Ewan McGregor settles back into his chair and cheerfully announces that "for three and a half months, we were Geographical", It's a lofty claim, but having just completed a 30,395-kilometre motorcycle trek, together with fellow actor and friend Charley Boorman, it's one that he seems entitled to make.
Wandering among the maps and boxes that clutter the garage that served as headquarters throughout their expedition, both McGregor and Boorman seem very much at home. And from talking to them it quickly becomes apparent that, despite the subsequent TV programme, book and attendant razzamatazz that company a movie star doing pretty much anything, their journey wasn't a vanity project.
Both McGregor and Boorman are enormous motorbike enthusiasts, and their trip sprang out of that passion, as did their friendship, which began on did their friendship, which began on the set of Serpent's Kiss in 1997. "I think the first conversation we ever had was about motorbikes," Boorman explains. "Just like every conversation since," adds McGregor. Boorman smiles. "I don't know what we'd talk about without them," he says.
This shared love soon sparked the notion of a trip together, and although their initial plans were modest, the idea quickly began to pick up a pace of its own. We started out thinking we might ride across Spain," Boorman explains. "Then we thought we might go across China. One day Ewan rang me up and asked me to come over because he'd had an idea. I arrived and he had a world map out. He suggested we just carry right on to the Bering Strait." And so Long Way Round was born.
Of course, a great deal more planning was required before the pair were-able to hop on their bikes and hit the road. It may have looked straightforward on paper, but the trip would mean travelling over some extremely inhospitable terrain. Boorman remembers their gung-ho attitude only too well. "Back then, with no real planning, we thought it would take us about three-and-a-half months in total, although most people doing a trip this size would probably take a year to do it, and perhaps another year to plan." Having done a little more research, they quickly realised that they couldn't do it alone, and decided that enlisting a production team and creating a series around the journey would be the ideal way to gain the help and support they would need.
Once the production team was in place, thoughts turned to the reality of life on the road. Despite his Hollywood credentials, McGregor is no stranger to roughing it, having completed two previous documentaries that placed him firmly in the wilderness; he travelled to northern Canada to observe polar bears in their natural habitat and into the jungles of Honduras with survival expert Ray Mears. Boorman, on the other hand, was a little more reticent about the idea of sleeping outdoors. "I'd had a bad experience camping before," he muses. "Really, I'd look for any excuse to get out of it, but the further we went, the worse the hotels became and the harder it was to find one. One night we were 300 kilometres from the nearest town and it was five o'clock. What else can you do?"
According to the doctor travelling with the support crew, his fears weren't entirely unfounded. The pair travelled through Kazakhstan during a period of high spider activity and later camped in areas where scorpions and bears were a very real concern.
Now safely back in London, Boorman admits the experience was worth it. "You'd have some food, settle down, stop and look around ..." He pauses for a moment as he remembers. "It was stunning."
For McGregor, camping was just an added bonus. "It wasn't really about the camping," he says. "That was a means to an end, but it was good to be able to stop anywhere--it saved us the hassle of having to find somewhere, check in and everything. And no-one's going to come along and tell you that you can't camp here. In Mongolia, the land doesn't belong to anyone. …