This interview of Billy (Biketruck) Ward is by far the silliest, yet most inspirational! As you will read, Billy has the incredible spirit and resilience of an adventurer and the pluck of a teenage boy.
He’s a regular bloke who was inspired to change his entire life circumstance based on a DVD and a dream. When I processed Billy’s responses, my first thought was; are people really able to do that? Bill Ward is proof positive that hell yes! Each of us possess the power to change the course of our lives if we have a bit of imagination, verve, and the ability to roll with the punches; having a great sense of humor always helps. Billy has heaps of that!
Don’t nobody miss out on this rousing read!
Thanks, Mr. Ward, this was a great ride, and no, that’s NOT a euphemism!
Interview: Billy “BikeTruck” Ward
BD (Bree Donavan): I always like to start by asking when you were ten-years old what did you want to be when you became a grown up?
BW (Billy BikeTruck Ward): I always wanted to be a fireman and have my own hose. I’m not a fireman – but reasonably content with my hose.
BD. How did you meet Charley Boorman? You two seem to have a very strong and supportive friendship. Apart from helping out your mate, what were some of the main reasons you wanted to travel and train in Africa?
BW. On Boxing Day of 2004, my wife gave me a letter as she left to visit parents. It was a ‘you’re fooked’ kinda letter – a legal type – yep a divorcee deal! My wife was a divorce lawyer, so it didn’t start well, or end well. She was a very good divorce lawyer!
I was pretty devastated especially as we just had a great Xmas day and had friends over, etc. My 16yr old daughter asked me on Boxing Day morning, “What do you think of the divorce then dad?” I was busy looking at my cool remote control boat that my wife had bought me the day before. “Who’s getting a divorce?” I said slightly interested. “Well, er, you are dad,” was her reply.
On opening the letter – a long envelope, embossed with a legal eagle across the seal, I realized that Christmas didn’t go as well as I’d thought and ‘sealed with a loving kiss’ was missing from this particular envelope!
So along came Long Way Round
I bought the DVD…
And limped through my horrible divorce week by week, where my only escape was Charley Boorman and Ewan McGregor. I only allowed myself short bits of the DVD as to make it last. It was just brilliant. I used to watch it and think, I’m funny, I’m nice, I’m a bit silly-I could be Ewan’s friend-I could travel and do all that stuff on my bike. I even told a couple of my mates in the pub-you know, the one who ask, “So how’s the divorce going, Billy boy?” And then they regret they’d asked!!! As an hour later, tears and desperation made them all suicidal-or worse wanted to murder me! Yes, I even told them that I could be Ewan and Charley’s friend.
So, the divorce was done and dusted in four months-the fastest ever, the judge said! My wife was very good! I decided to take redundancy from my well paid consulting job-working for Accenture in London. I bought a brand new KTM (Charley would have killed me!) and headed off to Africa, North Africa on my own-a journey of discovery, rain, ice and punctures
Later in the year I decided to follow theas Charley had entered it. This was awesome-I waved Charley on in Morocco and then he broke both his hands– but my own adventure was in full swing. Following the Dakar in terrible weather (at that time, I didn’t realize it snowed in Africa!) I arrived at the finish line in Senegal but decided to keep riding. I got a glimpse of Ewan and Charley, but felt a bit of a knob approaching them. I was away for about three months-and had a revelation one morning alone in my little tent. No, that’s not a euphemism…
I decided that people would probably pay money to come and have the same kind of adventure that I was having-warts and all-punctures, weather; anxiety-it’s all part of the deal. So when I arrived back to the UK I opened up a small business called Biketruck.com.
Biketruck picked up your bike in my truck, and I took it to North Africa-well, Southern Spain to be precise-but just to the ferry to Morocco and a 35 minute boat ride to the Dark Continent! Although successful, it was a far cry from the high earnings attained in Accenture, while at the same time, it gave me the confidence and experience of guiding and organizing adventures. And of course it brought me closer to the wonder of Africa. No, it’s not a cliché, Africa will bite you and once bitten, you’re hooked. Later that year, I heard that Charley was doing a Prezo (presentation) in Squires Bike Pub in North Yorkshire. At seven pounds a ticket and just a two hour ride away, I was in.
Charley’s production values at this event were in the region of zero! He had a laptop DVD player to play clips, a tiny screen for the projector and no microphone. The audience was at least 400 strong-and we could hardly see him or hear him. Basically it was crap!
The lady behind the bar had a Mic that she used to shout out the food orders, so I commandeered that and passed it to Charley-I also suggested he stand on a table! He’s not as tall as he looks on T.V.!
After a performance that lacked production or class, but overflowed with great stories and content, I joined the queue for autographs. My turn came and Charley asked, “Who to?” I replied, “I don’t want your autograph, Charley, I just wanted to say how poor I thought the show was tonight.” After a few expletives back from Charley I explained to him very ‘confidently’ that I was a theatre producer and would like to help him get his half-baked Prezo into a fully cooked touring theatre show.
A month later I’m in the headquarters of Long Way Round, sitting on Ewan’s GS1150 and to be honest-I had to pinch myself! I wandered around the garage looking at all the bits and pieces that I’d seen on the TV Show-it was pretty special to me. I took a lot of sneaky selfies! When I got off the train in London, Kings Cross, I saw a business card machine. You pay five pounds and print there and then; a business card of your choice, 100 of them to be precise. So out came my ‘William Ward-Theatre producer.’ CREDENTIALS… Easy Eh?
Our meeting began-an hour late-cheers Charley! Andwas the lead player. He was hard and stared at my fake business card for a long time. He talked very businesslike-too much so in my view and pushed for ‘return on investment percentages’ and ‘revenue initiatives’ and the like. I felt like I was back in an Accenture meeting with some top corporates. He also took lots of calls while I was speaking which frankly did my head in!
When Russ took yet another call and left the room-I hit Charley with the deal. I’ll write and produce one show at my coast. If it works, we split the profit, if it fails, you walk away. The deal was done and we shook on it.
The rest is in the book…
BD. How challenging was Africa? Did you feel prepared, or were there some unexpected surprises?
BW. Well, as I said above, Africa was a challenge to begin with. It’s about the unknown, the anxiety can really mess your head. My first night in Mauritania in my little tent in the desert- I was worried that someone may creep up and steal my 250 Kilo bike. This was in a country where getting some rice or maize along with some fresh water for a day would be the priority of most of the local people. Why the feck would anyone want to or know how to steal a brand new KTM 990? I can just see the teenager arriving home to his mud hut village on the new bike and explaining to the elders that he’s just bought this new bike-that it was indeed his, and no, he never stole it.
I was so scared; I had a metal wire rope that went around my bike’s frame and into my tent and around my ankle! Seriously-they’d have to cut that wire rope to rob my bike. Of course I never considered it might be easier to cut off my foot! This was all bollox and once I’d settled into the journey, the anxiety and worry lifted. The magic of Africa can challenge you, scare you sometimes-but totally ‘fixes’ you. I’d say I’m a different person now. The sprinkling of that mysterious continent has baptized me with the joy of adventure travel-has humbled me and helped me appreciate my own life ten times over.
BW. Mainly the alarm clock! It’s a bastard!
In terms of actual physical work, I’m probably only active for about six months in a year. By that I mean I don’t hibernate for the rest of the year-I’m not like a Grizzly! Physical work means like leading or working a tour or presenting a show or bike event, or working on a T.V. project. Don’t get me wrong-for the other six months, I’m in my home office planning, e-mailing, dealing, begging and promoting. I work harder now than I did when I was at Accenture, and I earn way less-but it’s a different way of life. I’d never want to go back!
I also have three kids who I adore. They take the piss out of me cos they see me as an Adventure Grandad and get embarrassed when their mates comment about something I’ve done or said on social networks. But, underneath, I think they see it as pretty cool. More fun to have a dad who is traveling all over the world and occasionally takes them, or meets them in the middle of Africa for some family adventure!
BD. Speaking of inspiration…are your children as adventurous as you?
BW. For sure-I’m not certain if it’s a genetic thing, as their mum was pretty cool in terms of travel and adventure. She was from South America, Guyana to be precise. We’d traveled there before as a family when the kids were very young. It was uber cool to be there with her-her roots and all that. We met lots of her extended family and it was a real eye opener.
My middle girl in particular has traveled extensively and solo too. So, she’s pretty awesome. I’ve got great respect for her attitude. She’s spent lots of time in Africa and over the years has learned Swahili which is uber awesome, especially if I meet her in Tanzania or Kenya- it’s like having your own personal guide with you as she tells Taxi drivers off when they try to screw me with the inflated Tourists fares! She also helped to set up a little orphanage in Tanzania which she is still associated with. She’s a class act and I’m so proud of her. My other two children smell.
BD. So many of us were incredibly worried for Charley (Boorman) when earlier this year he had a terrible accident; Ewan McGregor often warns drivers to look out for the bikers on the road. What gets you back on the bike when you or a good mate has had a significant scare?
BW. Well, we often end up chatting about crashing-particularly after a long trip. Patting yourself on the back after another 30,000 Kilometer year saying, “Wow! Not one ‘off’-through the whole year-well done!”
In fact, we had that conversation just a few weeks before Charley’s crash in Portugal. But, you know, it’s not really something you need to dwell on. People get hurt in cars, or just crossing the road, or falling off bar stools. I don’t think we should ever let risk become a ruler in our lives. We mitigate risk of course, and then we just get on with it. It’s fecking great! I’d never let fear of failure or fear of crashing stop me from doing something-anything! I’d love to do a Wing Walk. So, right away, you think; “What?? Are you kidding?” But, when you think more and realize, hey, it’s a cool thing to do, and there is a list of safety requirements. You do it with the right people and mitigate the risk. Can’t wait!
BD. How did you get into producing? Are there some other projects in the pipeline you’d like to tell us about?
BW. Well, as you’ve heard, I made it up! Producing is just being able to pull things together, to make them happen. Working as a consultant in Accenture meant that you just got given a project and made it all happen-that in my book is producing. It makes you a producer.
Since the Charley Boorman Live Show back in 2007, I’ve worked on TV shows with ITV here in England and worked with other celebs like comedian, Ross Nobel and the Hairy Bikers. I just look for opportunities, and if I can’t find one, I make one. I produced a show in Afghanistan a few years ago-right in the middle of the Helmand Province-Why? Because I had no work and so I had to think out of the box and make something up!
This year I have a new project again based on adventures in Africa. I’m working with Claudio Von Planta, the cameraman from Long Way Round and of course an award winning documentary maker. The idea is to teach people how to film their own adventures-whilst actually on their own adventures. We’re working with Triumph Motorcycles and doing short seven day trips out into the Bush. There we can have some incredible wildlife encounters, and enjoy some beautiful roads, tracks and scenery. It’s like a learning week-where you’ll go home with your film in the can! We’re going to make it a competition too, where the public can vote on the best film from the trip; just short stuff-nothing too difficult. And of course, as I am a qualified Safari Guide, I can put that to good use too. You’ll have a Master class on filming from Claudio and you’ll get up close and personal with Africa’s Big Game!
I’ve also become quite matey with Kurt Yaeger from Sons of Anarchy-we’ve chatted about maybe doing something. He’s a bit of a cool dude-so that would be crazy to get something off the ground in 2017. We’ll see.
BD. You have such a wonderful sense of humor and fun. How do you stay so positive?
Nah, just joking! My mum is crazy. She’s the one you want at your funeral, cos later when everyone is drinking and eating sausage rolls, she’ll start performing and get everyone laughing. Her Irish heritage and Liverpudlian mix gave all my siblings a head start in storytelling and a good sense of humor. I have a little tatty cottage in Ireland and it’s my world.
My brother is a stand-up comedian-tho he’s getting on a bit now. Anvil Springsteen is his name, seriously! I used to do a bit of stand up with him years ago, but left for Uni, while he continued it as a career. He’s really good, but that requires a big helping of luck and the right place at the right time-as well as being really fecking good!
I’ve been home now for over a month and although I’m enjoying the space, I’m gagging to get away, back to Africa or South America, or anywhere! I’m really fecking old now, so it becomes so important to use up the rest of my time on this planet wisely. Enjoy the time, do the things that you always wanted to, or dreamed of doing. It’s not a rehearsal; when you’re dead, you’re fecking dead.
I said once on a Twitter post that “I’d rather die on the adventure than die waiting in line for it.” And it caused a lot of people to have a go at me. They said it was irresponsible and what about my children, etc. But, they sort of got it wrong. I don’t want to die, FFS! I want to live, live, live. It goes back to the risk thing again. We have to get away from the fear of having a go. Start up the new biz idea, go on that big cycle ride, travel to that country, go out on a limb-don’t sit there wishing you had!
Don’t get me wrong. I know it’s not easy. We all have commitments and responsibilities. I was lucky. I got shafted by my expert divorce lawyer wife-she nearly ruined me and then made me.
Thanks, Amanda-I loved you and owe you.
Check out a clip of Billy & Claudio
Charley Boorman’s Adventure site:
Follow Billy on Twitter @Biketruck
Charley Boorman @charleyboorman
Claudio Von Planta @vonplanta
Russ Malkin @RussMalkin
Ewan McGregor @mcgregor_ewan