Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 22 October 2014

Martin? He’s just an ordinary guy

...yet he’s an extraordinary talent on two wheels and has also found fame as a TV personality

Speed merchant: Guy Martin careers around the NW200 course
Speed merchant: Guy Martin careers around the NW200 course
Guy Martin shakes hands with Northern Ireland Secretary of State Theresa Villiers
Guy Martin shakes hands with Northern Ireland Secretary of State Theresa Villiers

Guy Martin is back among his own and happy to be talking bikes again. The paddock is the environment in which he feels most comfortable.

At the North West 200, he is just another bloke in leathers doing what he enjoys most, hurling powerful Suzuki bikes along the north coast roads, thankful for the opportunity provided by his Moneymore-based employers, the father and son TAS Tyco team of Hector and Philip Neill.

You'd think, by now, he'd be used to television studios and camera crews in tow, capturing his idiosyncrasies, eccentricities and obsessions, mostly mechanical, and there are many.

It really does irk Guy Martin that, outside the bike racing fraternity who recognise him for what he is — an exceptionally talented and determined rider, whose ultimate ambition is to win an Isle of Man TT — there are people who want a piece of him because of his screen fame.

In the enigmatic world of Guy, he is a truck mechanic and biker first and foremost and a TV 'personality' by default.

Instant fame junkies and shameless publicity seekers must find him infuriating.

The immediately likeable and engaging 32-year-old from the small town of Kirmington in north Lincolnshire, with the rapid fire, sometimes impenetrable accent, is the most unlikely reality TV star and it’s the last description he'd apply to himself.

Guy didn't so much find fame as the other way around.

He didn't even have to try.

It all began when an enterprising BBC producer somehow sold the idea to his bosses of a documentary based on the efforts of Guy and his childhood friend 'Mavis' (Mark Davis) to renovate a narrow boat, called Reckless, travelling on the English canal network using the inventions of the Industrial Revolution. It was pure Guy, his mechanical mind so totally immersed in the nuts and bolts of the project, he didn't seem to notice the camera.

The Beeb schedulers clearly weren't convinced they were on a ratings winner, shunting The Boat That Guy Built into a late Sunday night slot.

But the camera and the viewers loved him, a cult following built up over the course of the series and a boat was floated, quite literally, as the offers flooded in.

And all over Northern Ireland, road racing fans pointed at their screen and exclaimed: “We know him... he's a biker!”

Which is how Guy would have liked things to remain.

That begs the obvious question, of course, that if he was going to find the unavoidable attention of TV fame uncomfortable, then why on earth did he agree to become the central figure in even bigger and more mainstream productions such as the breathtaking TT:Closer To The Edge movie, and, more recently, Channel 4's Speed with Guy Martin and, before that, the six-part series How Britain Worked, all steam, grease and old engines... his element.

Last week found him on The One Show alongside Top Gear presenter Richard Hammond and also on Chris Evans' Radio 2 Breakfast Show.

The latter commitments were contractual obligations to promote his newly-launched autobiography and, as, with all things Guy it has sped to the top of the best sellers' lists.

Envious TV wannabees must wonder how he does it; most people who've spent time in his company and found him to be a genuinely unaffected character, wonder why?

The answer is a means to an end. Bike racing has a relatively short shelf life. Truck mechanicing is his real job. Finding out how things work, and then making them work better fascinates him.

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, money couldn’t buy,” he confirms.

“The idea for the Speed series was to break the record for the fastest push bike.

“We went to a beach in south Wales, called Pendyne Sands, where a few records have been broken.

“I was towed up to 60mph [because the gears on the custom-built bicycle are too big to turn from standing]. After the first run I said, ‘This is going to go horribly wrong.’

“I wasn’t in control at all, because sand isn’t constant like tarmac.

“I said, ‘We’ll go for one run and that’s it.’ We did 112.9mph to break the British record.

“I didn’t come off but I came very near. I want to do 200mph now.”

He also does it because he knows one day it will all be over and he'll be back to his trucks.

TV chat shows are not the vehicle for him.

Nor does he court media attention — that finds him as well.

We'd met briefly a few times before we sat down for a first proper interview after he'd been shown like a kid in a candy shop around the Titanic building, hypnotised more by the workings of the great liner than the history lesson.

“Why are people interested in me,” he asked in all honesty. “I mean, if I wasn't doing all that TV stuff, would we be doing this interview?”

Er, yes. We've been writing about you ever since you turned up at the Ulster Grand Prix with those sideburns, back in the day when Bradley Wiggins’ bike still had stabilisers.

Even then you knew Guy Martin was different... something was always going to set him apart, even the sideburns.

He related: “I’ve had sideburns since I was 16 but back then a gust of wind would have blown them off.

“I was racing in Australia and we all got drunk one night. One of the lads pinned me down and shaved one off.

“They thought I’d shave the other off to match but I just spent ages with one sideburn.”

Away from the track, he rides mountain bikes, collects spanners, loves the music of Stone Roses — though he's never seen them live — and although mechanics are his specialist subject, technology is just not his thing.

Irony neither as he reveals: “I have no TV so I never see myself. I like films, but I can’t sit still for very long. I don’t have a smartphone either, just an old Nokia.

“There’s so much information out there, and I’m short enough on time as it is. You go on the internet and the next thing you know, hours have passed.”

Given the choice, most people would choose the rewarding life of a TV career over the risk business of bike racing.

The fact Guy continues to opt for the latter tells you all you need to know about his priorities and commitments.

More so when you remember how that TT film ended so badly for him, in a horrific 170mph fireball crash.

Reliving the 2010 moment in his book, he recalls: “It was the start of the third lap, the last race of the fortnight. The last chance to get a TT win for another year, and I was pushing hard... then Ballagarey.

“The kind of corner that makes me continue road racing. A proper man’s corner. You go through the right-hander at 170mph or more.

“It’s blind. You can’t see the exit when you fully commit to the entry.

“I’d been through Ballagarey 100 times flat out, but this time something happened. This time the front end tucked, lost grip and started sliding.

“It was the beginning of a crash.

“I didn’t think ‘this is going to hurt’ just ‘whatever will be, will be’.”Seriously injured, but undeterred, he continues to chase the TT dream, well aware of the downside.

 “I've had lots of mates killed; it's all part of it. The world that we are living in is being sanitised so much, everything is being done over with health and safety.

 “But the Isle Of Man TT and lots of similar races, health and safety hasn't got to them yet.

“You know if it all goes wrong then it's going to get messy.

“That is what I love about it. That's where I get the buzz from.”

 Not from the lights of a TV or movie camera. Guy Martin is a racer.

The 32-year-old racer, TV personality and truck mechanic Guy Martin has won multiple international road races, including 22 Ulster GPs and eight Scarborough Gold Cups, plus scoring 13 Isle of Man TT podiums. His book Guy Martin — My Autobiography is out now.

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