The Sunday Social with Charley Boorman

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Hi Charley, how are you doing?

“Not too bad at all, thank you. I could complain, but then nobody cares!”

So you’re a Triumph ambassador – which new ones have you ridden?

“All of them. The new Tiger 800 is fantastic and they’ve really made some serious changes. In that class it’s got to be right up there at the very top. The 1200 has lost a bit of weight and they’ve made everything a bit easier to use.”

They’ve all got fancy new dashes now.

“I think that’s where everything’s going. That whole idea of that information been given to you in a much easier way is really important.”

Talking about where bikes are going, have you ridden any electric bikes?

“Yeah I have. Electric bicycles with pedal assist are amazing! I think it brings people in. I was in Australia a couple of years ago and we tried a Zero electric bike. We were by this person’s restaurant, and there was a huge field out the back. We were hooning around the field on these electric bikes and nobody really noticed us at all. Then the owner came out with his KTM 450 and started doing the same. The nearby horses pissed off and everybody in the restaurant looked over. I realised then that electric bikes are incredible. You could have a bit of land in the city with your own little motocross track and nobody would know! I think for urban mobility they’re brilliant. I’ve tried electric scooters and they’re pretty cool. Have you tried them?”

Yeah, I really like them.

“I don’t know if you noticed, but you can hear people talking on the pavement, and you can hear things that you never hear on a motorbike. It’s a completely different experience. I think if you’re around London and you’re not doing big miles they’re fantastic.”

The only thing holding them back at the minute is the range.

“Yeah. With cars the whole thing can be a battery, so it is difficult with a bike. I think it’ll get there. I’m part of We Ride London and I posted something recently about a guy having his bike stolen. I certainly wouldn’t want to own a state of the art electric bike in London because it’ll get nicked! I read in the paper recently that TfL were thinking about banning pillions. It’s a f*cking joke! All these people who are doing it are youths, and they can’t be convicted really. Something’s got to done. It’s going to kill the industry.

“The guy in the video I posted, he’d had two bikes stolen already, and if he had another one stolen they wouldn’t insure him for any bike. The biggest problem now will be insurance. Cyclists have done a fantastic job rallying everybody together and fighting the cause – we need to do that as motorcyclists and scooter riders. We need to forget about looking down on riders of other bikes and really put pressure on the government.”

You’ve written a new book, Long Way Back, did that stem from your accident last year?

“It was 20 months ago I had the accident actually. I managed to really mess myself up.”

I didn’t realise it was as serious as it actually was.

“Yeah, it was f*cking horrendous, really. I was doing the Explorer launch with Triumph. I was overtaking a car and they decided to turn down a little dirt road. As I was overtaking the driver turned into me. Unluckily I got clipped by her and then hit a wall. I broke and dislocated my right ankle, smashed my tibia and fibia – a bit like a Hutchy break – smashed the shin to pieces, it was ll hanging out of my sin and my leg was basically hanging off. They put all that together, but then it was just months in bed, in a wheelchair.”

You weren’t sure if you were going to walk again.

“Yeah – or how I was going to walk. Even now I’m still not walking brilliantly.”

You’ve got the old motorcyclist’s limp.

“Yeah, exactly. I feel like a proper racer now! I broke my hand as well, so I had three limbs out of action for a while. There were some funny moments as well. Of course it was awful because I spent ages in bed in the living room. Have you ever sh*t in a bed pan?”

I’ve never had to do that yet, thankfully. 

“It’s horrendous. Then I had a commode at the side of my bed that I could poop into. Finally I was in a wheelchair and I kept going past the downstairs toilet, which is under the stairs, and I though ‘you know what, I think I could get in there.’ I got my wheelchair beside the first two steps so I could slide across onto that and get out of the wheelchair. I then went down the two steps and shuffled along the hall way. There are two steps down to the toilet, and I swung my legs around down there. I figured as I stood up I could spin round, pull my trousers down and sit on the toilet, finally!

“I got up, swung round, pulled my trousers down, and as I went to sit on the toilet I missed, and got wedged between the wall and the toilet. I was stuck with my legs sticking out and I couldn’t move! My daughter walked past holding her laptop. She looked down and said ‘Dad, what the f*ck are you doing down there?’ I said ‘I missed the toilet, can you help me?’ She just said no and walked off! I had to drag myself out and finally I managed to sit on the toilet. Wow, what an amazing experience. So basically the book is about the recovery and about sh*tting on toilets. The book starts with me sitting on the road in Portugal and it follows my recovery. But around that there’s also lots about me growing up in the film industry, and all the bikes I’ve had and stuff. You know, it’s a biography really, I suppose.”

It could’ve been a massive book – you’ve done so much stuff!

“Either I’m really stupid, or I’m really lucky. I talk about all of that in the book. I talk about being dyslexic and struggling in school. I had a terrible stutter and I found it difficult to communicate and all sorts of stuff. There’s a lot went on in my life, I suppose – the same as everybody. It was great to write the book. What was wonderful, was getting back on a motorbike – that was always the goal. I was always looking out of the window at a couple of bikes and I always wanted to know how soon I could get back on a bike, if at all.

“I remember being on crutches, with a massive cage around my leg and I figured I could ride my wife’s scooter. So I went outside, took the rain blanket off her scooter and started it up. I could barely stand up but I got it off the centre stand. I just couldn’t get it back on! I just though ‘f*ck it, it’s off the centre stand now’. One of my daughters came out and shouted at me I as I was riding off down the drive! ‘What are you doing. get off the bike!’ I remember going around the block on it and the cars were passing me really fast. I just though everybody was an absolute lunatic, then I looked at the speedo and I was doing 10mph, sh*tting myself. I had to give myself a talking to so I could speed up. That was when I started to really make improvement, by being back on a bike. I would go up to the Bike Shed. I got stopped by the police on the way up once, because I had the crutches in my arms. I thought it might have been illegal. The policeman stopped me and he just recognised me and wanted to say hello. He asked what had happened, so I pulled the rain blanket back to show the horrendous cage on my leg and he just sent me off on my way!”

What was going through your head when the doctors said you may never walk again?

“It’s difficult. Part of your mind is shoveling part of the information to other parts of the brain, so to a degree you’re cherry picking the best bits of the shit he’s telling you. I remember sitting with the surgeon before surgery in absolute agony – it was awful – and I remember the doctor saying ‘your leg is in a terrible state, your ankle’s not great’ and I told him to tell me the truth ‘how long before I get back on a bike?’ He just looked at me and started laughing! He said two years, but that part I just didn’t listen to. It’s only later on that it all dawns on you.

“When they took my cage off the bone hadn’t unionised, so it was still broken. Every time I put my sock on, you could see my shin bending in half. I had to wait 10 days for them to put a rod in. I remember my shin just bending in all sorts of weird directions whenever I put socks on. I had nine months in the cage, then another operation to put the rod in. I was just wondering what was going to happen next. Just when you think it’s getting better you’re rocked backwards. It’s horrible. So far it’s been 10 operations, I’ll probably have to have my right ankle fused. That’s not a big operation but it’s a huge thing, and then I’ve got four or five months learning to walk on a fused ankle. It just seems to be going on and on.”

It sounds horrible.

“Yeah, but at the same time, motorbikes have defined my life and I still love riding them and being involved with them. I can more or less walk now. I can’t run, but I hated that anyway, so that’s cool. I’m back in the gym, so it’s not bad, you know? It’s not great, but it’s not bad.”

You’re back riding properly now, you’ve just come back from your South Africa tour?

“Yeah, every year we do two 16 day tours from Cape Town to Victoria Falls through South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe. We take about 24 people and it’s fantastic. It was great to be back on the bike. I was nervous about it, because they’re long days and you’re looking after people as well. I really liked it – I got a little tired and sore at the end of each day, but I could do it. The tours are so much fun, they’re just awesome. It’s 80% off-road, there’s safaris and all sorts of stuff. There isn’t anywhere else in the world where you can go where you have to stop and let 40 elephants cross the road! It was incredible. Not only that, but there’s zebra and giraffe. You name it, it’s all there.”

I suppose that’s the reason you picked southern Africa?

“In Namibia and Botswana there are animals everywhere you look! The food and wine is amazing as well! We do another tour in Australia in March. I’m going to do a few tours with the Bike Shed as well.”

You’ve done a lot of charity work – the stuff with UNICEF during Long Way Round and Long Way Down, you’re the president of the British Dyslexic Association, and you’re a big ambassador for Movember as well.

“Yeah, those are the three, really. I had testicular cancer five years ago and lost a nut, which is why I chose Movember. I’ve been doing all sorts this year – they’re a really nice bunch of guys – it’s hilarious doing the work with them.”

And it’s a cause quite close to you, personally.

“Yeah, and it’s a cause that should be close to all men, really. Men are f*cking useless when it comes to going to the doctors and stuff like that. It took my wife and my dog to realise I had testicular cancer. My wife took my dog to the vet for his annual check up. The last thing the vet checked was his nuts and one of them felt a bit strange. My wife said ‘Christ, one of my husband’s nuts feels a bit strange.’ So he advised me to get it checked out! Three days later I was on the operating table getting my nut taken out. It’s a huge thanks to my dog Ziggy and my wife – especially my wife – for knowing my testicles so well. I’d tell guys to get to know their nuts. Women do a brilliant job with breast cancer. If you have a partner you can check each other’s bits out – that can be fun as well! Having testicular cancer or cancer is not just something you just get when you’re old. You can be eight or 80 and get it, so keep an eye on it.”

Obviously you have the tours coming up, what else are you planning?

“I’m really excited about the Bike Shed tours, then I’ve got a TV show I’m developing which looks like it will go ahead. That’ll be with bikes, adventure and food. After almost two years in the doldrums it’s nice to be busy and getting out and about. Although I do say doldrums, writing this book was great fun and really helped my recovery.”

Charley’s book, Long Way Back, is out now.

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Liam Marsden

By Liam Marsden

Former MCN Web Producer