Throw a thrill-seeking adventure rider together with a top model accustomed to the high life and you have a fascinating social experiment. The biggest problem with leading a life of no-expense-spared luxury is that chauffeur-driven cars struggle to reach the places motorcycles can.
That’s the considered opinion of Triumph fan and documentary maker Russ Malkin after taking part in a social experiment for the television cameras. His mission was to convince one of the world’s most celebrated models to forgo weeks staying in luxury hotels, with the finest cotton sheets and cuisine, for quality time ‘roughing it’ in the Thai jungle.
Russ, who produced and directed the iconic motorcycling documentaries Long Way Round and Long Way Down alongside friend Charley Boorman, joined up with award-winning former Vogue Model of the Year Charley Speed to be ‘shoehorned into roles’ neither was comfortable with, for the first in a new series of Adventure or Luxury documentaries.
Russ says: “As a former Calvin Klein model who has worked alongside Kate Moss, Charley is used to being looked after wherever he goes. He’s a keen rider who understands the thrill of being on a motorcycle, but he prefers luxury. I wanted him to see what he’s missing by not riding a motorcycle more often.”
In the first exchange Russ led Charley on an off-road adventure on a couple of Tiger 800 XCx’s. Their contrasting lifestyles were summed up when Charley reciprocated with a stay on architect Norman Fowler’s £20-million superyacht moored off Pataya.
Russ says: “We went off-road, got hot and sweaty and spent a night in the jungle. If I’m being honest I was trying to make it OK for Charley so he could see stuff he could do rather than be put off forever.
“To get properly off-road we had to ride three hours from Bangkok and because it was monsoon season we put wet weather gear on… once we got going it was 95% humidity and we had no panniers to stash the gear. We couldn’t get the heat out and at the end we both collapsed feeling light-headed and had to get as much water as possible.”
But it was during a campfire breakfast the next morning that Russ believes he made a significant breakthrough: “We sat and ate loads of beans on toast because food is fuel and then we got back out on the bikes again.
“That most basic moment as we ate breakfast together was magical. The skill lies in being able to recognise those moments in time that reinforce the belief that life is about living today. I know it altered Charley’s perspective slightly.”
Russ was determined to make the strongest possible case for adventure, so arranged a first-ever tuk-tuk ride for Charley before convincing him to ride pillion around Chiang Mai on the back of a Tiger Explorer 1200.
“He had never ridden pillion before but up in the mountains and jungle we went to a Buddhist Monastery for a truly spiritual moment, on and off the bike,” says Russ. “The roads north of Chiang Mai from Wat Mayeng were stunning, with sweeping and swooping switchbacks through jungle, asphalt, paddy fields and small communities. In Bangkok you need 360-degree vision because the cars come from the left and right and are oblivious to you.
“Phuket is different because you’re riding next to beaches and bars. That diversity puts Thailand right up there near the top 10 riding destinations. If you want to ride in the jungle high up on good roads, then it’s in the top three.”
So did Russ’s time on the yacht change his perspective on luxury ahead of further filming in Columbia, Chile and Japan?
“No, because when we were onboard Charley kicked back and got ready for dinner while I went down to the engine room to see how everything worked. The experience simply reinforced my belief that to truly experience different cultures and find those instants that matter in life, you need to embed yourself in the moment,” he says.
“Charley did come round to my philosophy. He was 90-10 in favour of luxury but by the end it was more like 80-20. A lot of the adventures we had became life memories because you can stay in a hotel and rave about soft towels and a lovely duvet but once you’ve ridden down a muddy mountain path that’s an indelible memory.”
Look out for the Tiger adventure on Showcase (Sky 212, Freesat 161) or online at adventureorluxury.com