Pippa: ‘Eugene crashed into a wall at 200mph... but I got him to the altar on time, it’s all part of dating a superbike racer’
Just two days before he got married, Toomebridge motorcycle ace Eugene Laverty was injured in an horrendous crash. However, as his wife Pippa tells Linda Stewart, nothing was going to spoil the couple's big moment
You've got the dress and shoes, the flowers are all arranged and the guests are starting to arrive. What's the worst that could happen? Pippa Laverty knows. The 28-year-old famously faced the worst of hitches two days before she was due to get married to the love of her life, World Superbike star Eugene Laverty.
The couple had been planning to hold a quiet wedding with family in Monaco, followed by a proper celebration back in Ireland - but two days before the ceremony was due to take place in November 2015, Pippa received news that Eugene had been badly injured in a high-speed crash in Spain.
"Two days before that small private ceremony, I was told that Eugene was at the airport to go to Barcelona after being in a really bad accident," Pippa recalls.
"He had crashed at 200mph into the nearest wall and smashed his shoulder, broken his wrist and neck. He had two black eyes - not from hitting his face - but from the impact his brain took against his face."
The Toomebridge racer had come off his Ducati during a practice run in Jerez and was rushed to hospital in Barcelona for surgery.
"I jumped in the car, told my family to let themselves into the house when they arrived for the wedding, then there was a seven or eight hour drive to get Eugene out of the hospital to make sure he would be back on time," Pippa says.
Eugene was determined to keep his date at the altar - and that meant persuading the doctor to bring the surgery forward so that he would have recovered from the anaesthesia in time.
The couple had been told that if they didn't go ahead with the small, legal ceremony, it would take another five weeks to get a fresh appointment and the big bash back at Dromoland Castle in Co Clare wouldn't be able to go ahead.
"I got Eugene out of hospital at midnight and he was in church the next morning at 9am with his black eyes and a cast on his hand. But it's all part of dating a motorbike racer," Pippa says.
Amazingly, days later, Eugene was able to go ahead with the big family wedding at the castle in the Republic of Ireland with family and friends.
"He was able to walk down the aisle which was the main thing. His legs were fine - it was more his top half that was a little smashed up. Signing the registry was a bit of a challenge for him," she adds.
And with more than a little under-statement she adds: "He has chosen a hazardous occupation."
Despite all that, Pippa says Eugene hasn't had any serious accidents in his motorcycle racing career, but admits that what is considered 'not serious' by a racing family could be considered an horrendous injury by anyone else.
"It's a dangerous sport and, touch wood, he hasn't had the worst of injuries. As long as he doesn't hurt his head, anything else is relatively fixable," she says.
"It's part and parcel of the job. You never become immune to it but you kind of become used to it."
Pippa is always at Eugene's side to wave him off and wish him luck as he starts a race. She first met the 30-year-old when she was doing promotional work at big motorbike shows, but she admits she is not a motorbike fan - unlike some family members.
"It's flattering and I can understand why people would think I'm a big bike fan, but I'm not. My sister and stepbrother and stepdad are, but me and my mum are not motorbike fans," she points out.
Pippa grew up in Bishop's Auckland in Co Durham, the daughter of furniture shop owner Harry Morson, who passed away from cancer when she was 16.
She still has her mum Kate Morson, older sister Nicky, stepdad Steve Vasey and stepbrother Lee Vasey.
Pippa says she struggled at school until discovering at the age of 10 or 11 that she was dyslexic. She was lucky to be attending Durham High School for Girls as it has a dyslexic institute.
"My English teacher Mrs Roberts noticed there were dyslexic kids in the school and nothing in place for them and she took it upon herself to learn to become a dyslexia teacher and then set up the institute within the school. I was her first case study when she was learning at teaching college," she says.
"I wasn't academically minded - I always did better with people, practical things, sport - things that didn't involve passing a lot of exams.
"I never knew what dyslexia even was. I just struggled in class and was embarrassed when the teachers asked me to read aloud. It was more an embarrassment thing - I was nervous about doing things in class because I knew I would struggle and stutter. It was horrible.
"So it was a huge relief when Mrs Roberts said, 'There is nothing wrong with you - you just learn in a different way to everybody else. All you need to do is find your strength and go towards it. If it's sport, go towards sport. If it's people, do things with people, like hospitality work.'"
At 16, Pippa embarked on a hairdressing course.
"You usually find dyslexic people are quite creative and quite arty and inventive," she says.
"For a bit of fun on the side, I started doing hospitality work when I was 16. You know when your parents want you to be a model and they enter you into competitions - my stepdad Steve is a huge bike fan and he wanted an excuse to go to a big bike show in London, so he entered my sister Nicky into the competition.
"When I saw her doing it, I thought 'That looks like fun and as soon as I'm older I'll have a go at it'. It's different to the norm."
Once she reached 16, Pippa went to the show in London and took part in the competition, which was run by Motorcycle News.
"You had to sell newspapers, dress nicely and interact with people - take your picture with people and get information to send them a postcard of the show. It was a way of capturing data," Pippa explains.
"Then I got accepted for the Babe Squad, which meant I got to go to all the shows that Motorcycle News were doing all around the UK - so any bike races that were happening, I was going to them.
"I picked up other work along the way. I got to know people along the way too and I was asked to do cooking shows, electric shows… I would be a hostess on the stalls. I met lots of interesting, different people."
At the end of that year, Pippa had to renew her contract and re-enter the competition, so she travelled to the NEC in Birmingham to meet the new agent.
"That is where I met Eugene for the first time through some mutual friends," she says.
"We went out for dinner with some friends of mine and then we went out partying that night - and that is how we met for the first time.
I really, really fancied him, but I thought he had absolutely no interest in me - I thought he was more interested in making big shapes on the dance floor with his mates.
"But we exchanged numbers and stayed in touch for the next couple of weeks - and then he invited me to Ireland."
Pippa describes her first impression of the 19-year-old Eugene - "he was a typical Northern Ireland man - a quiet guy who just wanted to have a good time with his mates".
"I was chatting to him and he was really, really nice and really humble. I instantly felt comfortable with him.
"I really fancied him too - he was a dark-haired blue-eyed Irish guy and I fell in love with his accent.
"We messaged quite a bit after that and it eventually blossomed into love. He asked me to be his girlfriend and I was like 'we haven't kissed or anything - I think we should meet up again before I agree to be your girlfriend'."
Eugene invited Pippa to come to Northern Ireland for a weekend, but when she wasn't sure he offered to come and visit her home in Newcastle.
"So I had to ask my parents… this guy I met in Birmingham, would you mind if he stayed in our spare room?" Pippa says.
"My stepdad Steve said 'What's his name?' and I said 'Eugene Laverty' and he said 'Yes, he can'.
"He said 'Yes, I know who he is so if anything bad happens, I know where to find him'.
"We felt like we'd known each other for ages and totally clicked and I went to Ireland the following weekend and by this point we were fully teenage loved-up and inseparable.
"After that, because my work is really flexible, I was able to get jobs at the races with Eugene. He would fly to Newcastle and we would drive together to the races - I would work for the weekend and he raced.
"That was great until he had his first accident. After that happened - every time I was really worried about him so I couldn't focus on work and that wasn't fair on the people who were employing me at the time. So I just worked at different events that Eugene wasn't racing at, and I was able to be there with Eugene at the racing full time and not have to work. I could be more by his side supporting him."
After the first year in the British championships, Eugene got an offer to go to the MotoGP, a huge step forward in his career which required travelling round the world.
Pippa says: "At that time I had finished my hairdressing course and finished sixth form and all my friends were going off to university. I didn't know what I wanted to do and Eugene said, 'Why don't you travel with me for the year?'
"So we did that for two years, travelling all around the world in a little camper van. We were sharing a tiny motor home for weeks on end, but it was fun - and we've been doing the same ever since.
"Because I was always travelling so much, I couldn't keep up my contracts with work, so I've been working for Eugene, doing his marketing and PR and his website. I've been doing that for the last 10 years with him - it's been a life sentence."
Pippa says Eugene had been so focused on his racing career that she was the first girl he had brought home.
"When I went over to Ireland for the first time, Eugene's family were so welcoming. They made you feel at home straight away. Sheelagh, his mum, is a typical Irish mummy - she has always got the Irish stew on, she's always making a cup of tea for you or putting a hot water bottle in your bed.
"Eugene is one of six siblings - Emma is the oldest, then Michael, John, Catherine and the twins Eugene and Eamonn. Michael and John also race competitively - Eamonn is the only one of the boys that doesn't do anything with motorbikes.
'Although we don't live there full-time, I now see Northern Ireland as my home'
"His family lives in Toomebridge. It's a typical Irish home jammed full of people coming in and out, having cups of tea all the time, a really nice home. Mickey and Sheelagh would always make you feel welcome and make you feel part of the family.
"I think it's only the Irish that have that way of being able to do that, instantly make you feel welcome."
Pippa says she has travelled the world, but Belfast is by far her favourite city.
"I get really excited when any of my friends are going to Belfast and I give them a list of things to do. It's so compact and it's easy to get to everywhere, but it's full of character. You just feel safe there, and there are brilliant shops and there is so much history to Belfast as well," she says.
Pippa says she was never nervous about going to Belfast, despite its reputation.
"In England, because of my age I was not really aware of anything that had happened in Northern Ireland. I was totally ignorant about what was going on. It wasn't until I started being there more often, I would hear about it on the news," she says.
"I couldn't believe it - when you go into Belfast it isn't a war zone. I understand it as much as one can understand it, but still it doesn't make me afraid to go there.
"I just love the character of Belfast. The restaurants are amazing. You can't walk into any restaurant in Belfast and get a bad meal - they are all amazing. You can get Asian food at Zen or you can go to the Merchant Hotel or you can go to AM PM for a warm cosy meal and the variety is endless."
The couple bought their first home in Northern Ireland in 2010, just down the road from Eugene's parents.
"We still have the house, though we don't live in Northern Ireland full-time any more, but we love coming back and spending time with the family. I see Northern Ireland as my home when I go back," says Pippa.
"When we lived there I loved gardening. I wanted the full works - the full vegetable garden - but it's hard to even keep the grass at a decent level when we're away so much."
Eugene's latest career move will be a return to the World Superbike Championship.
"He will be racing for the Milwaukee Aprilia Team and he is going to try to challenge for the championship against Jonathan Rea, so it's going to be a very Northern Ireland effort," she says.
"He will start in the next couple of weeks with the first race in Australia, then go on to Thailand, with multiple races throughout the year and the final round will be hosted in Qatar."
Pippa says the couple would love to start a family - but not just yet.
"The timing is not right at the moment. Eugene's focus is on challenging Jonathan Rea for the championship," she says. "We're really happy to have the freedom of being able to travel and do what we enjoy for a little longer before we start a family. Kids are on the agenda - just not right at this moment."
Pippa says the championships means Eugene will be returning to race at the Laguna track in California, so they will be able to visit Las Vegas again.
"We're going to have a holiday and go round Napa and go down to Vegas. In the Superbike championship, we all get along very well and everyone is in the same city at the same time. It's like going on holidays with your mates every few weeks - it's really nice to be able to do that."