It is comforting to know that, whatever far-flung location they’re broadcasting from, you can always rely on the Hairy Bikers to be themselves.
For years, viewers have watched these bearded besties sizzle, simmer and stew their way around the world’s kitchens, with plenty of their trademark banter along the way.
They’re in the middle of their UK tour – An Evening With The Hairy Bikers – but the pair have spent their TV careers travelling all over the world. We caught up with them during a rare pitstop to chat about what it’s like to live life on the road.
So, you’re sitting down to plan your next road trip – where do you start?
SK: It’s quite an organic process and it’s always collaborative. We tend to work with the same directors and producers that suit our style, and they have a difficult job. For each series they’ve got to shoot fantastic landscapes, make intimate documentary, do a bit of social anthropology and understand comedic timing. The show is defined by its environments – think of the journey as a washing line, and all the pieces of washing are points of interest.
The shows are clearly quite spur of the moment – can that be difficult with a whole production crew in tow?
DM: By now the people we work with in the production crews go back together maybe ten years. We’ll probably only take one car and one van so there’s only about ten people on the road plus us.
SK: It’s very important to keep our footprint as small as possible. We love dealing with normal people and that’s difficult if you turn up and go, ‘Ta-dah it’s a film crew!’ It’s easier in America as their culture is more media-savvy, but if you’re somewhere like Morocco or India you need to be gentle. We’re there to facilitate their story, so we don’t want to intimidate with cameras and lights.
DM: Basically, it’s not difficult – it’s like going away with your mates!
What’s the one thing you cannot travel without?
SK: I’ll always pack my Bose speaker – I can’t live without music.
DM: For me it’s my iPad, because I love my books. It allows me to carry a little library, and before we leave I can download all the books I’ve been meaning to read.
What are your travelling highlights?
DM: Argentina for me, which is going back a while now. We started in Buenos Aires – amazing beef, stunning seafood, and wonderful culture – and then rode down to Patagonia. We had two days on our own, just me and Si on the bikes, with cans of petrol in the top box and a clean set of clothes.
We met the crew in a nature reserve roughly the size of Wales. In one working day we filmed on a boat and saw 200 Southern right whales and calves in the bay, and then a beach full of elephant seals about 30-feet long. We ended up sitting on the beach surrounded by half a million penguins. That was a day to remember.
SK: I loved Namibia – seeing giraffes and kudu and springbok and zebra... It was just remarkable, we were so lucky with those two destinations.
And how about people? Which cultures have you most enjoyed interacting with?
SK: They all have different characters and personalities, but we’ve been around the world four times now and the vast majority of people have been just wonderful.
DM: There’s only two per cent of the world that’s barmy and nasty, everyone else is really approachable – and that transcends race, religion and politics. Whether it’s the best pies or the best sausages they’ve all got something, and in one form or other you get talking. I think Thailand sticks out. The people are astonishingly friendly – they never let you down, and the food doesn’t either.
SK: India as well – they’re just beautiful, lovely people.
How much has all this foreign cuisine influenced your own cooking?
SK: You’d have to be dead not to be influenced by it! When we went home, the family would get to know foreign cuisine based on where we’d been. There was one day that my children walked in and went, ‘Dad, can we not just have a pie?’ I replied: ‘Don’t be ridiculous, your father’s just been to bloody India!’
DM: Yeah that happened to me with the Mediterranean. My cooking became heavily Italian and it still is – I haven’t got rid of that yet!
Where’s the toughest place you’ve shot?
DM: Turkey probably. I loved the place we went to, but I think it’s mostly closed off now. We rode there along the Syrian border and up Mount Ararat and it was tough on the roads. There were fuel trucks taking fuel continuously from Iraq and some of their driving was a bit chaotic to say the least. We learned how to make a donor kebab, which was amazing. But there was a military presence there as well – a lot of conscripts.
SK: Bored conscripts. It was a bit heavy.
DM: Vietnam was hard too, because Si broke his leg half way through the shoot. We continued up to China but the motorbikes were out of the question. It was quite funny for me. It wasn’t too funny for Si.
You’ve now teamed up with Booking.com, but we bet you’ve had some bad accommodation experiences over the years...
SK: There was one night early in our careers when we checked into a hotel in India which was filled with bed bugs. I pulled back the cover and the sheets were spotted with blood! I was exhausted so I just thought: ‘Right, I’m going to have to get in this.’
DM: You were eaten alive! There was another occasion – we were on our very first recce – and we’d booked into a hotel in Portugal. It was one o’clock in the morning so there was nowhere else to go. We’d booked into a shared room, and there was only a double bed.
You’re so often referred to as national treasures, what was your first ‘we’ve made it’ moment?
DM: Stop there, you’re making us feel like the Queen Mother!
SK: I don’t think we realise we’re national treasures – we’re certainly not rich enough for it!
DM: I think one of the defining moments of my career – an ‘I’ve made it’ moment – might be our next tour when we walk out on stage at the London Palladium. That’s cool.
Could there ever be a singular Hairy Biker?
DM: We’ve done stuff separately - Si’s done a lot with The One Show and I’ve done Strictly – but with food we just come back. It’s so easy for us when we work together. I don’t think we could do the Bikers on our own, we’d just think: ‘What’s the point?’
List your property on Booking.com for a chance to win a private cooking class with the Hairy Bikers, see join.booking.com/hairybikers
An Evening with the Hairy Bikers, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, 5 April, see www.thequeenshall.net for tickets