Serial adventurer on his love of motorbikes… and why everyone should take a ride to South Africa
You’ve had a varied career as an actor, presenter and almost a professional traveller, but what’s your biggest passion in life?
“I suppose, above all, motorbikes have been my life. They’ve always been the driving force. When I met Ewan McGregor we bonded over that, we’ve both always been bike mad. We ran a race team in the British Superstock 1000 Championship, which we won with David Jefferies in 2002. After a while we started talking about doing a long journey on bikes and that’s how we ended up doing the Long Way Round. I got lucky and was able to make a bit of a career out of my passion.”
Where did that passion for bikes come from?
“I think my father John had something to do with it; as children we travelled all over the world with him. He always made very difficult movies, from Point Blank and Hell in the Pacific to Deliverance and I think I got that sense of adventure from him, a sense of travelling round the world. Bikes have been a way for me to enjoy that kind of life. I’ve done the Long Way Round and the Long Way Down, and then I did the Dakar Rally on a bike in 2006. I didn’t finish and broke my hand, but I’ve been there. Then there’s Extreme Frontiers, which has allowed me to explore parts of the world I’d always wanted to.”
What’s your bike of choice?
“We’ve always used the classic BMW GS model. That bike’s like the Land Rover of motorcycles, just a great vehicle. You can buy them in the shop, jump on and ride to South Africa if you wanted to… which I have done. The other thing I do is motorcycle tours, take people down to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. Africa as a continent gets a bit of a bad rub, but that’s because of a tiny, malicious group of people who ruin it for everyone else. It’s great to be able to show what a lovely place it can be. Everybody gets a BMW and a GPS and off we go.”
What’s been your most indulgent purchase?
“I’d say it was probably my Triumph. I’ve got a 1959 750, which I had prepared by Baron’s Speed Shop. The BMW’s a great all-rounder, but in terms of style and presence the Triumph’s something else. It’s a great cruising bike, and very loud!”
What’s your top tip for travelling?
“For the sort of travelling I do, it’s to have a plan but not be afraid to deviate. You’ve got to know where you’re going but keep an open mind once you get there. My only essential item when I’m travelling is baby wipes. That might sound weird, but you don’t have a lot of room for luggage on a motorcycle. If you’re out in the wilderness, camping or whatever, they’re just a great way of keeping clean.”
You’ve been an Ambassador for Bremont watches for some time now. What attracts you to them?
“Well, the company’s got quite an interesting history. It was started by two brothers, Nick and Giles English. Their father Euan was a pilot in the RAF and when he and Nick were practising for an air show in a vintage plane they had a crash and Euan was killed. Nick broke more than 30 bones and both brothers had this lifestyle change and decided to start making watches. They approached Ewan and I in 2007 and asked us if we would wear them on the Long Way Down and we said yes. They’re really cool watches with lots of aviation touches and the whole process is instilled with this British-ness, which is what caught our eye. So we gave them a three-and-a-half month test on the motorbikes. My favourite’s the Supermarine diving watch, I’ve always loved that style.”