An interview with Eddie the Eagle
- Credit: © Thousand Word Media
Katie Jarvis meets unlikely superstar Eddie the Eagle, and finds out about his Cotswold life.
When Eddie Edwards arrived in Calgary for the 1988 Winter Olympics, the first thing he saw was a huge banner proclaiming, ‘Welcome Eddie the Eagle!’ “Who’s that?” he asked. “It’s you,” he was told. And that was the birth of the most unlikely sports star in the world.
Cheltenham born and bred, Eddie spent two years of his childhood in plaster, recovering from a severe cartilage infection. He began visiting Gloucester Ski Centre in Matson at the age of 13, in preparation for a school trip to Italy. “Within three months, skiing was all I thought about, all I talked about, all I dreamed about. The ski slope became my home,” he says.
The story of how he went on to become Britain’s one-man ski-jump team in the Winter Olympics is now the subject of an international film – Eddie the Eagle - starring Taron Egerton, Hugh Jackman and Christopher Walken. And it’s a pretty accurate portrayal of all that happened to him, Eddie says. “There were a few things that were completely different, such as the way my dad was portrayed – which he was fine about. In real life, though, he was very supportive, just like my mum.”
Despite having no money for training or living expenses – and despite people telling him he’d never make it as a ski jumper – Eddie defied the odds and made it to the Olympics. He might have finished last, but he won hearts and minds with his single-minded determination to compete.
“I was worried the film might make me out to be either some sort of superhero, or a clown. But they did a wonderful job.”
Eddie has two daughters: Ottilie, 11, and Honey, nine.
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Where do you live and why?
I live in South Woodchester so that I can be near my kids, who live in North Woodchester. The house is currently a building site but it will become a home, eventually, when I get time to do it. I still fondly remember the house where I grew up in Cheltenham, and it’s important for kids to have a decent family home. But for me, personally, I’m happy to sleep on a park bench. At various times in my life, I’ve slept in the car; in cowsheds; in a mental asylum in Kuopio in Finland; on platform 1 of Bourg St Maurice train station; in the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York – and that last one was horrendous! Minus 20, in the middle of winter, with every kind of lowlife you can think of. But I’ve also stayed in chateaux, villas and palaces. If things had been easier when I was training for the Olympics, it might have made me jump a little bit better; I might have been able to concentrate on the sport instead of wonder where I’d be sleeping that night. But who knows? Those experiences also gave me the strength to think: If I can do this, I can do anything.
How long have you lived in the Cotswolds?
I was born in St Paul’s maternity hospital in Cheltenham, and I lived in the town until I was 17… Actually, I lived there until I was 24 but I’d spend half my year in Cheltenham and half in Europe, skiing. It all started with a school ski trip to Italy when I was 13. We were lucky enough to have one of the longest dry ski slopes in the country in Gloucester, and we went over there for four one-hour lessons to learn the basics. When we came back, I asked my dad to take me to Gloucester on a Sunday, and it became a regular thing. People constantly told me, “You should have started this aged five or six. You’ll never be brave enough to jump more than 60m.” But that only motivated me to prove them wrong.
What’s your idea of a perfect weekend in the Cotswolds?
A sausage, bean and cheese melt, and a nice latte at Greggs. Then I’d go skiing at Matson, unless we had four foot of snow – in which case, I’d go up Selsley or Minch Common. They’re great to ski down but a bugger to walk back up! There were a few years after Calgary where I was trying to find something that gave me the same buzz as ski jumping. I tried truck racing, car racing, bungee jumping, parachuting, but they never quite did it. In the end, that kind of need naturally waned. Nowadays, I get that buzz out of living; out of life. When I get up in the morning, I’ve always a million-and-one things to do.
If money were no object, where would you live in the Cotswolds?
I’d live in a flat above Greggs! Failing that, I love living in Cheltenham: the architecture; the shopping; the fact that you don’t need to get into your car to get a pint of milk. We lived in a terraced house in St Paul’s Street North when I was growing up, which I still walk past whenever I take the girls to the Prince of Wales stadium to go swimming. At the back of our house was St Paul’s College – now part of Gloucestershire University – which was like German territory for me. I would be the English infantry, climbing over the wall and attacking… until the college warden caught us and escorted us round to the gate each time. Then we’d go to the back gate, get back in, and carry on!
Where are you least likely to live in the Cotswolds?
I think the big question for me is: Why am I living in the Cotswolds at all rather than Austria or Switzerland! I might live abroad in future – America, Australia, New Zealand, perhaps - but not while my girls are young.
Where’s the best pub in the area?
I like the social atmosphere of pubs but I don’t really drink. When I was 16, I took this girl I’d fancied for ages to a little dance at the Saracens social club. Halfway through the night, she went off with someone else, so my brother took me to the bar and started me on martini and lemonade. The martini got more and more and the lemonade less and less, and I had to be carried home. After that, I swore I’d never drink again! I don’t mind going to pubs if I can get coffee or a glass of water.
What would you do for a special occasion?
The film shows me getting drunk and missing the Olympic opening ceremony, which I didn’t do, of course. But it was very difficult for me to go out and celebrate being at Calgary because the exposure just exploded. I ended up needing a gang of minders to look after me. It was frightening because it was so unexpected. There was antipathy from other Olympians, including the British ski team. Some were really nice but I’d get some very nasty messages saying things like, ‘This was my moment. I was going to achieve fame but you’ve ruined it for me!’ I did think: If you’re doing it to become famous, you’re doing it for the wrong reasons. I’d been hoping for a little bit of attention but only to get sponsorship to make it easier for me to carry on.
What’s the best thing about the Cotswolds?
Hills – a hill is a small mountain!
... and the worst?
I hate snobbery. The [sports] federations were full of snobs and old farts, as Will Carling used to call the rugby committee. I don’t know if they go into these things with the ideal of doing good for society in general and then they change; but, personally, I think it’s more to do with old boys’ clubs.
Which shop could you not live without?
Walkers Bakery in Stroud, and Norths in Winchcombe, where my dad, my brother and I used to go when we were doing building jobs in the area. I love cakes – Chelsea, finger ice buns, drippers. I’ve got a sweet tooth.
What’s the most underrated thing about the Cotswolds?
We could do a lot more with sport. We’ve got beautiful scenery, so why don’t we do more to keep bridleways and footpaths in better condition to get people out and about? A few more designated cycle tracks might get people on their bikes, cycling up those hills.
What would be a three-course Cotswold meal?
I like Stroud Farmers’ Market – though I can’t afford half the stuff they sell. It’s a good excuse to come into town for a Greggs and watch people do their shopping! When I was struggling, there were times when I would scrape food out of bins at campsites – though I’d reheat it well. Food waste makes me cross – it’s my biggest bugbear. When I take my girls out, I tend not to order anything because I know I’ll end up eating half of theirs.
What’s your favourite view in the Cotswolds?
On top of Selsley Common, looking over the Severn; or from Devil’s Chimney, looking over Cheltenham. As far as the view from the top of a ski jump is concerned, you quickly get over the fear of the height and the speed. My main focus is to think about the technique I need to land safely and in one piece.
What’s your favourite Cotswolds building and why?
The Eagle Star building, which my dad worked on for five years. It nearly bankrupted him because they were paying him the same money at the end as they did at the beginning. It’s a building I can recognise when I look over to Cheltenham from Gloucester ski slope.
What would you never do in the Cotswolds?
I’d never give up or give in, wherever I was in the world. But when I do motivational speeches, I don’t like talking in clichés. I saw Kriss Akabusi at a dinner at Cheltenham Racecouse a couple of years ago and he kept coming out with phrases like, ‘The past is for reference, not for residence’. I’d rather just talk about my life and let people take what they want from it. One thing I’d never do in the Cotswolds is to have a lie-in. There’s too much to see and do out there.
What’s the first piece of advice you’d give to somebody new to the Cotswolds?
You’ll see a lot more walking than driving down the A40.
And which book should they read?
I wrote Eddie the Eagle: My Story straight out of Calgary - a lighthearted look at how I got to the Olympic Games. I’m hoping to write a new book that will have all those old stories in, but alongside the blood, sweat and tears – the fight; the struggle; the pain; and what happened afterwards. Bring it all up to date.
Have you a favourite Cotswolds walk?
Along the old railway line between Stroud and Nailsworth.
Which event, or activity, best sums up the Cotswolds?
Cheltenham Gold Cup. I went once but I’m not into horseracing or gambling. £10 on a horse? Maybe 50p – each way! I mean, how many cups of coffees and pasties could I get in Greggs for £10!
If you were invisible for a day, where would you go and what would you do?
When my application was put forward to go to the Olympic Games, the committee was not particularly supportive - but they weren’t all that negative, either. It wasn’t until I got to Calgary that it all changed completely. That was when they turned; did a press embargo and tried to brush me under the carpet. Consequently, they kicked me off the British team; and then FIS (Fédération Internationale de Ski) brought out new regulations that effectively kicked me out of the sport; in America, they call it the Eddie the Eagle rule. I’d like to go back in time to hear them discussing my application; and then I’d like to hear what happened at Calgary suddenly to change their opinion. I’d also like to understand why, even to this very day, they only send about 50 athletes compared with 150-200 officials. I thought the Olympics were for athletes, not a shindig for officials.
To whom or what should there be a Cotswolds memorial?
I’m not really into memorials. I would rather have something people can play on, climb on, learn from and enjoy.
The Cotswolds – aspic or asphalt?
Drag them kicking and screaming into the 21st century! There are so many campaigns to protect a tree in a field that they want to develop; or to stop building in a tiny, picturesque village. But I always refuse to sign. I hate NIMBYism. You’ve got to move on.
With whom would you most like to have a cider?
Winston Churchill, Maggie Thatcher, Tony Blair. They’re all political, and I’m not really political; but I thought Maggie was great. I didn’t like everything she did but I like the fact that she wouldn’t back down, despite everyone telling her she should. She was a woman who proved people wrong.
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