The Sunday Social with Rachael Clegg

Published: 10 December 2017

Rachael Clegg is an artist and journalist with a passion for the TT. Since 2013 she has produced a calendar celebrating the quirkier side of the Isle of Man TT. Milestones: The Singles Collection 2018, is available now.

Hi Rachael, how are you?

"Alright, thank you. You?"

Pretty good thanks. So you were born into a motorcycling family, really.

"Yeah, my grandad raced at the TT and then my dad was racing since his late teens. I've only ever known my family racing. We always went to the Isle of Man with my dad and every year we were hanging around the paddock and in garages in Onchan because at that time everybody had a garage in Onchan - nobody worked on bikes in the paddock.

"I didn't go for a few years while I was at uni and then I started going after that to cover it as a journalist. It was at that time, on my way home from the TT, when I had the idea to create the calendars to celebrate the quirkiness and strange tales that I've heard from the TT. Because of my family knowing loads of people I had contacts for the older racers and the younger guys as well. For example, John McGuinness set off before my dad at his first ever TT race. So I knew I had a good source of stories and I knew I wanted to make it a nude calendar because I've always liked the female form and my background is art - I used to teach art. I wanted to make it really arty and quite classy while also bringing in these really funny stories. 

"That was it really - I was on a train on the way back from the TT while listening to a recording from the press conference with McGuinness and Guy Martin. I went back about nine months later with a van, a friend and loads of props. It kind of took off, really. I didn't expect people to like it so much, but it got on TV. Then somebody contacted me out of the blue to do one at the Nurburgring. I always knew I wanted to create something that was a bit witty and daft while still embodying the resourcefulness of a lot of the riders. There are so many of them who really don't have a lot of money behind them and they come back every year and do so well. I don't know how they make it happen but they do, and I wanted to capture that spirit."

When was the first calendar?

"2013 was the first date on the calendar, so it's quite a while ago now. There's no end of stories - I still get emails now with funny stories. There's one story I've never used that I recently heard about. It's a kind of ghost story that Alex George told me. It's really creepy. I don't want to get any of it wrong, but basically he was at the start line - I think in the '70s - and he had a weird premonition about a certain rider being killed at a certain section of the course. He said it was really powerful - like a proper vision. So he went up to the rider's mechanic. He told him to get lost, basically, thinking he was trying to put him off. His vision actually came true. It's a really creepy story. Isn't that weird? There are loads of ghost stories, actually! I should do a ghost calendar. Do you go to the TT?"

I've only been once, unfortunately.

"You know how it's very different to a normal MotoGP or BSB round - I think somehow it's still got that grassroots thing where people aren't as guarded because it's not as corporate. I think that makes people more forthcoming with the stories. There are still loads of stories, but I'm not sure what I'll do next."

Will you keep the calendar going?

"I'd like to, yeah. I've got loads of ideas for more images, but we'll just have to wait and see. If you have any ideas let me know!"

I don't think that's my forte!

"It's been amazingly good fun. Guy Martin leant me his X-rays - that was really funny."

What's the story behind the X-rays?

"When I started doing it I didn't have the stories, but I wanted to get as many props as I could and then I hoped the stories would come out when I picked the props up. I knew Guy had the massive crash with the fire ball so I contacted him and he said I could borrow whatever I needed. He looked just like Fred Dibnah when he answered the door! He made me a couple of brews, we chatted for ages. As I was leaving he gave me the leathers from the crash and he gave me a pile of CDs - his X-rays. I got home, put them in the computer and it was his pelvis, but I could see everything - his entire willy! I rang my friend Helen and told her. We used the image but we had to photoshop the willy out because it looked really rude having a pelvis with a willy projected on to my bum! We had to castrate Guy Martin, basically. We never used the picture - nobody saw it. It's staying in the archives!"

You nearly got arrested in John McGuinness's leathers, as well?

"Yeah! I was so lucky, because it was the only day I actually wore clothes - every other day I just wore a dressing gown. We just got the shot we needed and I went in the back of the van to put my track suit on and the photographer banged on the van and said the police were here. I put my clothes on so quickly they were inside out and back to front! What we'd done is we'd painted 130 onto a little lay by near Brandish which I think was actually used as a police lay by. They told us we had to scrub it off and took all our details. We had until noon to scrub it off or we would get arrested. Their argument was that it was encouraging people to travel at 130mph, but I'm sure nobody would have seen it. Every time the police come into the stand at the TT I think I'm going to be arrested! Loads of funny things happen during the shoots because we have to go out really early when the roads are quiet. Come along and be an assistant! You can be on car watch and let us know when somebody's coming."

Maybe, it sounds interesting.

"I want to do more creative commissions - I've done some for Ferodo and I really love doing them because it's a proper intellectual challenge. Sometimes it's hard to work to a brief, but when you've got free reign there are fewer limitations. I always worry at this time of year. Do people still buy calendars, you know?"

Well there are always calendar shops that pop up at this time of year.

"Yeah, and to be fair, I've got really lovely customers who've been really loyal to me for the entire time and I know a lot of them by name now. Generally, the crowd is much nice in road racing I think."

Yeah, it seems more family orientated, I guess, and more down to earth.

"Yeah, absolutely. I went to France on holiday this year to Wheels and Waves and I was chatting to everybody I met about the TT - you forget how big a thing it is. Everybody worships it and it holds a special place in the motorcycle world."

Do you have the same love for other forms of bike racing?

"I am interested. I watched MotoGP this year because it was a genuine battle. I don't follow it every week, though, purely because I have a few other interests and I just didn't have time. I follow a little bit of BSB as well - my mum and dad follow it all really heavily, so they keep me updated. Do you follow it all?"

I've generally got other stuff going on, so I find it really difficult to watch it.

"It's a hell of a commitment, isn't it, every other weekend?"

Yeah, 18 MotoGP rounds and then WSB and BSB. If you watch all three there are weekend where you don't leave the sofa.

"My dad doesn't - every Sunday he's watching one or the other. I'm either out on my push bike or doing something else. It's too much of a commitment."

Do you ride yourself?

"Yeah, I don't have a bike ow my own at the moment, though. I need to get a bike."

Did you ride from an early age?

"Yeah, I had a Yamaha TY80 - the same as everybody else - when I was 10 years old. It's funny actually, James Toseland was born within a day or two of me and he started riding a TY80 at the same age. He would have had me on a bike much sooner but my mum wouldn't let him. He bought me a bike when I was five and my mum just said no. My dad owned a bike shop back then."

Were there ever any thoughts of you going racing?

"Not really, my brother raced, but I never went down that route - I was just really into my studies and art. I was a massive geek basically, so racing never appealed to me but now I quite fancy it! Because my brother raced I would never have wanted to put my mum through, I know it was horrible for my mum when my dad raced at the TT I was never so aware of it as a kid because we always watched at the grandstand so it never looked scary. When I was 24 my dad had a massive crash - it was his last ever TT - and that's when I realised how scary it was for my mum, because it was the first crash where it was real touch and go. He came off at Black Hut, I think. 

"The marshall brought him back to the paddock and he was absolutely fine - knocked about, but he was talking. My brother was going to drive him back to the house when his pulse suddenly stopped. So we called the ambulance and his pulse stopped at the hospital again. His whole body just completely shut down. I was there when it happened and I had to be a parent to my mum, she just completely broke apart. The TT is horrible in terms of what it puts families through, there's no doubt about that. We all forget about ho brave the women are I think, it must be awful."

Did you ever fall out of love with the TT?

"No, because I always knew that was the case, I always knew it was risky because we lost so many people. I think my dad and his friends counted that they'd lost 40 friends between them, just at the TT and Manx Grand Prix."

What do you say to people that perhaps think the TT should be banned?

"It is dangerous, but I think when you consider how many laps the riders do and how long a lap is, compared to a lot of other sports it's quite good. I don't think it's as shocking as people make out. I think the problem is that our attitude to risk is very warped. People think life is risk free, that they can have a baby and the baby will be healthy, but everything has risks. I was in a hit and run on my way home from work. That was just riding a push bike. It's society's issue with risk, not with the TT. 

"The research I did for the Nurburgring calendar brought this home There's a brilliant book that says a lot of the post-war racers - riders and drivers - were virtually invincible and they didn't fear death because they'd seen so much of it in the war. Death is distant to us, which sounds really morbid. Do you get what I mean?"

Yeah. When you think about it it's pretty mad that people are allowed to drive cars even - these things that weigh tonnes - at speed.

"Exactly, and think of some of the idiots you see on the road. I think racing drivers and riders are putting themselves at risks - obviously the families will suffer - but they're not putting pedestrians and other road users at risk. I think you're right, it is scary that people can just go out and buy a really fast car with no driving experience whatsoever. It's a funny one, the risk thing. I always defend the TT. When I was covering it as a journalist for the Yorkshire Evening Post and other papers I rang the sports desk and asked if they wanted some copy because Ian Hutchinson had won on the Padgett's bike. They only wanted to know about it if somebody had crashed and died. I told him I wasn't going to do anything like that. To constantly sensationalise the death aspect of it is sick.

"I think it's going to be really interesting over the next few years. Michael Dunlop's been on fire. I think it's going to be interesting now the speeds are going up again, I think they've hit another milestone over the past 12 months and I wonder what's going to give. Are the tyres gong to live up to that? Will the bikes? Something's going to give."

When was the 130mph barrier broken?

"2007."

So it's only taken them 10 years to get up to about 134mph.

"Exactly, yeah."

A lot of riders say they used to ride at 90% at the TT but now the competition is so fierce everybody has to ride at 100%.

"It was interesting, I interviewed Michael Dunlop. I asked him if he had a cushion, because most riders I knew had 5 or 10% give. Michael said he just pulls it out of the bag when he needs to, which I thought was quite interesting. He's not consistently got a cushion, but sometimes he'll pull it back more than others. He was really analytical and got below the surface of it all. Would you ever do the TT?"

I'm not fast enough for a start. I don't really know, it appeals to me in some ways. Would you do it?

"I'd love to. I wouldn't be good enough anyway, but I'd be distracted by houses on the course! I think I'd like the strategic challenge of lining things up. I guess it's the PhD of racing isn't it, the TT. I'd have a go but I just don't have the talent. I enjoy going fast. I really admire the people who do it, definitely and the people who support them. My dad had such a loyal team of helpers. What do you think to electric bikes?"

I love it, I've ridden quite a few now.

"What are they like?"

They're really good. The instant kick of torque is absolutely unique. Once the range and charge times improve then they'll be top of the food chain.

"I think that's why the electric TT is really interesting, because you can see these bikes developing. That's what the TT is about, it started as a means of testing vehicles. I guess I've got to learn ho to ride an electric bike now. Is it weird not having any sound?"

A little bit, but some of them have the really high pitched whining sound, which I think's quite cool.

"Do they sound like a Scalextric car?"

Yeah, but just a lot more beefed up.

"That's quite cool. I'd like to do more riding, hopefully I'll do a lot more next year."