Stars and Their Cars – Stephen Bowman
Stephen Bowman is a member of British harmony group Blake, who picked up their first Brit-Award in 2008, before securing another nomination in 2010. Blake have sold over 1.5 million albums worldwide, performed at Buckingham
Palace and given over 450 concerts in the last 6 years. Their 4th album ‘Start Over’ has just been released and they are on tour in the UK throughout this year.
How long have you been driving and who taught you to drive?
I’ve been driving since the age of 17 and was taught by a combination of my Grandfather, mother and father. The best teacher was probably my grandfather. He used to race motorcycles and didn’t stop driving until the age of 89. His passion for anything to do with bikes and cars was passed on to me. I also took 10 BSM lessons to iron out any bad habits I might have picked from Grandfather.
Did you pass your driving test on the first attempt?
No, I passed on the second attempt. I was a bit over confident the first time! I was so transfixed on the road ahead, I got marked down for not using my mirrors!
What impact did passing the test have on you?
I was bought up on the outskirts of Bath and getting into town was either an expensive taxi, a very long wait for a bus or an extremely long cycle ride. As soon as I had the freedom of 4 wheels, it was life-changing moment.
What was your first car?
Not the most exciting, a white diesel Astra Estate! It was a spare car we had at home and had done 180,000 miles when I inherited it. My parents had tried to sell it but no-one wanted to buy it so it was passed on to me!
….and the most interesting car you have ever owned?
Probably the most interesting car I have ever owned was my last one, a DeLorean, a car that became an icon for its appearance as a time machine in the Back to the Future film trilogy. Mine was one of only 22 right-hand drive models all of which were made to special order at the factory. Before I acquired it, it resided at Beaulieu Motor Museum. I remember seeing the car in the museum when I was 8 years old and ended up buying it 14 years later when I was 22. I had it for 10 years and it was the most wonderful car. It bought a smile to countless faces over its cult status and I was forever being waved at. People would come up to me at traffic lights to shake my hand and tell me that seeing the car had ‘made their day’.
What would be your dream car?
I’ve always been in love with 1980’s exotica and if money was no object I would probably plumb for a classic Aston Martin or Maserati.. If I had to pick a modern car it would probably be the new Lotus Esprit. It’s wholly British designed and built. I think that’s something to be proud of.
What do you currently ride and why that particular model?
Living in London makes riding a motorcycle far more practical compared to driving a car.
I’m sponsored by Honda and at present have a Honda Fireblade. Although its origins emanate from racing, it’s very practical and I use it everyday to commute around the city. Before I bought it, many of my friends questioned whether a superbike would be suitable around London but I’m shaped a bit like a Gibbon and have long limbs which means I can languidly wrap myself around the bike which I find very comfortable. It also means not only can I ride it on a daily basis I can also take it to a track and unleash all of its potential!
Is this your dream bike?
All my bikes have been Honda’s and this is the one that works best for me. Unless Honda were willing to build me a custom bike (which is most unlikely!!) then yes, this is my dream. It’s the quickest bike Honda manufacture and it’s ones of the fastest in the world. If you’re brave enough it’ll take you to 190 mph and if you’re comfortable with the front wheel leaving the ground, it’ll take you from 0 to 60 mph in 3 seconds and less if you really know what you’re doing!! It’s fascinating to me to think that this bike costing a little over £10,000 can take on a supercar like the Bugatti Veyron which costs well over £1,000,000. On the track, the two would be virtually neck and neck.
Do you have any particular memorable journey?
One in particular is when I took the DeLorean down to Monte Carlo.
Before entering the city centre, I stopped in a café car park in order to clean the dust off to make it look more presentable. I went in the café to get some water and when I emerged, there were hordes of people surrounding the car taking photographs and admiring it. I was particularly pleased because the car cost me about £20,000 and parked next to it were several supercars such as Porsche, Ferrari and Lamborghini’s which everyone were ignoring. Their owners had deliberately parked there to get attention and here was I, a young upstart in his relatively old DeLorean which was capturing everyone’s imagination. It was like an unknown actor turning up at the Oscar’s and everyone taking pictures of him rather than Tom Cruise.
If you were planning a long journey would you pick a car or a bike?
People who ride bikes will be aware that the seats are not comfortable. Many provide only the thinnest cushion of foam suitable only for short journeys! Having said that, I would still choose a bike over the car. Countries like France have some of the best touring roads anywhere in Europe and there is nowhere closer to heaven than being on 2 wheels riding along the roads in the vicinity of the Alps.
What do you like to listen to whilst riding?
Whilst riding, I don’t tend to listen to music much as it’s a distraction and I need to stay alert especially when riding through central London. However, on long journeys I will stick a pair of headphones in and listen to anything that stops me from drifting off into a comfortable space. Techno music is good as the beat is a constant reminder of awareness. Whereas if I were to listen to Barry Manilow I think I’d probably have taken a tumble before now!!
Who would you most like to have riding pillion on a long journey?
In a car you can become detached from the person sitting beside you especially if there’s music playing or they’re reading or fall asleep. Whereas on a bike this is not the case. I have an intercom system installed on my bike which allows communication via microphones and earpieces within the crash helmets. I would say that I’d welcome anyone on the back of my bike who has great conversation. I’ve watched Dame Judie Dench and Helen Mirren interviewed and they’d be two perfect contenders!
Who would you least like to have sitting behind you?
The Government Minister responsible for removing all the motorcycle bays in London.
Would you describe yourself as a good passenger?
Being a biker I do occasionally point out hazards to the driver I don’t think they’ve seen. I know this is a very annoying habit and although I’m quite a relaxed passenger, I think this would score a few negative marks!
Have you ever experienced a car breakdown?
The DeLorean broke down several times and ended up on a recovery truck on at least 4 occasions. One of these was in Regent Street which is the worst place to breakdown. I had the embarrassment of having at least 20 people come to my rescue to help push the car to the side of the road. It caused quite a ‘hub-bub’ in the hour it took waiting for the AA to arrive!
How would you describe your riding ability?
I’m probably slightly over cautious. I’m very aware of my capabilities and would never wish to exceed my limitations. Biking has caused me to be exceedingly vigilant and how a momentary lapse of concentration could prove fatal.
What things annoy you about other drivers?
Nothing annoys me more as a biker than seeing a car driver deliberately narrow the space between themselves and the car alongside them in the next lane. Not only is it dangerous but it is illegal to narrow the gap if you’re not intending to change lanes.
As a driver, it sometimes frustrates me when a ‘Good Samaritan’ lets out an excessive number of cars from a side road. I say this with a slight tongue in cheek but there must be a law somewhere that restricts the number of cars a single person can allow to exit in a single go!
If you were Roads Minister for a day what would you change?
I would introduce bike bays on every city street or, as Fulham Council do, allow bikes to park anywhere.
I feel the Governments ‘Think Bike’ campaign has been superb. Anything that educates car drivers to the vulnerability of bikers is a positive move. However, I’d maybe explore ways of making bikers look less anonymous and aggressive. Most bikers are seen as ‘faceless’ and hidden away behind dark visors. They are also physically ‘detached’ from motorists who are closeted inside steel cages. Rather than the ‘us’ and ‘them’ scenario that currently exists among drivers and riders, I’d like to see a more harmonious relationship exist between the two. In reality, most bikers are conscientious road users. They help to reduce congestion and perform car drivers a great favour in not clogging up the roads. One person on a bike consumes 2/3 less fuel compared to one person in an average family car. Bikes make a lot more sense but it’s sad to see that there’s a kind of ingrained cultural hatred of bikers which I find quite bizarre. Most bikers are just ordinary people who have chosen 2 wheels over 4 as it’s a cheaper, more sensible option and an eco-friendly method of transport.
How could you manage your life if your bike was taken away from you?
I live in London where there’s a reasonable public transport system but this only works if you live relatively close to a Tube or Rail Station. I live about a 20 minute walk to the nearest tube and a journey to say Soho, where most of the recording studios I use are located, would take a minimum of 50 minutes – that’s an hour and 10 minutes in total. On a bike, the same journey door-to-door takes roughly 30 minutes. I could manage without a bike but journeys would take considerably longer.
How clean is your licence?
Currently it’s entirely clean.
Do you enjoy riding?
I live for two things. One is my music and the other is for motors.