Cover star Ramla Ali on being a champion boxer, activist and face of Cartier

The boxer talks to us about laser focus and why she wants to be the number one global star in 2022. Plus, her life in film, and the Cartier jewellery that catches her eye and her love of diamonds

By Jessica Bumpus

Photographer: Mafalda Silva Stylist: Felix Bischof

It’s likely you’ve seen a fair bit of Ramla’s face already. She is a rising star in the boxing world, not to mention activist, face of Nike, Dior and Cartier. And has featured on the front cover of British Vogue, selected in 2019 by then guest editor, the Duchess of Sussex. Ali got into the sport aged around 12 in her local East Ham boxing gym. She competed in her first fights aged 18 and 19, and winning the Haringey Box Cup featherweight division in 2015. At the time, it was something she was doing in secret without her family knowing

However Ramla Ali has one goal next year: that her face will be everywhere. “I said this to my friend the other day and she started laughing,” the professional boxer tells me from the end of the phone. “But I said that I want my face to be everywhere, that everybody gets sick of my face.” She is not, however, being vain or narcissistic. “It is a good goal to have because it just means that you’re improving. Number one. You know you’re doing so well. You’re gaining success. And that is a good goal to have,” she points out. “It just means I’m chipping away closer to my ultimate goal.”

Ramla Ali wearing Cartier Clash Unlimited diamond earring
CARTIER Clash [Un]limited single earring in white gold set
with onyx, diamonds and amethysts. DIOR white tailored
dress shirt; pleated technical fabric skirt

Born in Somalia during a civil war, she came to the UK with her family when she was two years old, settling in London. She has often cited her mother as an inspiration.

Next, she took the titles of GB featherweight and English National Champion; going on to hold the belt of African Zone Featherweight Champion. For the Tokyo 2020 Olympics (held this year), she represented Somalia, an experience she says “had been amazing”. Another highlight of 2021 has been the opportunity to compete in Madison Square Garden in New York. Which, she says, “is one of the most iconic boxing venues in the world.”

When we speak, Ali is about to head off to the Cayman Islands for training. “It isn’t really a break,” she points out. “It’s where I do all my training.” On arrival, she’ll have a day of rest before beginning, which typically takes her until 3pm in the afternoon. “Then I have the rest of the day to myself,” she says.

For Ali, “it’s always been boxing. It’s always been sport, yes, boxing.” She explains: “It’s the only thing that’s ever given me release. It’s the only thing that’s kept me disciplined through life, the only thing that’s given me purpose.” In 2018, she set up Sisters Club to give under represented groups access to sport. “It’s like this amazing free weekly self defence class for all women,” she says. With four locations currently around London, it has since expanded from a three-month project to a three-year project, now run by her sister. Ali has hand selected and vetted the coaches. “You have to do it, it’s amazing, you’ll love it,” she urges (and I am very tempted). 

Ramla Ali wearing Cartier Clash yellow gold earring
CARTIER Clash de Cartier single earring in yellow gold; Les Berlingots
de Cartier rings in white gold with blue chalcedony and diamond
and in yellow gold with onyx and diamonds. DIOR technical fabric
dress; white leather shoes with metallic heel. Socks Ramla’s own.

In the ring Ali says she tries not to think about too many things in order to keep her “laser” focus. In a day and age where no one can ever seem to keep focus on anything at all, that is surely a real talent. “I think it’s a lot of practice. You know early on that there could be times where you’d get distracted by the crowd, or something happened. But I think the thing is over time you learn from your mistakes.” And for the times that has happened she has said to herself it won’t happen again. 

Serena Williams, she says, growing up was someone she looked up to (there weren’t a lot of female boxers being televised at the time). “I mean, it’s two different sports but like, it was a similar background. You know, she came from nothing and she worked really, really hard to get to where she is today. She stands up for what she believes in, even if it’s to the detriment of her winning the competition. And I love that.”

When it comes to down days, Ali has a positive, pragmatic and direct approach. “Like most people there’d be days where you know, you sort of feel sorry for yourself. [You] Think ‘Oh God, I can’t do this or this, [this] is too much’, but you have to always remember why you’re doing it in the first place. You’re doing it for yourself. You’re doing it to be the best version of yourself. And I always tell myself, if you miss a session, you’re missing out on the opportunity to better yourself. I know that sounds really cheesy, but it is honestly what gets me through the days where I don’t want to get out of bed. Or the days I don’t want to go to the gym.”

Ramla Ali wearing Cartier Clash onyx and amethyst earring
CARTIER Clash [Un]limited single earring in white gold set with
onyx, diamonds and amethysts. DIOR white tailored dress shirt

She is also an ambassador for Cartier. It’s the Love collection in particular that has her affection. “It’s very Cartier, it’s very iconic,” she says. “You show anyone the Love collection and they know it’s Cartier.” At the Fashion Awards 2021, in London, she wore a dress by Dior with Cartier jewels. “I felt like I had to have security escort me everywhere. I had to keep touching myself to see if everything was still in its place,” she laughs, “that I didn’t lose it!” Sitting at the Cartier table, she said, was ideal because if anyone was to notice anything was missing, it would be them. 

Her profession, meanwhile, means that the day to day wearing of jewellery, when she’s at training camp, can be tricky. At camp, certainly it’s “non-existent”. 

“Because you know, you can’t be wearing earrings when you’re sparring because it could rip your ear hole. You can’t be wearing necklaces because you do a move and it like slaps you in the face. Which is even more painful than getting hit in the face.” She relishes being able to wear it when she can, though.

Ramla Ali wearing Cartier Clash (un)Limited diamond, onyx and amethyst earring and juste en clou diamond ring
Cartier Clash [Un]limited single earring in white gold set with onyx, diamonds and amethysts; Juste Un Clou ring in white gold with diamonds. DIOR black Bar jacket

“It just makes you so much more grateful for all the amazing pieces that you’re allowed to wear,” she says. “When you put on these incredible pieces. Which by the way, as a kid, I could never afford. It just makes you feel a million dollars, it makes you feel like you’re royalty. It makes you feel amazing.”

The request from Ali was for “all the diamonds” on this cover shoot. Though not in a demanding way, it should be noted. “I literally had all the diamonds and it was incredible.” Her style, typically, is minimalist. Some nice hoops and a few rings and bracelets. But she enjoyed trying out styles she might not usually this time. 

Ramla Ali wearing Cartier Clash (Un)Limited two earrings in white gold onyx and diamonds
Cartier Clash [Un]limited single earrings (two sizes) in white gold with onyx and diamonds. Dior black tailored Bar jacket

Boxing and jewellery aside, Ali has been busy. During lockdown she wrote a book about her life, Not Without A Fight, which is now being turned into a film. “I’ve read it,” she says of the script. “And honestly, it’s really good,“ she very reluctantly admits.“ I actually wanted to not like it.” Making a film about her life, she felt to be too intrusive. Producer of The Favourite, the award-winning Lee Magiday, is on board to turn it into a film. But Ali won’t be playing herself. “If I play me I will ruin her chance of winning [an Oscar],” she laughs. She says she’s going to leave it to the professionals to cast. 

Ramla Ali wearing Cartier Clash (Un)Limited diamond earrings two sizes
CARTIER Clash [Un]limited single earrings (two sizes) in white gold with onyx and diamonds. DIOR black tailored Bar jacket

It seems fitting to end our chat by asking if she has any New Year’s resolutions. Aside from making sure we see her face everywhere. “New year new me? No, no,” she jokes. “I actually don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions. I think you should just live for every day like it’s your last and live to the most every day. And, you know, do what makes you happy and don’t wait until a new year to make the changes that you want to make in your life. Do them now. Basically.” 

See how we style Cartier Clash

Read our definitive guide to Cartier Clash Part 2

Hair: Maki Tanaka
Make up: Riona O’Sullivan
Nails: Cherry Snow
Photography assistant: Edward
Fashion assistant: Joshua Hendren