You’re inextricably linked with Ducati, but what was the first one you ever rode or raced?
The first bike I ever raced on a track was a Ducati, back in the summer of ’83. It was my dad’s bike. He had a Formula 2 600cc thing. I rode that in club races with my orange novice’s jacket on. I did about ten races on it to get rid of my orange jacket.
When did you get back on a Ducati?
The next time I raced a Ducati was in ’92 and that started everything. That was an 888 we bought over the counter from a dealer in the UK. It was the best bike you could buy to go racing with at the time. I’d struggled the year before on the Honda RC30 because it was three years old by that point. The Yamaha and Kawasaki were good bikes [in ’92], but they needed to be converted from road bikes. You bought the Ducati ready to race, so I went for that and the rest is history. I beat a lot the factory bikes on a slower bike as a privateer, I won the World Superbike race at Donington and got a contract to ride for the factory for the ’93 season on their 888.
What involvement did you had with the development of the 916?
I had nothing to do with it until it was wheeled out and given to me to race in 1994. I didn’t get on with it that well at the start. Other guys seem to adapt to it better, even though I was beating them I was never comfortable on the bike. It was too twitchy, I thought I could’ve gone quicker on the 888…
What did you think when you saw the 916 for the first time?
I’d seen it a bit at the factory at the end of ’93 and didn’t think too much of it, because it didn’t have its bodywork on. I saw the single-sided swingarm and remember thinking the tyre was close to the exhaust and it might cause problems. Then when they wheeled it out for me to race at Donington I just thought I’d never seen anything as beautiful in my life. I’ll never forget it. It was almost too nice to ride. It was stunning. It still is. So ahead of its time.
Ducati were very different when you first started riding for them. What was it like?
It was good. It was run by the Castiglioni brothers [who went on to resurrect MV] and there was very much a family feel to it all. It was a bit disorganised, which at the time was frustrating, but looking back I’m glad it was like that. It was funny. It was laidback. I never knew what I was supposed to be doing until an hour before and I’d have to jump on a flight to go testing or something. I felt part of a family that thought the world of me, Michaela and the kids. I didn’t feel any pressure, where at Honda I felt I was back at school, and for someone like me, who doesn’t like to be told what to do, it wasn’t as good. Honda was a lot more professional back then, but Ducati got more professional too.
You seemed one of the toughest characters on the track, was it easy to leave that part of your persona at the track?
I could leave it… Having say that I did bring a lot home with me. Instead of spending time with the family, I’d be off in my own little world thinking about the next race, thinking where I was weak at that track last year. I didn’t enjoy it as much as some other guys seemed to. They enjoyed racing and I didn’t, I only enjoyed winning. I wish I’d enjoyed it more, but people have said to me if I had I might not have won as much. I think they’re probably right. There were big characters like me in racing back then. They weren’t exactly happy, smiley people, they were serious, nasty, aggressive people who wanted to win. You had Scott Russell and John Kocinski, similar people to me. When you get all those guys against each other it gets even worse.
You were forced to retire through injury, was that hard after such a full-on, high-octane life?
It was almost a relief at the time. It wasn’t until a year or two had gone by that I became frustrated that the injury was stopping me racing. I could’ve have three or four years, but I’m still here, still quite healthy, so I’m thankful for how it ended when I think what could’ve happened.
Do you ever ride on the road?
I do, yeah. I had a Ducati Hypermotard, but I just sold it. I loved it. It was great on country roads and great for wheelies, but I shouldn’t be saying that. The Hypermotard suits me, it’s more comfortable. My knee would hurt too much on a superbike now.
I interviewed you in the past and you said you’d been approached for 'I’m a Celebrity'… but you turned it down. Have you changed your mind yet?
No, I couldn’t do any of those things. I’ve been asked to do Wife Swap and the ice dancing one. I just can’t do it. I can’t imagine me skating around in a pink sequined top. Perhaps James Toseland could do it, but I can’t.