Eddie Kidd Biography

Eddie sits with Barry Sheene and Evel Knievel as a biking icon and now takes on his biggest challenge - to walk again. And who said white men can't jump?

We sit with mild anxiety in the front room of Eddie's semi-detached Hertfordshire cottage. A shout goes out for "Eddie". A "Yeah" comes back. And then the sound of a wheelchair gingerly negotiating a cramped interior.

A front trolley wheel on Eddie's 'chair refuses to get in line and snags on a door jamb. We sit tight while Kidd doggedly manipulates his wheels through the hazard. This is awkward. There is no rulebook in the unfamiliar and inconsistent arena of abled/disabled protocol. Do you help or let the man sort himself out?

"Do you want a hand Eddie?" I ask, after short time that feels like a light year. "No, I'm all right thanks," he says, head down as he concentrates on the job in hand. Eddie Kidd, multiple World Record holder and good-looking bastard, enters the room.

He's much slimmer and a great deal sparkier than anyone who saw pictures of him in the recent aftermath of his 1996 Long Marston disaster could imagine. He shakes hands and settles into a seat with a little assistance. But even in the shuffle onto the sofa there's a strength and agility slightly unfamiliar in a currently 'chair-bound man recovering from a proper near-death experience.

We get the tea on. "In the Arsenal mug," requests Eddie. He's registered the surprise at his general demeanour. "Go on - feel that," he beckons, tensing his left bicep like a circus strongman. The muscle is ferociously tight. "Yeah." And he nods one of those 'you better believe it' nods.

There's something going on here. If this was ever expected to be a voyage around a smashed-up has-been, it is immediately clear that Eddie Kidd has other plans. He confesses to completing 600 sit-ups that morning - more than most of us manage in a lifetime.

But Kidd is one of those people who packs a great deal into a lifetime. Cast your mind back to Eddie's world of big leaps, Levi ads and the compulsory 'leggy lovelies' of the 1980s. He had it all. Now he has it all to do.

When he smashed himself up at Long Marston in August 1996, he did it properly: broken pelvis, collarbone and T6 vertebra in the neck. But it was the massive injury to his cerebellum - the part of the brain at the base of the skull that coordinates muscular activity - that was the big one.

The pelvis, collarbone and vertebra have healed. The legacy of the brain injury persists in movement and speech. But precisely because it is a brain injury, there can be hope - however slim - of improvement.

And Eddie Kidd has turned this slim hope into a belief that he will not only walk again, but ride again too. His speech is slurred and he sometimes has trouble getting his mouth round some syllables: a lot like some deaf people talk, but slower and more deliberate. Not bad at all for someone who was seconds away from being profoundly dead.

"The doctors wanted to turn the machine off," says Eddie. "Thank God they didn't get to do it 'cos they've got a big fucking shock coming." And he fixes the room with a spirited stare as if to make sure no one around him doubts not his determination, but the end result, the fact that Eddie Kidd will ride again.

He's been defying doubt most of his life. When he saw the movie Evel Knievel in 1971 at the Screen on the Green in Islington, north London, it made a bigger impression than one of Knievel's worst landings. Eddie dreamed he could fly. No one took the dream seriously, but Eddie. So he started jumping. Naturally it involved a bicycle, a ramp and various prone 'volunteers'. But it became more than idle amusement. It became an obsession.

Eddie grafted front forks from a Puch Maxi moped on to his bicycle frame to stop them snapping on landing, then came Maxi wheels to stop the feeble bicycle rims collapsing on touchdown. He ended up building 12 bicycles as each one gave up under the constant pounding. Then came the first motorcycle, a 125cc James, and obsession became reality - if Eddie was pulling stunts on a motorcycle, then he was, by definition, a stunt rider.

He joined the Cyclomaniacs and 'jumped' a 500cc BSA B50 single through wooden fences and over oil drums for a fiver. "I even did a Junior World Record, twice in one day, for £45. There wasn't room to land and I had to lay the bike down -twice," he recalls with fresh disbelief. "Knievel was getting a lot more than £45!"

There's no doubt things were tough for Kidd. He was training seven days a week, he believed he could fly, and there was Knievel counting the dollars and larging it in spangly leathers while Kidd was watching speedway down Harringey stadium. "You never wanted to see anyone crash at the speedway, but of course they do. And if they do you want to see them get up, so then you can say, that was a big one. But by then I'd worked out that 25% of people who came to see me jump wanted to see me make it and 75% wanted to see me crash." He always knew this was a cruel game.

In 1976 he hit the big time: £125 to jump 13 buses at Picketts Lock, north London. He did it and he crashed on landing, but a phone call from Knievel was greater reward. "Apart from telling me to take it easy, he told me there were only two better jumpers than him - and they were both dead." Two of Kidd's immediate contemporaries, Robin Winter-Smith and Alan Garrett, died jumping.

"I have my bad days," says Eddie. "And I've wanted to kill myself a few times. I can't even pick a piece of paper up off the floor. It might take me a few hours to get that bit of paper, but I'll get it in the end. Nothing is impossible: that's the thing you have to believe in - to know."

Kidd has a lot of support around the house and in the area: Ron Templeman who spannered for him, his son Simon, his carer Dermot Murray, and Kevin Barclay-Webb, an ex-boxer who provides Eddie with a special exercise machine called a Power Plate.

They are a dedicated crew, and well used to the one-man ego-mountain that is Eddie Kidd. "It's easy to let other people do things for me - but that's not me," says Eddie.

"He's got incredible energy levels," says Kevin. "When you work with someone who doesn't have fight in them, it sucks the energy out of everyone else. People often want a quick fix and there are no quick fixes in rehab."

Eddie's rehab programme would kill a jungle-fit Rhino. Aside from the almost insane sit-up regime, there are the Power Plate workouts. This exercise machine produces vibration at selected frequencies designed to stimulate stretch reflexes in muscle fibres. Contracting vital muscles and then relaxing them at an intense rate adjusts the body to vital workouts without putting undue stress on recovering patients.

Bigger than Bazza

Think of Roberts v Sheene and you're some way to grasping the Knievel v Kidd rivalry.

While Barry had the Brut 33 commercials, Eddie did the Levis jeans job. Barry had Stephanie MacLean, Eddie had Debbie Ash, Angie Best (and plenty more). They were the two titans of Brit biking and the only two ever to crack mainstream media. And Eddie had another ace card in the publicity pack when he began movie stuntwork. His 160ft leap over a Somerset ravine in the film Hanover Street starring Harrison Ford was a very big deal, leading to parts as doubles for Pierce Brosnan in Goldeneye and for Timothy Dalton in The Living Daylights.

It even resulted in a real acting job for Eddie as Dave Munday in Riding High which, not entirely surprisingly, involved another leap - this time 150ft across the River Blackwater in Essex.

Next up for Eddie was the music business. After Nick Kamen's transfer from Levi Jeans idol to pop star, it followed that Eddie would take the same route. EMI released Black Leather, Silver Chrome and followed it up rapidly with Motorcycle Kidd - neither tune (and we use the term loosely) did very much. Then Decca thought they could do a bit better with Eddie and threw their then considerable weight behind Leave It to the Kidd, which fared slightly better. Well enough to result in an appearance on Revolver, a showcase series then fronted by acerbic comic genius Peter Cook, who remarked: "This man is known for jumping over buses. After you hear this single you'll hope he jumps under one."

Even Warner Brothers jumped in to make something more of Eddie's pop career, but it was plain that not even the smoulderingly good-looking Eddie Kidd was going to be able to light any fires with the rubbish material provided for him.

Eddie also had a TV opportunity to leap a gaggle of Radio One DJs at Brands Hatch deep in the days of the very worst Smashie and Nicey excesses. Tony Blackburn drew the short straw and lay furthest from the take-off ramp with such luminaries as Dave Lee Travis, Simon Bates, Noel Edmonds and Peter Powell also in the firing line. Eddie missed them all.

Make no mistake, Mr Kidd was, and still very much is, the 'real deal'. No one since Barry Sheene and Eddie in his heyday have even come close to making it that big again.

He's popping enough vitamins to sink a high-street healthcare chain and he's eating his usual trencherman quantities of chicken, fish, fruit and brown bread. His old training adage: fit in body, fit in mind, has never been more important in the fight to walk again.

For someone who was so used to the restorative effects of constant exercise, Eddie had to rely heavily on mental power alone in the dark days of institutionalised caring in the immediate aftermath of his Long Marston disaster. "I wasn't getting the right sort of help, I didn't get as much physical help as I would have liked. I even drew a big escape hole on the back of my bedside cabinet and I was crossing off the days on the wall like some prisoner in an old movie. Every time I was supposed to leave they came up with more excuses to keep me locke d up."

After a brief demo on the Power Plate, Eddie's back in the front room holding court. Like many of the greats who were once right at the top of their game, he has a grudging respect for some, and only some, of his successors. He rates Seth Enslow: "Yeah he's brave, he's got balls." But some of the comments reserved for the lesser lights of the jumping profession are on the ruder side of dismissive.

"I invented the mountain bike when I built my stunt bicycles - I could have made a fortune. And I've made all my managers fucking millionaires..."

"Except this one," shouts Simon from the kitchen. Eddie stands for some more photographs. His legs can take his full weight with someone on hand to offer a steadying hand for balance. The next step is to get them moving well enough to walk. The efforts Eddie makes - the sheer concentration required - must be excruciating. It is tough to watch, but at the same time there's the realisation that if he's come this far this quickly, there's every likelihood that he will do what he says he will.

So when Eddie says after heavy consideration "I'll be walking by March 2004," you are at once stunned by the current improbability, but simultaneously forced to remember that this is one of the more extraordinary human beings you're dealing with here.

We talk about the old days when he lived high on the hog, drinking and generally carrying-on in Stringfellow's and a ruinous roster of other dens; of the film-star friends and acquaintances, the fairer-weather film-star friends and acquaintances and the few really good mates he has left.

"I did a picture with Frank Bruno and Michael Watson. And Watson said to me: "You should turn to God." I believe in God and I always say my prayers. I'm a Catholic and the way I think about God is I'm not going to go to church and dabble in God just because of my crash. I wouldn't like him to think I'm using him. When I'm lying there sometimes it's been a last resort. But I am a very proud person.

"I believe in fate. God knew I was going to crash, I needed something to slow me down. And if it hadn't happened I'd be dead. The crash saved my life." And then he takes us back to the flying dream he had after watching the Knievel movie those years ago. "It was like the same dream, but instead of flying I was walking - but it was exactly the same feeling as when I was young."

He's had other dreams too. "When I was in hospital I saw my Uncle Bobby. It was an out-of-body experience. I was inside a pig - you know, an ancient banquet pig with an apple in its mouth and its legs were being sawed off with a hacksaw. I thought they were cutting my head off and I was desperate to wake up to see my face to make sure it was still there."

It has not been an easy road and it will no doubt continue to be a long, hard struggle for Eddie Kidd. But he has the means to make it. The superhuman self-confidence is still there in spades and there is a wealth of support from close friends and a wider circle of genuine fans.

Carer Dermot's seen it and says: "Everything he turns his hand to - whether it's speech or physical work - he just sticks at it, he just keeps going until he gets there."

"It's not if..." says Eddie fixing the resolute stare, "...it's when." It will be one of the greatest comebacks since Lazarus.