Big read: An Imp-made millionaire

Jamie Waller
Jamie Waller

Entrepreneur Jamie Waller owes his success to the kids’ display team. Now he’s doing his bit…

Jamie Waller’s childhood wasn’t easy. Like many children growing up in East London, his future seemed to be a forgone conclusion, a lifetime living on the breadline.

That was until he joined the Imps – a unique charity-run motorcycle display team which sends kids aged between five to 16 not only all over the world, but also through rings of fire and over cars while riding in pyramid formation. With their military precision and age-defying professionalism, the Imps’ performances leave audiences awestruck wherever they go.

Now aged 45, Jamie is a self-made millionaire, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and author who says he owes his success to his time spent at the Imps and the guidance of the team’s founder, Roy Pratt MBE. It’s because of this that Jamie’s now giving back to the team as their majority sponsor.

Jamie Waller
Young Jamie just knew he had to join

Eleven years an Imp

“I joined the Imps at age five and was there until I was 16,” says Jamie, who’s one of 2500 people who’ve ridden with the Imps since the team were founded back in 1970. “I grew up in Bethnal Green, East London from a typical disjointed family. My father was an alcoholic, my mum was at home, and we lived in a two-bedroom flat above a shop,” he recalls.

Back in the 1980s, Jamie and his mum, Sue, saw the Imps perform at a local fete and instinctively knew he had to take part. Sue approached Roy Pratt and Jamie embarked on his Imps journey.

“My biggest highlight was actually getting in,” says Jamie. “To become an Imp, you have to go on a selection course which was a week-long residential boarding school, where you would do things like PT every morning. It was about working out if somebody had the character to become an Imp and stick it through.”

You can’t do this without real discipline

Jamie excelled on the course, and in 1985 aged just five, he became an Imp. “For pretty much 11 years of my childhood, I spent every weekend and every school holiday with the Imps,” he says.

“I’m dyslexic, and left school without sitting any exams or getting any qualifications. But what I did have was this immense confidence in my own ability to deal with people. It made me believe that I could achieve anything.

“We’ve got ex-members that are professional footballers, bankers – all sorts of things. Some of them simply ended up better than they would have otherwise.”

But it wasn’t just the children that benefited from the Imps. “When my mother was going home and getting beaten up by my dad, the thing that kept her motivated was bringing me to the Imps and seeing me achieve. That gave her the confidence to become a chaperone in the team, and get away from my dad every weekend to help at the Imps, and she ultimately ended up leaving him. There’s going to be hundreds of stories like that which we don’t even know ourselves.”

Jamie Waller and his mum
Jamie with his mum, Sue, who became an Imps chaperone

‘It made me believe that I could achieve anything’

Jamie Waller

It’s more than just riding motorcycles

Aside from teaching Jamie to ride a motorcycle (and jump through fire), the Imps also exposed him to sailing, rafting, horse riding, cycling – you name it. Jamie also appeared on the Sooty &Sweep Show at age six, and the Imps have even been hosted by royalty, including the King of Jordan.

“My first time ever away from home was my one-week selection course for the Imps. By age eight I was at Edinburgh Tattoo for six weeks. These are real grown-up moments where you learn to make friends and contribute to the team. It taught me great leadership skills.

“By the time I left the Imps, I had spent a year as Team Captain – responsible for 39 other children and reporting into staff members. Where can you get that sort of experience anywhere else?”

Jamie Waller and his daughter
Giving back… Jamie with his daughter

Imps leader, Roy Pratt MBE, founded the team in 1970 after serving in the army which inspired him to base the squad on military principles, but without the aggression. “The motorbikes inspired me to come back every week,” adds Jamie, “but the wrap-around work like the education and discipline… you couldn’t put 40 kids on motorbikes without that military theme – it would simply be too dangerous!”

With 54 years at the helm, Roy has plenty of fond memories to look back on, although some reaffirm just how important the charity is. “Deprivation isn’t always financial,” Roy reflects. “One of the kids’ fathers designed the pyrotechnics for a famous film franchise. He was delivered from West London by a nanny, picked up, then taken back. He was in the team for seven years and his parents didn’t see one show. Now to me, that’s deprived.

“Then you get, Jamie’s story,” he says. “I can well remember Jamie between five and six years of age sat on my carpet above the HQ counting pennies from sales we had during the day. And his little red wellingtons when he was on one of the boat trips!” he laughs.

Jamie Waller
Aged 14: Cool, confident, and proud

“Roy is like a father to me,” says Jamie. “From the ages of five to 16 I spent more time with him than my own dad, and Roy took me under his wing as a child. So, I was fortunate that when there was an opportunity to meet Princess Anne or Prince Charles, I was one of the children selected to do so. And Roy is very close to me now.

“He spends Christmas Day with my family every year – we’ve maintained that relationship since 1985. You’d find it really difficult to meet somebody who genuinely cares about children to the length that Roy does. He’s 84 and he still works in a school three days a week helping disadvantaged children, and then every waking minute outside of that he’s doing something for the kids here. It’s remarkable.”

Jamie Waller
The Imps defined Jamie’s childhood

Social mobility

Growing up in Bethnal Green, Jamie thinks that his life would have been dramatically different had he not joined the Imps. “Two of the friends I grew up with have passed away, one by drugs, one by drowning,” he says. “I’ve got a bunch of friends who are in prison, and a lot of friends on drugs.”

But it’s not just the opportunities that the Imps gave him that helped with his ambition, it was the chance to see kids with lives different from his own. “If you just had 40 children all the same, it’s my belief that you would slow down the social mobility that the Imps delivers. One of the best things was having other kids in the team whose parents had nicer cars and nicer houses. It inspired me to believe I could achieve that too.

“By the time I left here at 16 I was certain I would work for myself and lead others. All I wanted to do age 16 was to not be poor… and just being driven by one single purpose makes it quite easy to deliver. I went off and that’s what I did.”

Jamie now owns a private equity firm and 13 other companies across the globe, and has recently set up the Prince’s Trust Enterprise Network for the now King Charles. “I’ve always been able to rally people, bring people together and work for people – that comes from my time at the Imps. If one other child can go through the social mobility change that I did, then it’s got to be worth it.”

Jamie Waller age 15 performing at the BMF Show
Aged 15 and performing at the BMF Show

‘The motorbikes inspired me to come back every week’

What’s next?

This year, Jamie has secured a coveted spot for the Imps to perform in November’s Lord Mayor’s Show – and even lead the parade – giving the children a chance to perform locally on their bikes alongside their normal shows around the country and beyond.

“The importance of the Lord Mayor’s Show for the kids is not just because of how prestigious it is, it’s because it’s in London,” says Jamie. “Being watched by your family or friends has a completely different feeling to it.”

Jamie Waller
Jamie owes it all to joining the Imps

Since the Imps lost Honda as their main sponsor, Jamie has taken over the role himself, although he thinks that big motorcycling brands are missing a real trick.

“I’ve learned many of the big motorcycle manufacturers have big sponsorship departments, but all have Corporate Social Responsibility Departments doing nothing in motorcycling. It’s amazing to me that they haven’t picked up that supporting youth motorcycling isn’t simply a sponsorship opportunity – it’s a corporate social responsibility opportunity. That would be a huge impact on their business and make a real difference to a lot of grassroots sports and charities.”

With five bikes in the garage including a bespoke Ducati Scrambler customised by the guys at Down and Out and his original Imps bike, Jamie plans to ride the Africa Eco Race next year after being inspired by Patsy Quick. Today, Jamie not only has the wealth he set out to achieve after being inspired by the display team in his youth, he also still has the passion for motorcycling and adventure – as well as the Imps who put him on the right track.


‘I do all the tricks but the Flying Angel is my favourite. It’s so much fun’

Proudly riding their FunBikes-sponsored 10Ten RX250s and trusty Honda 50s, MCN caught up with two of the current Imps, busy practising ahead of the season.

Sonny, 14, nine years as an Imp

“I’ve travelled with the Imps to Canada, Norway, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Ireland and so many other places in England. I’ve made lots of friends too. It’s fun and I’m always doing something.

“I really enjoyed Edinburgh during the six-week show. It was the whole six-week summer holiday and the shows were in the night, so we would have to do fun stuff during the day. We went swimming, to the zoo and then came back at about 7pm and prepared for the show.

“I ride the Pyramid, the Flying Angel, the Flower, Steps – I do all the tricks. The Flying Angel is my favourite because it’s the most fun. My mum and dad are amazing, they are really proud, and everyone always asks questions about it at school. I’ll be staying in the Imps for as long as I can.”

Sonny and Sir-Quan
Sonny and Sir-Quan can’t get enough of their time with the Imps

Sir-Quan, 6, first year as an Imp

“I’ve been travelling around the world with the Imps display team… Scotland, Wolverhampton and a few other places, too. If you want to, you just have to go up to the website and book some sessions.”

Is your child between five and 16? They could become an Imp! There are spaces available, so why not drop Roy a message at and get involved.

Flying angel
Flying Angel is a favourite



How the Imps were born

Roy Pratt
Biking hero: Roy Pratt MBE

‘2500 children have been part of the Imps’

Roy Pratt MBE founded the Imps 54 years ago (1970) after a short stint in the army. Once he came back to civilian life he went into education and was tasked with amusing the children over the summer holidays, which led the way for the Hackney Adventure Holiday project. While there, two BSA Bantams were fixed up by the kids, and after identifying a clear hunger for motorcycling, the Imps Motorcycle Display Team was born.

Now, Roy is still head of the Imps, and is still central to helping disadvantaged youngsters in East London and beyond realise their potential with the help of a motorcycle. Around 2500 children have been an Imp through the years, and almost all have achieved much more than they ever thought possible.

Along with breathtaking performances which can see kids standing on each other’s shoulders in pyramid formation and an act which sees near misses as part of the action, the kids are taught confidence, leadership – and that the world is their oyster.

Roy Pratt with Imps
Roy’s been at the heart of the Imps from the start

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