enjoyment through artwork, with his disturbing drawings highlighting his experience of incarceration.

In his own words, Bronson said: "My world is bars. Bars, and cameras, locked doors, high walls, and barbed wire. What do people expect me to paint? Flowers? Landscapes? Bowls of fruit? This is my life."

BRONSON'S GANGSTER EX-JAILMATE

CHARLES Bronson's former jailmate, Stephen Gillen, was jailed for 14 years in 1993 after a botched robbery attempt.

In his 2000 Legends book, Bronson describes the ex-con as a "big guy with a big heart, a true East-ender through and through".

Born in England in 1971, Stephen spent his first nine years in Belfast, Northern Ireland, at the height of 'The Troubles'.

During this time, he witnessed many horrors – including a young shooting victim calling out for his mum as he lay dying.

Stephen, now a father of three, later returned to England, going into the care system before being caged as a teen for affray.

He later progressed to serious crime, carrying a knife in his sock and cheating death "hundreds of times" as he mixed in dangerous circles.

His criminality ultimately saw him serve two decades behind bars – including 11 years, nine months, of his 14-year attempted robbery term.

Stephen, whose nickname was 'City', tells us: “I was a Cat A prisoner all the way through… if you cobble it all together you must be talking 20 years behind bars."

However, after his last spell in prison, the lag decided to turn his life around and began undertaking "hard, honest work".

"I went from labourer to supervisor to running 25 men on my own contract to having my own company within 18 months," he recalls.

Now aged 49, Stephen says he's become an "award-winning" motivational public speaker who regularly undertakes charity work and helps others to build up their own businesses.

He even has a degree in business management.

And this summer, he is releasing his own book, The Monkey Puzzle Tree, which details his life story and transformation from London gangster to hard-grafting businessman.

“If I can change my life and do some wonderful stuff, you can do it too," he says. "I’m now obsessed with work – but for the right reasons." 

Stephen's partner Daphne Diluce, who lives with him in Windsor, says: "When we first got together, we just clicked, we were in total harmony.

"Since I’m with him 24/7, I see everything and this guy is just the real deal – he’s tenacious, he’s bold, he’s brave.

"Yes he did bad things in the past – but he paid the price."

'Free Charlie'

It's a world that Stephen wants Bronson to be free from.

“Charlie should be released. He has a lot of stuff he can give society now," claims the former lag, who served around 20 years behind bars during his former life of crime and now lives with partner Daphne.

"I’d do anything I could to help him settle in his new life."

He adds that a life outside four walls could help Bronson – known for his romantic gestures, including serenading Paula in a Valentine's Day proposal phone call – get lucky in love again, too.

"He absolutely could find love again when he’s out," says Stephen.

"Why not? It’s what we’re all searching for."

  • The Monkey Puzzle Tree by Stephen Gillen, published by Filament Publishing Ltd, can be pre-ordered now from www.stephengillen.com 

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