Long Way Round star Charley Boorman on his love of two wheels

The actor-turned-motocycle expeditionist, alongside his friend and fellow Scot Ewan McGregor, talks about his lifelong love of biking.
Charley Boorman. Getty Images
Charley Boorman. Getty Images

Well, stars and cars might not quite be the appropriate moniker when it comes to describing petrolhead Charley Boorman.

That's not to question his star status - a former actor, he has turned into a celebrity adventurer with a string of high-profile books and television series following his exploits with best friend and Scottish actor Ewan McGregor and, more recently, his solo ventures.

It's just that when it comes to motoring, Boorman's overriding passion is of the two-wheeled variety.

The love affair began 36 years ago in Ireland at the house of his father, John Boorman, the director of such films as Deliverance, Excalibur and Hope and Glory.

"I remember I was out horse riding on my own when I heard in the distance a motorbike engine revving loudly," he recalls. "There was no great motorsport passion in the family but this noise was just a magical noise and I wanted to find out where it came from."

It transpired the bike in question belonged to another boy in the village and, through persistence, he eventually persuaded him to let him have a go.

"That moment of first riding the bike is still very vivid," he admits. "I started riding around and it gave me a buzz I'd never experienced before. It's the feeling of freedom that grabs you above everything else."

From that point on, all he ever wanted was to own his own bike and his parents eventually cracked after he repeatedly badgered them.

And, from the age of nine, all he ever wanted was bike-related memorabilia. There were posters of his two idols, motorcycle world champion Barry Sheene and legendary stunt rider Evel Knievel, and even motorcycle-related presents from celebrities. "I remember the actor Jon Voight giving me some Evel Knievel toys when dad was filming in America at the time, and that was about the coolest thing imaginable," says Boorman.

That obsession has never subsided and, when not working or spending time with his wife and daughters, he spends his days either riding his bikes or tinkering with them.

And his bike collection is an ever-expanding one. "You need a bike for every kind of feeling or mood," he says. "There's a BMW GS1200, which is an everyday bike I'd ride to the shops on, but also one that took me from John O'Groats in Scotland to Capetown in South Africa for the Long Way Down with Ewan in 2007.

"Then I've got a Triumph, which I have to say makes me feel a bit invincible - it's a wonderful machine - and there's an off-road bike to have a bit of fun on. As for a favourite, I couldn't choose, it depends on my day, depends on my mood."

Boorman became a household name when he and Hollywood A-lister McGregor took part in their first adventure from New York to London via Asia and Europe.

Looking back on such trips, Boorman can't quite believe his luck. "I've loved motorbikes for as long as I can remember so to suddenly be riding around on one, doing what I love and earning money from it has been fantastic," he says.

"I was having dinner with Ewan one evening when we started planning the first trip. Our wives thought it was just talk to start with but steadily it became more of a reality and it was very real and we were heading off on adventures.

"There's been a few since then and I genuinely can't quite believe my luck. Every opportunity I can, I get on a bike; I love that danger and adventure that it offers, and my family will tell you that I'm never happier than when I'm on a bike. You just can't help but have a massive smile on your face."

He admits to having an ever-growing wishlist of challenges he wants to tackle, among them the Dakar Rally, which he attempted in 2006 but failed to reach the finish.

"It takes a special kind of nutter to do the Dakar Rally," he says. "And it takes a monumental nutter to win it. In fact, there's only about 10 guys in the world mad enough to really go for it and win it. I'd love to have another go - it's on my long list of motorbike things to do."

Boorman is in the midst of his latest adventure, travelling by motorbike across Canada starting in Newfoundland for a six-week road trip, which will include wreck diving, dirt biking and kayaking alongside whales.

Published: June 30, 2011 04:00 AM


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