The plush interior of Red Bull’s Tooley Street offices almost seemed inappropriate when I met Danny MacAskill, the daredevil Scottish stunt cyclist who rode to fame in 2009, with a YouTube video profiling his abilities being watched by over 16 million people.
I mentioned that Danny could be seen as the male Susan Boyle, what with him being both Scottish and a YouTube sensation. He laughed as he replied: “I’m not sure I can quite compare myself to Susan Boyle, but it’s been crazy. From making one small video to all this. I was at the Laureus Sports Awards in Abu Dhabi, with people like Roger Federer and Usain Bolt, because I was nominated for an award. It was just crazy.”
Ah yes, that video. The five minutes of incredible death-defying stunts and tricks, on the streets of Scotland, soundtracked perfectly by Band Of Horses. Not a second wasted, every shot expertly filmed by his flatmate, and watched by millions of people every day, most of whom comment with just a single word: “Wow.”
“My flatmate Dave filmed it”, he exclaimed, eyes lighting up. “It started off as a small project but it was interrupted by bad weather, so in the time it took to film it I was learning new skills and it all built up from there. But we never thought about who would watch it, we just did it for fun. To this day I still find it hard to put into perspective what’s happened since it was put online.”
And a lot has happened. Since the video, Danny has been inundated with media attention. He’s appeared in a music video for the indie band Doves, in adverts for S1jobs.com and Volkswagen, has been seen on international television, and turned down the high profile Ellen show in the US because they wanted him to ride his bike dressed as host Ellen DeGeneres.
“I need to be careful with what I go on, and to make sure that I don’t look like an idiot in front of a lot of people” he mentioned, smiling, when asked about the Ellen story. With that in mind, perhaps the most remarkable thing about Danny is how down to earth he is. Sportsmen usually fall into two categories – boring and egotistical – but MacAskill is neither. He’s affable and funny, and incredibly unpretentious for someone so talented.
He had never been in a gym until six months ago, which is astounding considering the power and poise needed to generate his stunts, jumps and leaps. Since then he has been working with a Red Bull trainer to get back to full speed, which he describes as ‘disgusting”, laughing as he winces. In fact, Red Bull have helped Danny immensely since they signed and sponsored him in 2009.
“Red Bull said they were going to give me sponsorship, and at the time, although I knew Red Bull were a cool company, I didn’t really know what it meant to be a Red Bull athlete,” he said. “I do now. It’s brilliant because I can do what I’ve always wanted to do, which is just to ride my bike.”
Future plans include working on a new film once his collarbone heals up. “I’m really excited about the new video,” he said. “I have so many ideas it should be excellent”. Despite this, he maintains that: “I ride my bike because I love doing it. I’d give everything up just to ride my bike all day.”
It’s that attitude which is so refreshing and inspiring to hear. Rather than engage in dull and dreary ‘press talk’, MacAskill is frank and honest. After all, as he says himself, “I don’t think that far into the future. When I’m done with this I’d like to have done my best, and taken as much as I can from it”, before adding: “I’ve not got massive plans; I’ll take everything as it comes.”
I think he summed it up best when he said: “I’ve gone from working in a bike shop with no windows downstairs to travelling all round the world and getting nominated for awards.” Not such a bad life for a regular young guy from the Isle of Skye.