CNN Photos

The ‘Knight Warrior’ grows out of costume

Roger Hayhurst lives in a rough area in Salford, a borough of Manchester, England. There are drug problems, drunkards getting out of hand and random acts of violence.

Three years ago Hayhurst, a timid, not particularly fit 19-year-old, grew tired of seeing all this crime and others not helping.

“People were standing around and doing nothing as other people were getting mugged,” Hayhurst said, recalling why he got into the superhero business.

He learned online about self-proclaimed superheroes who would fight crime in costume, and he was inspired to do the same. He got a blue costume and cape with black armor gear, named himself the “Knight Warrior,” and started sneaking out to patrol his area late at night after his family was in bed. On patrol, he’d assess the situation and either try to stop it, or if it was serious, get the police.

Photographer Jacob Russell met him on assignment with the agency Cavendish Press. Russell was there only for an hour to get Hayhurst’s photo, but he saw more to the story.

“They wanted a look at this eccentric guy dressing up and going into the streets,” Russell said. “I thought the family situation was where the story was.”

Russell visited the Hayhursts weekly for about a year. At the time, Hayhurst lived with his mother, grandfather, and a younger and older brother. Hayhurst’s father had died years ago, and the family had money troubles, Hayhurst said.

Russell went on night patrols with Hayhurst three times but never saw him take any action. In fact, it seemed that the Knight Warrior avoided conflict. Russell wondered whether this nighttime identity was a retreat from his daily challenges.

When asked, Hayhurst agreed. “It’s a way to escape your troubles,” he said.

With time, the Knight Warrior became a local celebrity. The tight-knit community already knew Hayhurst as a sweet-natured teen, but when he was in costume, Russell said, he saw people shouting encouragement to him from cars. The community was generally supportive, though there were a few “scallies,” as young hooligans are called in the UK, who would harass Hayhurst.

The Knight Warrior became more than just a local mascot after national media picked up on his story.

Hayhurst had been patrolling nightly for about a year before his mother saw him on TV and found out about her son’s alter ego. He said she was “a bit shocked” but accepted his nighttime gig.

With the attention, Hayhurst got feedback from all kinds of fans and critics. One girl, Rebecca Wall, wrote him a letter that stood out.

“There’s Twitter, Facebook, but she took the effort to write me a letter,” Hayhurst said. “Not many people do that nowadays.”

They met on the British holiday Boxing Day, December 26, 2012. Wall went on a few patrols with Hayhurst and got her own superhero identity: the “Knight Maiden.”

Wall soon moved into Hayhurst’s home, and they have since gotten engaged.

Russell met with Hayhurst a few weeks ago after not seeing him for about a year. Partly thanks to the influence of his fiancée, and partly because he simply grew out of his teen years, Hayhurst had changed.

The former awkward, scruffy teen now had a nice haircut and was dressing better, in shirts and jeans. He hosts a radio show with Wall and has a reality TV show deal in the works.

Hayhurst and Wall have given up their superhero identities. British media reported it was because Hayhurst had gotten beaten up, but Hayhurst said he wasn’t patrolling in costume when he was attacked.

But he was being harassed by people and the media out of costume, and he didn’t want the alternate identity affecting so much of his life.

When asked if he liked the attention, Hayhurst said, “Some of it, no, because it was exaggerated. But I got opportunities I never would have had.”

The confidence he had when he was in costume has also leaked over into his everyday identity.

“I used to be really shy,” Hayhurst said. “It helped me come out and be more confident.”

He has hung up his cape, but he says he’s still in contact with the superhero community around the world.

-  Lauren Russell, CNN