I didn’t trouble too many people with the fact I had broken my thumb two hours earlier when I turned up on-set to film the BBC’s Christmas special of Oliver Twist. It was a tricky evening, I’ve certainly had better ones. We got the gloves on with some pain and throughout the night my dresser was discretely cutting slits in my costume to fit my ever-increasingly swollen thumb into my Dickensian coat. In the end I did a fair amount of acting with one arm behind my back, but thankfully no one spotted the problem. It could have been a real issue. I don’t often discuss in the professional context of the film world that I forgot I was riding a motorbike on a race track a few hours before work!
Yes, there is a bit of a risk riding bikes and doing my job, but I thought the track would be safer than the road. I had spent the day having some very enjoyable sessions on the bike with some fantastic instruction and really felt like I was beginning to get the hang of it. I got my knee down and was feeling confident when I fell into the classic ‘last session of the day’ trap. Who knows what happened, I’m suggesting a lack of control of the throttle, but exiting Druids I laid the bike down.
As I hit the floor I remembered what my friend Tom had said the day before. ‘If you do crash tuck your limbs in, it stops them breaking.’ I remember smiling to myself, tucking my arms in and going on that never-ending journey across the gravel. Unfortunatly, as it turns out, what I forgot to do was let go of the bar when I fell off, because it broke my thumb. Not that I realised at the time.
I just thought it was a bit bruised, my biggest worry was that my bike wasn’t going anywhere and I needed to get to work. As luck would have it I was the guest of Ducati UK that day and they knew I had to film that evening so they lent me a Multistrada which I drove to the set. After filming I rode home thinking ‘why is it so hard to pull the clutch in?’ The next day I was in hospital getting pinned.
That was my fastest accident but I’ve had three completely stationary ones. One where I stopped to let a man out and he very slowly turned right and ran me over at 1mph, but the best one happened recently. A bloke very kindly offered me his place at the end of a bike bay, so I pulled up parallel to him at discrete distance. As he started his engine I looked down and noticed that, in my inexperienced eyes, he appeared to still have his chain attached to his back wheel. I hesitated because I didn’t want to make a fool of myself in case it was some clever gadget, but he then pulled away and came to an immediate halt after about three inches, toppled over and knocked me to the floor like a domino. Much to the amusement of the people in a café who were watching. There was a degree of recognition when I took my helmet off, not something I’m that keen on when I’ve just been knocked off, and a few sarcastic comments about Barclay Cards followed.
I really wish I’d been one of those boys who got a battered bike when they were young and rode it through a field, but I came to bikes later on, mainly because I did a couple of acting jobs that needed bikes. I fancied having a go on a proper machine rather than messing around on mopeds. I did a thing on Channel Four called Green Wing. One of the characters rode a fold-up bicycle, one had a moped and I was playing this cool guy, so I suggested that perhaps he should have a cool bike. The producers thought that sounded like a good idea so I said, ‘not a problem, I’ll sort it out.’ I went off and bought a Ducati 1000SS, in discrete grey. You have to have a matt colour for filming because otherwise it shines out on the screen.
The trouble with a bike is that as soon as you put a lid on the audience can’t tell who it is riding it and although it looks great riding without a helmet you can’t do it. Most of the time I was sat on the bike stationary, but we did an action scene where I was pushed across a shot. We were in a disused hospital and, believe it or not, we weren’t insured to ride a hot motorcycle indoors. In the end we had six blokes push me down a corridor, I tucked in and six more blokes caught me at the other end.
I ride the bike to job interviews now. Helmet hair doesn’t bother me, I’ve given up caring what I look like..