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Guy Martin: He's most comfortable fixing lorries, but TV has propelled the charming road racer to fame and fortune

Paul Lindsay looks at the most unlikely of journeys

Published 15/08/2015

Road racer Guy Martin
Road racer Guy Martin

Who would ever have thought that an unkempt lorry mechanic from Lincolnshire, who happens to race motorcycles on his weekends off, would become the housewives' choice and the must-meet celebrity for all and sundry in 2015?

Certainly not the man himself, Guy Martin, who says the highlight of his week is making a lasagne, or shepherd's pie, to keep himself up in sustenance during his working week, which begins at 5am every morning on his fixed-wheel push bike.

Martin has been an enigmatic personality in the motorcycling paddocks since he first arrived on the Irish road-racing scene more than a decade ago. Back then, it was his fast-talking steal on the Lincolnshire dialect, his angular features, wild thicket of hair and '70s sideburns that set him apart.

The television fame has come, as Guy likes to call it, "by default", after the famous Isle of Man TT races were depicted in a fly-on-the-wall, warts-and-all documentary, of which - much to the dismay of his peers - Guy was the star attraction.

Closer to the Edge was all about TT racers' freedom of choice and their will to win on the most famous - and most dangerous - 38 miles of tarmac in the world.

The film was a huge success, but in spite of Ian Hutchinson winning an unprecedented five TTs that week, there was only ever going to be one leading man - Guy Martin.

The charm and charisma of the Kirmington truck mechanic has since opened up the Isle of Man TT to a whole new audience, with affluent middle-aged women plotting adventures to the little island in the Irish Sea, just to catch a fleeting glimpse of the lean and gangly Lincolnshire lad, who really doesn't see what all the fuss is about.

Speaking of the fairer sex, he explains: "I'm not much good at that, if I'm honest. I can talk about it and have the craic, but when it comes to sorting it out, I'm a bit lost."

I've never been quite convinced of his rhetoric on that subject, although he does do a good job of plotting his escape from any sticky conversation, turning you on a sixpence to something a little more appealing to his better nature.

He loves how the human mind ticks, how people tick in general, and was instrumental in most of the motorcycling paddock grabbing a copy of The Chimp Paradox, written by Steve Peters and said to have inspired Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins and Sir Chris Hoy to sporting greatness.

Guy's Closer to the Edge success later inspired a production company to ring-fence Martin into a reputed seven-figure deal to head up a number of offbeat TV shows that allowed him to showcase his own eccentricities and obsessions in a mechanical arena, which was launched with ratings winner The Boat That Guy Built.

Since then, Martin, who openly admits that he is uncomfortable with fame and attention (possibly due to suffering from a form of Asperger's syndrome) has been allowed to continue the immersion in a plethora of nuts-and-bolts derived projects.

The Speed Series appealed to his massive global fan base in the motorsport arena and, of course, the six-part series How Britain Worked has had him likened to the Lancastrian steeplejack Fred Dibnah, who found fame in television, presenting programmes on mechanical engineering and the Industrial Revolution. As Martin told me earlier this year: "I don't know what the attraction is, but at the minute they'd film me opening a tin of beetroot."

That conversation was stimulated by the Top Gear conversation, where it is widely known that the BBC were headhunting Martin to work alongside new host, Chris Evans.

Not wanting to get drawn on the subject, Martin simply said: "I'm happy with the deal I have in place at the minute, where I get to do work on topics that I enjoy. I'm just myself and I won't do anything that I don't like. That's why the camera doesn't bother me.

"I know they will get bored with me eventually, but then I can just go back to concentrating fully on my job working on trucks. If I'd gone the other route, they'd be looking me to go on Strictly Come Dancing next. And that's not for me, boy - not for me at all."

While other people are fixated on his fame and growing fortune, Martin simply sees this opportunity to open doors and glean information that he would never had the chance to do otherwise.

The TV projects afford him a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to pursue his hobby on a scale beyond his wildest dreams and, of course, they help pay the bills.

"It's a way of meeting people I can glean information from and some of the stuff I've done as a result, well, money couldn't buy them, could they?" he says.

One thing Martin does not court is media attention; it simply seems to follow him wherever he goes. On a recent trip to Germany, while sipping a beer in a Munich restaurant, he said of his rollercoaster ride so far: "I sometimes think, 'Am I kidding myself? Do I really like this fame thing'? But, when I get away for a few days like this and no one really knows who I am, I do realise that fame is not for me. I really don't like it at all."

Just like in 2011, when Ian Hutchinson won five TTs in a week, last weekend at the Ulster Grand Prix Lee Johnston scored an amazing hat-trick, but was overshadowed by the enigma that is Guy Martin - even though the 33-year-old was laid up in the Royal Victoria Hospital after a 120mph crash at the same event.

The incident has put an embargo on a land speed world record attempt until the summer of 2016 and his aspirations to break the 100mph barrier later this year on the Wall of Death is also due a rethink because of his injuries.

You can nurture talent, but you cannot buy charisma and, for that alone, I think we will be hearing Guy Martin's name for quite a few years to come.

Whether that be between the hedges on a racing motorcycle, or on the small screen, one thing that is guaranteed: he will be back in a boiler-suit under the cab of a Scania lorry very soon.

That is undoubtedly where the real Guy Martin is at his very best.

A life so far

Age: 33

Born: Grimsby, November 4, 1981

Career Highlights: 11 Ulster Grand Prix wins, 14 Isle of Man TT podiums, eight Scarborough Gold Cup wins, 14 Southern 100 victories, eight North West 200 podiums

Belfast Telegraph

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