Charley Boorman first came to the attention of gear heads in Long Way Round, a TV documentary of his motorcycle trip around the world with actor Ewan MacGregor. Their bromance continued in Long Way Down, riding from the tip of Scotland to the tip of South Africa. Without MacGregor, Boorman then documented his aborted attempt at the Dakar rally, and travelled from Ireland to Australia using more than 112 different types of transport in By Any Means.
Now he’s in Canada until July 25, riding a BMW R1200GS across the country to film his latest program, Extreme Frontiers, which will air on British television in 2012 and on a Canadian specialty channel shortly after that. Globe Drive caught up with him in Quebec, and you can follow his progress across the country at extremefrontiers.co.uk
You chose Canada as your first extreme frontier. What’s so extreme about Canada?
It’s not so much about extreme. It’s more about finding out about the place. We’re trying to get to know Canada, and the kind of fun you can have while you’re here.
Your father, John Boorman, directed the classic film Deliverance, and you had a small role, playing the son of Jon Voight’s character. Which part of Canada would make the best setting for the sequel?
I’m sure you could pick a lot. Anywhere that’s in the middle of nowhere.
What about Newfoundland? Deliverance 2, Squeal like a Cod.
That would be great.
Will Ewan MacGregor be joining you in Canada?
No, Ewan’s filming in London at the moment.
So you haven’t come to Canada because of our liberal same-sex marriage laws, to finally make it official with Ewan?
I think spending long amounts of time in a tent with Ewan is as close as I want to get.
What’s the next adventure with Ewan? There’s been talk of a South America trip?
At the moment, he’s doing movies, and I’m doing this. But eventually we’ll find some time and do a third one, for sure. There’s nothing planned yet. Just a lot of talk.
If Canadian fans want to meet you, what’s the best opportunity?
We’ve got a lovely thing called a Spot tracker on the website, so people can see exactly where we are. Also, once a year I go down to Africa, and I take 20 people on motorbikes. Anyone can come along for that.
What’s been your favourite experience so far?
In Newfoundland, two local fisherman took us out to this big iceberg, and we chipped some ice off and went and had some screech.
Your least favourite experience?
We took an overnight sleeper to Quebec, and it was lovely to watch the world go by, but sleeping on a sleeper train is just horrendous. And my bed slightly tilted to one side, so I kept falling off it.
What are you most looking forward to?
Doing a little bit of survival training in the wilderness. We’re going to go off into the middle of nowhere and do some rafting and camping and surviving.
What are you dreading the most?
The black flies. I’ve experienced them before in far east Russia. And, you know, I wouldn’t like to run into a bear.
What have you learned about Canada that you didn’t know before this trip?
I didn’t know that much about the history of Canada. From what I can gather so far, there were great explorers, and to survive in out these harsh conditions commands great respect.
Have you learned who Tim Horton is?
He was a hockey player, but he’s now more famous for something else.
Oh yeah. Didn’t he have a car crash, and then all these doughnut shops were opened up on his behalf and a lot it goes to charity?
Did you try Timmie’s?
You can’t not, can you? It’s a Canadian rite of passage, really.
Another famous Canadian is cancer hero Terry Fox. You’ve had your own struggle with cancer.
I lost my testicle to cancer, and it was discovered because of my dog, Ziggy. My wife had taken to him to the vet for his annual check up. They last thing they checked was his nuts. The vet said one looked a little odd, and we should keep an eye on it. My wife said, ‘One of my husband’s is a bit odd’ and he goes, ‘Well, you better get it checked out.’ Four days later I was on the slab having my testicle taken out. I don’t know whether to thank my dog, or my wife for knowing me so well.
Is it more comfortable to ride a motorcycle now that your testicles aren’t getting squished?
I’ve got a false one put in, a silicone one. It’s a great party trick. I can flick it at parties and people are amazed.
With guys like Ray Mears, Bear Grylls, and you, Brits seem to dominate the television adventurist genre. Why do you think that is?
I think the British were quite pioneering people. There’s definitely a sense of a gypsy in a lot of us, and that need to go out and explore.
Do you think programs such as yours might make adventure look too easy?
I don’t think so. Regardless of whether you have a TV crew there or now, you still have to do every mile. I still have to research the adventures. Then I have to go to the TV production company, and convince them that it’s the right thing for them. So it’s a huge amount of work that no one ever sees.
It sounds like you’re saying it might be harder to do it on television.
It’s a nightmare. Well, it’s not a nightmare. It’s part of it. And I’m very lucky to be in that position, but yeah, sometimes you just want to ride, and enjoy the moment, but then you’ve got to stop and film it.
What vehicles are in your garage at home?
I have a Mercedes van, sort of a posh people mover. And then I take the kids out and put my dirt bikes in and go racing. I have a Beta 400, and a GasGas 300 two-stroke. I also have a 1959 Triumph Thunderbird, which I love. It’s a hard-tailed, cherry red and chrome very nice little cafe racer. And a BMW HP2 Sport, and a lovely little custom bike made by Hog Haven. It’s a tribute to Lee Marvin in The Wild One.
What vehicle is not there, that you most wish was there?
Every other bike that’s ever been made. You need a bike for every feeling. That’s what I’d like to achieve.
This interview has been edited and condensed.