Australia has long been a favourite destination for popular bike adventurer Charley Boorman.
He lived here for six months a couple of decades ago, prepared for his Long Way Round adventure with Ewan McGregor here and has visited on many occasions.
He was recently in Australia for the first of what is hoped to be annual bike tours with Compass Expeditions and I tagged along as the official journalist for the tour. I sat down with him on the last night for this interview.
Q: Will there be another Ewan McGregor adventure? A: No, I’m too good a rider now. (Laughs) You never know. These trips take a long time; a year from conception to getting the money together and then doing the trip. Ewan’s huge love is making movies and he’s in a sweet spot right now, so I’m waiting for him to fail. But there’s always one more in it for us and we’re both still young and there is plenty of time. I’d like to do South and North America and call it the Long Way Up.
Q: Will you tackle Dakar again? A: Don’t know. It was painful, the first one. I’ve been offered a truck and I might take that. The Dakar is something that takes all your heart and soul and it’s a long race. A part of me would love to do it because I didn’t finish and I’d like to finish it. But part of you is also very scared because it’s potentially lethal. It’s a tough one, but probably.
Q: Your wife, Olivia, rides; will she join you on a trip?
A: Ewan’s wife, Ev joined us in Africa because she wanted to know what drove Ewan to do it. She was fascinated and wanted to see first hand. She had a fantastic time and now truly understands why he does it. But Ollie just wants me out of the house. No, seriously, I’d love to take Ollie and the kids and get them to ride. That would be lovely.
Q: What’s your next book or DVD project? A: I’ve just finished “Charley Boorman’s South African Adventure” and I might do one in South America or Mexico next. Or maybe the Dakar or the Baja 1000. I’d love to have a four-man team to tackle the Baja so we don’t have to do the whole thing. I’d like to take Chris (Vermeulen) and Simon (Pavey). Q: What do you listen to on your iPod when you’re riding? A: Everything. I listen to Stereophonics to Mozart to Spice Girls. Also a lot of story tapes. I just finished a Stephen King book today and started another one. I’m very dyslexic and I find reading very hard.
Q: What’s your favourite bike? A: All of them.
Q: What’s your favourite destination?
A: All of them. Q: Where else would you like to go? A: Everywhere. I’ve only seen a small part of the world. I’d love to do South America, particularly the Darien Gap between Panama and Columbia. More people have climbed Everest than have gone across the Darien Gap. I’d like to take a bike across there. Apparently it’s possible.
Q: What do you think of Australia? A: I love Australia. I stalked my wife here 26 years ago and lived for six months in Sydney and far North Queensland. I’ve been back many times for work and it’s a beautiful country. There is a lot in common with the British. A similar kind of humour and it’s easy to get on with people. They are friendly and nice. The roads are good. The police are s***. But your nanny state is awful. Twenty-six years ago it was an amazing and very free place where you could do whatever you wanted to within reason. You were your own responsibility, but I think that has changed. It has become very nanny state, but so is Britain and a lot of Europe. One of the reasons I love Africa is that the responsibility is on you.
Q: Do you get tired of being recognised? A: If people can be bothered to come and meet you, you have a responsibility to be nice. Jon Voight (actor) told me once – just thought I’d throw that in – he has all the time in the world for people. When you walk with him on the street he gets stopped and I asked him if he got bored by it and he said “No, Charley, those are the people that are the reason why I’m here. If they can be bothered, you should be bothered.” Most of the time people are nice with lovely stories about what they’ve done and why they’ve come to meet you.
Q: What’s the toughest part of your “job”. A: Talking to you. No, it’s leaving my wife and family behind. I spend seven months a year away from home and I miss birthdays, graduations, first parties, my wife’s 50th. But that’s what you do. That’s how I make my money and I have two children in private education, so I have no choice.
Q: What are your plans for a bike store in London? A: I want to do the Deus thing. I like customising bikes. I like that whole retro thing that is going on at the moment with flat track bikes. My favourite inspirational thing is On Any Sunday and I like the idea of people going off and doing things all around the world. I also like their approach to bike clothing. Not all bike gear has to be black.
Q: Who has been the most interesting person you’ve met? A: My dad. I love my dad. I’ve been lucky enough to work with him. It wasn’t till I was much older that I realised people don’t have the same relationship with their father. So I’m very lucky. Most people can’t work with their father.
Q: What inspires you to keep riding? A: I’ve just always ridden motorcycles and I’ve never thought of a time without motorcycles. You can’t explain why you just want to do it; whatever it is that you are passionate about.
Q: Why do you do so much work for charities? A: I’m in a good position to be able to highlight things for charities. I’m very proud to be president of dyslexia action UK. There are lots of words I can’t spell. I struggled terribly when I was at a school. It was an unknown when I was young. It’s much better now, but places like Australia are very far behind Europe. No kid should have to go through what I went through as a kid and it’s unnecessary. Also I like to highlight all the good works of UNICEF. Did you know they inoculate 40% of the world’s children?
Q: Do you have any regrets? A: No. You can’t live on regrets. If you have a crash you can’t say I should have done this or that; it’s a bit lame. Just don’t do it again.