Arts

Charlie Boorman tells of his Long Way Back to recovery after motorbike accident

TV adventurer Charlie Boorman nearly lost a leg due to a horrific motorbike accident just over a year ago. He tells Joanne Sweeney why he's glad to be back on the road

Joanne Sweeney
11 May, 2017 01:00

NOW back riding his beloved Kawasaki W60, TV adventurer and travel writer Charley Boorman was lucky not to have lost a leg after a horrific motorbike accident just over a year ago. But the Co Wicklow native turned disaster into triumph by writing about his experiences and his somewhat peripatetic life for his newly published autobiography, Long Way Back.

Former child actor Boorman is best known for his blokey 'on the road' television travel adventures on the bike with long-term friend, actor Ewan McGregor for their series and accompanying best-selling books The Long Way Round and Long Way Down.

The 50-year-old was testing out a new motorbike in February last year along with a group of journalists in Portugal when his near-fatal accident happened; a motorist unexpectedly pulled out in front of him and he ended up swerving and going straight into a wall.

"It was deemed to be 50:50 fault-wise, so there wasn't even a claim there," he tells me ruefully.

Although the publicity blurb says Boorman's book is about his "life lived without fear", he admits that he felt a bit wobbly the first time back on a bike after the accident.

"I was really desperate to get back on the motorbike again, even after my second break. So I just did it and put it on Instagram and ended up getting the most likes I've ever received for anything.

"People were so lovely and supportive about it. Yes, I did feel a bit wobbly about getting back but it had to be done."

The book deals with his painful recovery from the accident, from being bed-bound in a Portuguese hospital and spending nine months in a wheelchair, to breaking his hip on an ill-advised trial jaunt on a Vespa while still recovering. He's just managed recently to ditch his crutches and still walks with a limp as his left leg is now 1cm shorter than the right.

However, the sheer debilitation of not being able to walk and having to negotiate life in a wheelchair has given Boorman a new appreciation of what the disabled person has to contend with.

"Because I broke both legs, I couldn't walk although there were some funny moments," he says. "I got to the stage where I'd just managed to stand up so I thought I could drive the car and snuck out of the house one day for a drive. I left the wheelchair as the side of the road. When I came back I couldn't get in as someone had parked in front of it.

"I hadn't really thought it through and hadn't a phone to ring. So there I was parked outside my house beeping the horn, hoping for my wife to come and rescue me.

"Then when I came off the Vespa just after I turned 50, I broke my hip and it suddenly dawned on me that I was old and had the whiff of the nursing home about me with my broken hip," he joked.

"Getting back on the toilet on my own was something really important, after having being in bed, using a bed pan, being on a commode – all these things the rest of us all just take for granted.

"Being in a wheelchair is just so debilitating, people seemed to think that I wouldn't get out of it again. And when I went round the corner for a coffee with my wife Ollie, they would talk to her and not me and say 'How is he?' and I'm thinking 'Oy, I'm right here'. "

Boorman also writes about his early childhood and school days growing up in Co Wicklow with his family. His dad – director John Boorman, whose films include the Oscar-nominated Deliverance, as well as The Emerald Forest, in which the teenage Charley had a starring role, and Excalibur, which featured Liam Neeson, Ciarán Hinds and Gabriel Byrne in early big-screen roles – still lives there.

The love of bikes came from his time romping about the Wicklow hills with Sean Connery's son Jason, as the two lads became friends while their fathers worked on a movie together.

The undaunted Boorman will be touring Britain and Ireland on his book promotion tour and will be riding in the Adventure Ride Africa from August, riding from Cape Town to Victoria Falls and back.

:: Long Way Back by Charley Boorman, published by AA Publishing, is available now, priced £20.

11 May, 2017 01:00 Arts