King of the road
Telly stars Si King and Dave Myers have become firm UK favourites with their hilarious Hairy Bikers show. In an exclusive interview, Geordie Si reveals the stories behind the hit BBC TV series
By Michael Hamilton
Pictures courtesy of the Hairy Bikers
Geordie Si King and Lancashire lad Dave Myers have been pals for more than 20 years. They originally met while working on TV and film sets – but in those days they were both firmly behind the scenes. Father-of-three Si, who still lives on Tyneside with wife Jane, was a locations manager and Dave a whiz at special effects make-up.
Since they got their big break to move in front of the cameras four years ago the loveable duo’s cooking and biking antics on BBC2 have won them an army of fans nationwide.
I caught up with Si during a break in filming their 2008 Christmas special.
You’ve been on the road for five years filming your shows. What’s been your hairiest moment?
‘Having guns pointed at us at a military checkpoint was pretty scary. We were travelling through Turkey and believe it or not the most sensitive border isn’t the Syrian one or even the Iraqi one but the Iranian border. We were heading towards a place called Van, a city in Eastern Turkey where there is a master kebab builder we wanted to visit and learn how to make a proper doner kebab.
‘Unfortunately the Kurdish separatist organisation the PKK were camped in the hills and security was very tight. I got to this checkpoint first and I noticed that Dave had suddenly gone very quiet.
‘The next thing I know I’ve got a Kalashnikov AK-47 pointed at my head. Apparently they had taken exception to all the cameras on Dave’s bike. I had simply forgotten they were there.
‘We managed to smooth things over but I must confess that Dave and I had a few skiddies at that point!
It looked like you had a lot of fun doing the Christmas special.
‘Well we’ve been on the road celebrating other peoples’ cultures for the last five years so we thought it would be nice to do something at home and celebrate our own culture.
‘As ever it was about having a good laugh. But we also wanted to celebrate the people who have to work at Christmas like the emergency services – doctors, nurses, ambulance crews, the Army and RAF – people who often have to be away from their families at that time of year when everyone wants to be at home.
‘We had a lovely couple of days at The Alnwick Garden and we got dressed up as elves for it. There’s this lad from Norfolk on the film crew and I heard him on the phone to his wife saying: “It’s beautiful here in the North East but it’s also scary – you should see the size of the bloody elves up here. They are seven foot tall!”
Are the shows scripted or do you ad lib?
‘We never script anything really – it’s mostly from the hip. It’s like when we shot the stuff with my mam Stella for the Hairy Bakers series and we had this little story about me trying to get her little black recipe book with all her cooking secrets in it. She was so funny. I’m on camera saying it’s for the BBC, mam and she said: “I don’t care who it’s for – you’re not getting it.”
‘The bottom line is we have a great laugh doing the show and over the past five years we have had life-changing experiences. We’ve ridden across the Namibian desert on the wrong sort of motorcycles without any sort of off-road training and fallen off a lot and got back on and fallen off again.
‘We’d do it again but only if we had proper motorcycles. The joke is Charlie Boorman and Ewan MacGregor got the proper BMW off-road training course somewhere in the Welsh mountains for their series and Myers and me got once round the car park and a bag of pies then off you go.
‘Actually Dave and I have always been keen to be taken out of our comfort zone. On one level it creates good telly but on the level of being men you get a much truer cultural experience. It’s not like being a tourist on a coach trip.
‘Again in Turkey I remember pulling up in this village and there were a load of old men sitting around drinking mint tea. And you’ve got these two fat lads from the north of England on big motorcycles looking a bit feral and we were invited to sit with them.
‘We’re constantly surprised at how welcome we are made to feel whether it’s in Turkey on our travels or here in the UK. It’s a lovely thing to happen in your life.’
What’s the worst thing you’ve ever tasted on your travels?
‘Without a shadow of doubt the goat’s penis in Vietnam was the weirdest thing I’ve ever tasted!
‘We don’t use food as a sensationalist tool in the show but in Vietnam the people were going back to their peasant food culture after the time of the American occupation when they made everything into burgers – and they were eating offal or whatever they could find.
‘In this particular Vietnamese restaurant they were reflecting this food culture, so we tried the deep-fried scorpions. Then this little fella came over and said: “Have the goat’s penis. It’s on special offer, and if you order it you get the testicles free!”
‘So this set of tackle arrives in a hot pot with a very suspicious broth. To this day we don’t know what was in it, but we had a pretty good idea.
‘It was very chewy but didn’t taste of anything really. The bizarre thing was the guy who was serving us was dressed up as a Mexican waiter for some inexplicable reason. It was quite surreal.’
Is there any food you hate?
‘Give over! I’m not this shape for nowt. Seriously, I take it all as it comes – goat’s penis apart that is! There isn’t any food I don’t like. At home Jane has fostered this attitude of trying anything and my children have probably the most sophisticated palates of any kids in the North East. My eight-year old Dylan just loves oysters!
‘What I do hate is paying good money for bad food. We don’t spend a fortune on food but what we do buy is spot on in terms of quality. You don’t want to feed your kids rubbish do you?
‘There’s a big food revolution going on in the UK. It’s happening quietly and slowly and it won’t be just a flash in the pan. There will be some longevity to it.
‘Dave and I hate fashion food. Good food will be good food as long as husbandry is correct and it doesn’t even need to be organic just so long as the animals are properly cared for.
Who does the cooking at home?
‘What I love to do when I come home is cook. Jane looks at me sometimes like I’ve got two heads. She says: “You cook all the time. Why do you want to come home and cook?” But I love it. It’s my way of relaxing and chilling out because with all the travelling I do with the show I don’t get to see the family as often as I’d like. I’ve got three sons – Alex, James and Dylan – and I’m very proud of them.
Do you grow your own?
‘I love the lifestyle idea of it but I just don’t spend enough time at home. Anyway I’d need a bloody small farm to feed my lot. Seriously though I would have to employ someone to do it for me because I spend so much time travelling so there’s simply no point. My brother has got an allotment somewhere apparently though.
Do you and Dave ever fall out?
‘No. We’ve been mates for 20 years. It’s hard enough working in TV as it is without having personal dramas going on in the background as well so we just give each other plenty of space and it doesn’t become an issue.
‘Fundamentally he is like my brother. It’s an odd relationship but I can say – in all honesty – we don’t fall out. We probably spend more time with each other than we do with our families so we have to get on.
‘I love him like he is my brother. The only difference is he’s not my blood. But he’s a smashing human being. Mad as a box of fish but a smashing lad.’
Tell me about the Food Map of Great Britain.
‘There are 89 counties in the UK and we go to each county and ask: “What is good about this, what is this famous for, what is their iconic food, what do they produce?” Then we put it all together and make a dish, then we have a competition. We put ourselves up against a local famous chef – it will be Terry Laybourne when we do Northumberland for example – then we cook against them in the kitchen and have a blind tasting. But it’s all about using local ingredients.’
What’s good in the North East?
‘There are loads of fantastic organic food producers in the North East. Sutherland’s oysters are great then there’s Steve Ramshaw’s beef. There’s a couple in Kirkwhelpington who produce fantastic organic vegetables, and in the Tyne we’ve got the best salmon river in the country.
‘The stottie is a North East icon and Greggs are a great company, a North East company, a national and international company and we should be very proud of them. Their ethos about waste and the environment is brilliant. I went to a seminar at Jesmond Dene House on all this and listened to a load of speakers on it and Greggs really impressed me. It really stuck in my head.
Do you have any plans to open a restaurant?
‘I do have a slight stirring to open a restaurant. But the problem with me is I’m a very hands-on kind of bloke and I would only open a restaurant if I had a good six to eight months off a year from the TV stuff, so that I could do it properly.
‘My problem is that I’m not very good at handing stuff over that I’m passionate about. I tend to either do it myself or I don’t do it.’
What was your first ever motorbike?
‘The first bike I properly owned was given to me by Stevie and Martin Proctor – it was a Yamaha SX 650 twin custom thing. I repainted it red and gold and called it the Baron as in the Red Baron. I took the suspension off and put a hard tail on it. It nearly shook your liver out when you rode it!
‘My auntie Hilda used to live in Lamesley and there was a crossroads there that was notorious for people crashing. She used to have a load of bedsheets ripped up and ready for bandages because there was always a bit of bike or scooter or something on the road from the lads coming from the Team Valley trading estate.
‘My dad was actually a despatch rider so it’s in the blood. When he was working on the Russian convoys in the Second World War he had a terrible injury – he slipped and fell down a hatch and bruised his kidneys and liver. They took him off the boat the next time he was in port and after he recuperated he had a sabbatical and did some despatch riding.
‘My uncle Gordon and uncle George always had motorcycles too so bikes have been a big part of family history. My brother still calls them sewing machines and takes the mickey but that’s what big brothers do.
‘Dave and I love big heavy motorcycles – they are great for all the miles we do. We’ve got more free applicators for haemorrhoid cream than anybody with all the miles we do in a year. I just rode home from Southampton the other day after filming for the new series.
‘We are bikers first and foremost – that’s who we are and what we do and we love it.’
Has this new-found celebrity status surprised you?
‘I can’t get used to this celebrity lark. I got a text from a friend the other day that puts the price of fame in perspective.
‘She was walking back from the pub and she suddenly saw my face on the side of a bus. She said: “I got the shock of my life and it made me stand in some dog muck. It’s ruined my shoes and it’s all your fault.”