Wednesday 13 December 2017

Boorman all revved up

Hannah Stephenson

Charley Boorman insists he's not an adrenalin junkie, despite his love of motorbikes, friendship with Ewan McGregor.

He's broken more bones in his quest for adventure than most people have had hot dinners, yet motorbike-mad Charley Boorman's passion for travel on two wheels remains as great as ever.

His recent Channel 5 series Extreme Frontiers and new tie-in book that charts his 10,300-mile journey across Canada from Newfoundland to the Rockies proves that there are few hair-raising adventures he'd actually turn down.

On this latest extreme jaunt, he braved freezing waters to explore old shipwrecks, kayaked through dangerous rapids, risked injury tying the claws of huge lobster, rock-climbed and tried his hand at ice hockey, as well as enjoying his fill of off-roading on dirt bikes.

Yet he says he's no adrenalin junkie.

"If you ask lots of guys who go out and do extreme stuff, I don't think any of them see themselves as adrenalin junkies.

"But I was young when I first started to ride a motorbike. Like anybody who finds horseriding or climbing or whatever it is at a young age, it starts as a hobby and then you just keep doing it.

"You end up doing things you never thought you would, but you never stop to think if they're dangerous or not."

However, there have been many times when he's thought his number was up, he admits.

"On the Canada trip, I climbed this 2,000-metre mountain with Barry Blanchard, who taught Sylvester Stallone how to climb on the film Cliffhanger.

"It was a proper cliff and I did think, 'If I make one mistake here I'm on a rope, but by the time I stop I will have bounced on all these sharp granite stones on the way down'."

Boorman, who motorbiked 20,000 miles from London to New York via Europe and Asia with his best mate Ewan McGregor for their 2004 hit series and book Long Way Round, and from John O'Groats to South Africa for the follow-up Long Way Down, has suffered a catalogue of injuries over the years.

While making the documentary Race To Dakar, in which he entered the Paris-Dakar rally, he broke both hands and had to retire from the race.

"I crashed on day five. I have numb fingertips because I got back on the bike and did another 150km to the next overnight stop with broken hands before I had to pull out."

He also dislocated his left thumb and recalls seeing it pointing in the wrong direction.

"They had to bang it on the handlebars to pop it back in place so I could carry on riding."

Over the years, he's broken collarbones and ribs, fingers and toes, suffered ligament injuries and bad bruising, but he's philosophical about it, saying they go with the territory of off-road biking.

While he can be away for weeks at a time, he loves returning home to his wife, Olivia, and two daughters, Doone, 16 and Kinvara, 14, in London.

"I do get homesick," he admits. "During the day, when you're filming and meeting people, you don't think about it so much, but often you end up in a tent or hotel room on your own night after night - and that's when it can be hard."

He speaks to or emails them regularly when he's away, but Olivia's never tried to put him off a trip, he says.

"Ollie's pretty gung-ho herself and my two girls love dirt-bike riding and will give anything a go."

He hasn't ruled out taking the family with him on future expeditions, although for now they're happy to hook up for a holiday at the end of each series.

"When Ewan and I finished Long Way Down in Africa, I met the girls and my wife in Cape Town, then we went on safari in Kenya, then to Egypt and then back home, so I could give them a little taste of what I did."

But it isn't all five-star treatment. While in Nairobi, he took his daughters to the biggest slum in the world.

"I'm an ambassador for Unicef and I wanted the girls to see how their contemporaries live, to give them a proper idea of what Ewan and I do with the charity."

Boorman, the son of British film director John Boorman, grew up in County Wicklow and originally wanted to be an actor, having first appeared as a child actor in three of his father's films, including Deliverance.

His acting career was floundering when he met McGregor in 1997 on the set of another film, The Serpent's Kiss, and they hit it off immediately.

"We became very good friends. We both had motorbikes and we'd both just had our first child, so we had a lot in common. We ran motorbike race teams together and eventually started talking about the big trip."

McGregor has now moved to Los Angeles but Boorman still sees him when they're in the same town and they speak regularly on the phone.

"We've always spoken about doing a third series - maybe to South America - it's just a matter of timing. These things take a lot of time and commitment, so we need to get the diaries right and then I'm sure we'll head out."

This year Boorman will be doing a motorcycle tour of Africa, another Extreme Frontiers series in a different country and is also hoping to open a motorcycle clothes shop in London.

For now, he's happy tinkering with the collection of bikes he's amassed over the years, including a sports bike and a 1959 Triumph, which he rides in town.

"If you have a garage, why not have two or three? One for every mood. My dream would be to have a massive warehouse with 20 or 30 bikes in it."

:: Extreme Frontiers by Charley Boorman is published by Sphere. Available now

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