Nick English, Co-founder of British watch brand Bremont, caught up with actor and star of Long Way Up, Charley Boorman in an exclusive interview for Watches of Switzerland. Both share a passion for adventure, motorcycling, engineering and of course, Bremont watches.
Their friendship stems back to 2007 when Nick and Giles English gifted a prototype Bremont Chronograph to Charley, and fellow actor Ewan Macgregor, to wear and put through its paces on Long Way Down. This epic motorcycling trip provided perfect testing ground for the watch and proved a valuable exercise for both Bremont and Charley.
This fascinating interview details the highs and lows of Charley’s latest trip, Long Way Up. An incredible journey completed on an electric Harley Davidson through South and Central America and Mexico, and why Charley would never be without his Bremont watch.
Read their conversation below, or watch the full interview
Nick So you’re back, you’ve been back for a little while. Tell me about this incredible trip you’ve done because you’ve done Long Way Round, you’ve done Long Way Down, and you’ve just done Long Way Up. So, tell us what’s different about this because it’s been a long while. It’s been 12 years since the last one hasn’t it?
Charley Yes, it has – I think it’s about 12 or 13 years that Ewan and I did Long Way Down. We went through Africa on the last one. So, the first one, Long Way Round, we went from London to New York and East and then from John O’Groats to Cape Town on Long Way Down. It’s funny, when you do these long trips they all have their own life and then when you get towards the end of one of the trips you start to think about home and you start to think about wanting to go home back to your family and all that kind of stuff. But a big part of you just wants to carry on and so that’s when you start talking about doing another one. By talking about doing another one it means that you can finish the one that you’re on without it hurting too much…if that makes any sense?
Nick Yes – and what was different about this one? You’ve done two on BMW’s and you wanted to make this one slightly different?
Charley Yes, it was a long time, Ewan was living in the States and I was living over here. And if he was making a movie over here, I was usually off somewhere else. So, for about 12 years we just sort of drifted along. Then I had a couple of really bad motorcycle accidents and almost lost a leg.
Nick You have been through the wars. Between us we must have broken every single bone in the body.
Charley Yes, I’m not sure who’s got more metal in their body, you or me? But I’m sure if we had our x-rays alongside each other we’d have covered most bases. I think that’s when Ewan thought “I haven’t really seen Charley”. So, he then came over here and I wasn’t travelling because I was in a wheelchair, because I’d had a second accident in 2018 and then I really smashed myself up with that one.
Nick So just to be clear here, you had an accident in Portugal…
Charley Yes, in 2016
Nick And then you had an accident in Africa…and then you told me you had another accident coming back from the pub on a scooter and you broke every rib!
Charley I broke every rib and collapsed my lung on Christmas Eve which my wife was not very happy about. I remember coming down the stairs and I had to tuck my left arm into my other pocket as I just couldn’t use that side of the body. And then she said, “You say a word about your pain, and I’ll kill you – you just go and cook lunch.” So, luckily with my two daughters we cooked lunch for 20 people. Then the next day I went to the hospital and it was quite embarrassing as I’d been in the hospital for a long time, many times over the period of a long time. I’d gone back to Chelsea & Westminster hospital and I walked in and knew just about every doctor and nurse. They all said, “Heh Charley – you alright?” and I shook my head and said “No, not really.” And they said, “What have you done this time?” and my wife was there fuming.
Nick It’s actually a miracle you’ve managed to do this last trip at all really!
Charley And I didn’t get injured! Well, I popped a rib on that one which in comparison was nothing, but it was so exciting to get back to doing a TV show again. Ewan and I had reconnected, we were taking about doing Long Way Up through South America which is what we’d really wanted to do and then Russ and Dave came over, who are our business partners and Producers on these things. We said we want to do this route, and this is what we want to do and then Russ said, “What about electric?” and we said “Ok, that’s not a bad idea.”
Nick I think it was totally genius, a brilliant idea. It’s proper endurance isn’t it? It’s not like going around the British Isles.
Charley And it’s really new. It’s new territory and it’s the future. We weren’t doing it because we wanted to be eco-warriors but when you’re looking at motor vehicles, that’s where we’re going. No one had really done it before so that was interesting. I don’t think if we knew everything that we do now that we still would have done it.
Nick There were lots of issues, well not issues but things you didn’t think about like temperature?
Charley Yes, temperature. We’d gone down to Ushuaia in South America, so we were going from the bottom of Argentina to Los Angeles and all through South and Central America and Mexico. We turn up with these prototype Harley Davidsons. They’d built us these adventure bikes that didn’t exist, and it made it incredible.
Nick It was so cool of Harley Davidson to do that – I think it’s just brilliant, fantastic.
Charley And then when we say we’re going to do a run up through South America and we’re going to do it by electric, people say “Electric?!” And they ask what bike you’re using, and you reply “Harley Davidson” and they look at you like you’re crazy, as they don’t make electric! We had 2 chase vehicles too which were electric from Rivian. For us to do big miles you have to rely on fast chargers and there are no fast chargers in the whole of South and Central America or Mexico. So, we just had to plug into people’s houses. When we got down to the bottom of Argentina and we were getting ready to go, we realised that we’d only ridden these bikes for about an hour and a half. We’d charged them once and someone was helping us with the chargers whilst we went off and got a Starbucks, but we hadn’t really done anything! It was a huge challenge and it was the worst Winter for 30 years. It was absolutely Baltic. We had to postpone leaving for the trip because of the blizzards and there was too much snow on the ground so you couldn’t ride. It was a challenging start and as we all know, batteries don’t perform as well in the cold.
Nick I completely get what you’ve done, and I thinks it’s really cool. I guess the comparison would be like Bremont, who manufacture mechanical watches in the UK, suddenly saying we’re going to make a Quartz watch. But then it’s not as they’re still very mechanical. We’ve just done this incredible speed record with Rolls Royce that was all about electric flights and it’s fascinating. The amount of engineering that still goes into it is immense. So, I can just only imagine what’s gone into this bike as well.
Charley You and your brother Giles have done incredible things. We’ve known each other and worked together since Long Way Down in 2007. And talking of prototypes, you and Giles gave Ewan and I watches to wear on Long Way Down and you weren’t selling watches at that point.
Nick Yes, that was before we launched. Do you remember you were getting some special forces training to get you out of trouble and we knew the chap doing that and that was the connection? You were going to all this self-defence stuff and we met you and Ewan, at Fulham wasn’t it?
Charley Yes, it was in our HQ. We had this amazing HQ where you opened these sliding doors and you could drive in and park about 8 cars in there. And we had this whole motorcycle workshop on one side and you guys turned up with these stunning watches. I was sold in that you were going to give them to us already and you said “Look, would you take these watches?” You guys said that we’d be spending 3.5 months on a motorbike with all that vibration constantly.
Nick And we’d learnt a huge amount. You both took Chronographs which are quite fragile watches compared to others and there’s a lot of moving parts. As you said, 3 or 4 months on a motorbike with the vibration, the shock and especially you putting it through its paces…but they both came back and they worked which was great! But we still learnt a lot about it in terms of straps and other things. And then you moved onto the Supermarine which you’ve worn for many years. We thought we’d put the ultra-tough, crash resistant watch on your wrist but you’re wearing a Broadsword Bronze on your wrist now.
Charley Yes, it’s beautiful.
Nick You’ve been going on about bronze for a while.
Charley Yes, I think it’s very cool. From the minute you guys started showing photos and blurb about it, it’s a very eye-catching watch. I’m always super interested in what you guys are doing anyway. I love the fact that you’re British, I love the fact that most of your manufacturing is over here, that you have a factory in Henley and employ a lot of people. Especially now with Covid, it’s a very challenging time and to be producing such finery and sticking it to the Swiss as well because they stole all our watches basically.
Nick We still need a bit of their help but it’s the long mission for us at Bremont. There’s an incredible history of British watchmaking as I’ve told you so many times. You go back 100 years and probably 50% of the world’s clocks and pocket watches and things came from this country and probably 60% of the innovation in any mechanical watch came from British shores. You’ve got Clerkenwell, you’ve got John Harrison, the first ship’s chronometer, GMT, Greenwich. There is this amazing history and obviously we lost a lot of it in the two world wars.
Charley Sure, and the Swiss were coming in with machines that could do stuff and it was very difficult to keep up. But what’s really interesting about your watches and why we wear these watches on our wrist is because it was longitude, the latitude was easy. But to make a watch that could go on a ship and be accurate…and then the whole reason we wear wrist watches is because you needed a similar type of thing when people started flying.
Nick Essentially a map, a compass and a watch and that’s how people got around. When Giles and I learnt to fly all those years ago it was literally the same thing and that’s why we got lost so many times. You’d be flying from Dover to Calais and the only reason you’d make sure you’d get there is by following the ferry…and then halfway across you’d realise you’re following the ferry to Ostend. Time does play a big part.
Charley And the wristwatch works out your fuel consumption.
Nick Well it’s legs with navigation, you’ve got an hour and a half of fuel and you have to be somewhere at a certain time in a certain place.
Charley And that was what was so fun about when Ewan and I did Long Way Down with you guys, to be part of it. It’s a little bit like Harley Davidson with the Livewire. We were learning together and by really doing it. You can do whatever you want in a factory and simulate things, but you have to really do it. What you guys learnt and what Harley Davidson learnt…that all applies to generations of watches later. It’s very cool to be part of something like that.
Nick Also, you’re massively into your machinery and you love engineering and similar things to Giles and I and you become attached to these things, don’t you? So, bikes that you’ve done long trips on, I’ve seen outside your house Charley and you can barely get in there’s so many bikes stashed up everywhere!
Charley But that’s your mantra and for me, being so badly injured over a long period of time, getting back and looking at those bikes outside your house, that’s the goal.
Nick And how does that feel for you? Because obviously it’s associated with pain as well, but huge amounts of enjoyment.
Charley It’s very cathartic. We talk about mindfulness a lot nowadays and people identifying that a lot. When you find a passion, whether it’s horseriding, climbing, sailing, whatever you do and especially with motorbikes. You get on the bike, you put your helmet on, I’d come down to visit you to go out for a ride, there are no distractions so for those moments your mind is clear. When we do these long journeys it’s a little bit like giving your brain a rest.
Nick Meditating isn’t it?
Charley Yes because you’re taking yourself away from your everyday life and popping it in there and it almost gives you a reset. So, it’s very cathartic and that’s what happened for rehabilitation for me. Funnily enough, I was thinking about you and Giles when we were going across Bolivia on these electric motorcycles. I’ve been over corrugation and dirt roads all over the world. On the Dakar Rally, when I was in Africa doing that, the roads were terrible. But in Bolivia I think that was the worst corrugation I’ve ever come across. It was about 20 lanes wide and you’d look over there and think that looks much smoother and then you go over there and find out it’s not. It’s like corrugated aluminium roof crossways so it just bounces.
Nick And did you have to get to certain speeds to almost fly over the top?
Charley Yes, so you float over it…and that was troublesome as the faster you go on electric the more power you use so it was a real fine line. I remember just looking down and I could see your watch just shaking up and down and I was laughing and thinking of you two whilst in Bolivia. It’s a stunning part of the world, unbelievable views.
Nick Was that your favourite country on the way up? Was that your most memorable?
Charley I think it was the most challenging riding because it was deep gravel sand with quite heavy bikes and those two don’t really mix, so that was a real challenge. Especially because my legs aren’t what they used to be. Like you Nick, when I crash nowadays, I feel a bit more vulnerable and with all the metal in my legs they bend.
Nick You don’t want to bend it again do you?!
Charley No you don’t, and you don’t want to bend the metal in your legs. It’s a big challenge and so rewarding, especially when you stumble across people in the middle of nowhere who need your help, or you help them, or they look after you. That’s the thing, in Europe or in America because a lot of the countries in the world don’t live how we live we tend to look down on that. But it’s only because people live differently and there’s nothing wrong with that. So, when you experience them that’s what’s so great about these trips, experiencing people and their lives and how they live and where they live. And people are so generous. We had to plug into people’s houses every night and into people’s businesses during the day to get a top up or in a restaurant or somewhere like that and never once did anybody ever say no. They all just bent over backwards to help you. It’s refreshing when you do these trips because it reminds you how wonderful the world is, and it’s fun.
Nick So this has been a big one for you, that’s 3 now. I don’t know where else you could possibly go now on these long trips, but do you have anything else planned?
Charley There’s loads of stuff to do. Because we were finishing this one and you start talking about another one, Ewan and I were talking about Long Way Down Under and we were talking about Long Way Scandinavia – going round Scandinavia, back through Poland and back to London. I think that would be nice, London to London.
Nick That would be amazing.
Charley And always bringing your watches with me because I’m very proud.
Nick We are as well. This bronze, this is quite new to us – it’s the second bronze we’ve done. The first one we did with Nims who’s climbed these 14 amazing Himalayan mountains. The record was just under 8 years to do these 14 8,000m mountains and there’s Nims, ex special forces Gurkha SPS, he did it in just under 7 months! We did a watch with him and that had a bronze bezel and you realise quite how much bronze is ingrained into the military way of life. I know you’ve worn this for a while. I’ve got the same sort of thing. You wear it, and I’ve worn it during the Summer, and we’ve tested it and you become so attached to it because it changes with the environment. It’s a living skin bronze and one minute you’re looking at it and you’ve been swimming in the sea for a week and you say, “My gosh it’s going a bit green.” You get this sort of patina. But if you’ve got a high-quality bronze it almost cleans itself. It’s fascinating and this is what I love about it.
Charley Yes, it is, and it’s really pretty as well. I was out having dinner with some friends. It’s so rare at the moment to be able to dress up a bit and go out to dinner. I was wearing this watch and within a couple of minutes both people we were having dinner with commented on the watch, so it definitely catches the eye. And as I said I’m always very proud to wear Bremont watches. I’m very up for this whole ‘Britishness’ and I think we are an amazing nation and we do create lots of lovely stuff. This, I think people have forgotten a little bit, in that we can achieve. And you guys are a shining example.
Nick Thank you so much. When we finish this facility, we’re going to have to do a trip. We’ve been working on it for 5 years now, this facility is just outside of Henley. I flew over it yesterday and we’re about 1.5 – 2 months away from it all being done which is so exciting. 35,000 square feet of watchmaking space. We’ll show you around because you’ve obviously been to our other workshop loads. Just being able to see that bar of metal going in at one end of the building and watch parts coming out, and the assembly, the aftersales…so we should do a watch tour and then a bit of a trip on the bikes from there. I don’t have access to an electric bike but…
Charley But maybe I might be able to find a spare Livewire for you and we should do a little trip and you can feel a little bit of the range of anxiety that Ewan and I had.
Nick They’re quite talky, aren’t they?
Charley Oh unbelievable! They do 0 – 60mph in 3 seconds, they’re fast. The only thing I can equate it to was when I rode the Moto2 Triumph GP bike and that has unbelievable acceleration. I’ve never ridden a road bike that gave me that same feeling but when you put it on full power and twist that throttle full you have to grip your stomach muscles otherwise your stomach sort of sloshes around a bit and it can make you feel motion sick. It’s pretty impressive as a bike. So, we’ll go and do that and have a bit of a ride and go see your fantastic property, I’d love to do that.
Nick That’s a deal. And for anyone watching, come early new year, perhaps we should do an event with you there and invite a load of people along. If you’re into bikes or watches and with Watches of Switzerland, come along and have a look. Charley, thank you so much for your time today. It’s hugely, hugely appreciated and I’m glad to see you’re all in one piece, and I’m sure Olivia is as well, and we’ll catch up very very soon.
Charley Listen, thank you – lovely to talk to you guys and thank you Watches of Switzerland for letting us do this.