Biking legends: Roy Pratt

Roy Pratt
Roy Pratt
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The driving force behind the Imps display team, who’s helped countless kids reach new heights

Roy Pratt MBE 84,
British, founder of the Imps Motorcycle Display Team. The Imps are a charity organisation that takes children from the ages of 5-16 and teaches them how to ride, perform and develop themselves. Roy Pratt is a true legend

With their distinctive red tunics and white helmets, the Imps Motorcycle Display Team have been a familiar sight at events, pageants and on TV for over 50 years.

More than just a show-stopping spectacle, the Imps are in fact a charity like no other, taking East London children as young as five years old and giving them a chance to become the envy of not just their school friends, but most biking adults, too. Through learning complex two-wheeled stunts which they perform all over the world, the Imps teaches kids the importance of self-belief, discipline and teamwork, allowing them to develop into upstanding adults.

Roy Pratt founded the team 54 years ago, and still runs the Imps today, earning himself an MBE for his work. But even though most of his life has been around bikes, he didn’t have the easiest start.

Roy Pratt

He bought a Royal Enfield Bullet 350 from ‘a chap’ in Glasgow who taught him how to ride next to the kerb, before Roy took the bike eight miles back across the city. “I came off 17 times from point A to point B,” he says. “But I didn’t fall off again for the next 10 years!”

His hunger for motorcycling was born during his time in the army but his passion saw it extend much further beyond.

“After a short army career I was working in education,” says Roy, who was part of the Red Caps display team during his service, performing using both motorcycles and horses. “I was tasked with doing activities with the kids during the summer holidays to stop then hanging about on street corners. We formed an organisation called the Hackney Adventure Holiday Project.”

At the project, kids had the opportunity to do sailing, horse riding and much more. While there, patrol leaders found two old BSA Bantams. The owner gifted them, and Roy said if the kids could get them running, he’d teach them how to ride. And they did.

“We got them some kit, and part of the holiday project was having a go on the motorcycles,” he recalls.

Imps on parade
Imps on parade at the Commando Memorial in Malloy, Norway

“But once the summer project was finished, these junior leaders wanted to do more motorcycling.

“So, we put six guys together, got a few more bikes and put on a demonstration to the trustees during which we did balancing acts – they gave us the go ahead.”

From the demonstration, the Imps got their first show booking and it was a complete success.

“Out of that acorn grew the team,” says Roy. He realised bikes could be used as a therapeutic tool for kids, and the best way to instil discipline and safety was to use a military-like structure.

“We need the discipline for their safety,” he explains. “We went to Edinburgh castle for the first time in the late 80s. There are big heavy gates which military personnel operate. On your cue they open the gate but wait until you almost touch the gate before it opens, so it’s a highly professional operation.

“During our first rehearsal, the officer in charge said they weren’t prepared to open the gates for civilians, as they couldn’t rely on civilians to operate like military. But at the end of the first rehearsal, he saluted me and said, ‘my apologies, we’ll open the gate for your guys any time’.”

‘We got a few more bikes and put on a demo’

Roy Pratt head of the Imps in London
Today, Roy is still head of the Imps in London

But the Imps aren’t just about discipline, they are about developing youngsters, building their confidence, and allowing for social mobility in one of the most disadvantaged boroughs. Not only that, but through Roy’s dedication and understanding, the Imps have been able to empower children with conditions such as autism.

“A couple of years back I was presented with a five-year-old who wouldn’t talk. He would just sit and look at you. I work with these children at school and had to get the staff seeing it from my point of view – let him develop in his own pace.

“He eventually got into the system, and we went to tattoos [a highly professional military display which celebrates the pageantry of military music and ceremonies] all over. A year later we were in Norway performing and he was trying out soldier’s swords and all manner of things.”

Fifty-four years on, Roy is still not just the head, but the heart and soul of the Imps. He’s showing no sign of slowing down, and his passion is as strong as ever.

Roy Pratt leading a parade
Roy leading a parade in Malloy, Norway
Imps display
Discipline brings safety on the bikes
Imps display
What kid wouldn’t want to do this?
Imp on a police bike
An Imp on a police bike? Of course!


ROYAL SEAL OF APPROVAL

‘The MBE was a huge honour’

Roy Pratt
Roy’s work has won royal recognition

“The defining moment of my life would be getting the MBE,” says Roy. “It was awarded by Queen Elizabeth II herself, which was huge honour. And of course, we have quite a strong link with royal family via Princess Anne who actually got this property for us by talking to the borough.

“We used to be in Docklands using derelict land on licence from the development company.

On the last night of operation on this derelict land, Princess Anne had been invited to attend.

“As she finished with her visit, she said to the Chairman of the Dockland Corporation, Mayor of the borough and other officials ‘now you’re closing down, what are you going to do for my Imps? They will be homeless.’

“The Chairman looked embarrassed and said he was sure they had something in place. But Princess Anne jumped in quickly and said ‘I’m off abroad tomorrow, my Lady in Waiting will give you my office card. Could you let me know before I go, please, I would really like to know!’

“That was all that needed to be said. The money was put up by the Docklands Trust and we were given a permanent place for the first time.”

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Pics: ADAM SHORROCK, ROY PRATT, IMPS MOTORCYCLE DISPLAY TEAM, JAMIE WALLER, GRAHAM DODRIDGE