Sir Bradley Wiggins is an enigma; which is a good thing.
People who fit nicely into predetermined boxes are boring.
You’d always imagine someone who competes in sport at the highest level for his country to be an uncompromising patriot, but Bradley revealed recently that he’d considered turning down the Queen’s offer of a knighthood.
Only the intervention of Paul Weller – and Brad’s nan – persuaded Wiggins to accept the Sir-prefix.
Equally, he recently caused a minor furore by sticking out his tongue while accepting a gold medal in Rio. Was it appropriate for Britain’s most decorated Olympian to show such disrespect during God Save the Queen?
I’m sure the tongue-trick got fuddy-duddy tweeters hot under the collar, but in the video below you can see that this is just a prankster’s stunt. A jape for the entertainment of his team-mates, who cracked up when they saw it on the big screen.
The world has changed now that our every moves are recorded on camera for analysis. It must be ever harder for celebrities – particularly those who do not seek fame but achieve it through sport – to relax when in the limelight. Certainly Guy Martin’s autobiography When You Dead You Dead spells out discomfort of the unwilling celebrity when thrust into situations of obligation.
Guy Martin’s solution is to crave normality and try to spend time with grounded people in those situations. I’m not sure Bradley is any different.
It was in a situation something like that, at a shindig put on by Fred Perry at their flagship London store, that I had opportunity to interview Bradley. He was being presented with a gold-trimmed Lambretta customised by Gran Sport Scooters (RIP) and Matt at I-Paint. Brad seemed far keener to talk to me about scooters and music than other folks about cycling. No shock there really.
Anyway, I was grateful for the time he spared.
This interview was conducted in 2013 so some answers may not be current. We understand Bradley is currently having another scooter customised for himself.
SLUK: You’ve earned a reputation as something of a Mod icon – how did you get into the Mod scene and what attracted you to it?
BRADLEY: I think I got into it without really realising that I did. I grew up just two miles from here in Kilburn. My uncle – who is about 25 years older than me – was into Soul music and the Small Faces, so I remember listening to that sort of stuff as a kid.
We used to go to Carnaby Street all the time in the late ’80s and early ’90s where I’d be surrounded by all these fake Mod shops, not really realising it was so clichéd. It still is today: all plastic Mods, Pretty Green and all that.
Even though this was post-revival I watched Quadrophenia and it had a big influence, but by this time the style had changed. I used to go and see Tottenham Hotspur every Saturday as a kid and by now the look was terrace-wear like Adidas and Fila. I suppose we were post-revival Mods without knowing it, because it seemed important to follow the trends of what other people wore when watching the football.
In 1995 – when I was 15 – Paul Weller came out with Stanley Road and that had a massive impact on me. I even took up playing the guitar. Also Ocean Colour Scene had appeared and nodded to Paul Weller. That made me start looking back at the Style Council and the Jam and educating yourself about where all this came from. Then suddenly I realised – fucking hell, that’s what I’m into – so I started dressing more Mod and getting my hair cut in Mod styles.
You’ve got quite diverse tastes though: not strictly Mod. You’ve got a tattoo of the screaming face from the Prodigy album cover of ‘Music for the Jilted Generation’ on your arm.
Well the Prodigy were in Camden Town – just down the road – and they were basically Punk for my generation. I was attracted to their rebellious ‘fuck the world’ music, like Firestarter and Breathe. When I was at school everyone wanted to be Keith Flint and to tell the teachers to fuck off.
With his attitude Keith was like Johnny Lydon for kids our age, so that’s where that came from. I was into a mixture of things then though really: I got into Joy Division and a lot of the Manchester bands like Oasis when they came along in the early ’90s.
So, according to the tribal divide of the time, which side were you on: Oasis or Blur?
Oasis, 100%. I was never really into Blur. What I liked about Liam and Noel was their attitude; about not giving a fuck. What they were singing about was a lot more relevant to me growing up in Kilburn than the whole Blur and Essex thing.
You’ve owned both Vespas and Lambrettas in the past. Do you have a preference and what scooters do you own now?
I’m very nostalgic and I love the heritage of the whole Mod thing. Original sixties Mods had one or the other, but I love both. I couldn’t choose between them. The Vespa GS160 is still a classic scooter of that era and I’ve got one, but I’ve also got a 150 Special, a TV175, a TV200 and now this SX200 thanks to Fred Perry. I’ve got about ten scooters in total, including a few modern day Vespas that I use for running around on.
Do you ever get a chance to use them, or are you contractually obliged not to ride motorcycles…
To tell the truth I haven’t got a full bike licence and that’s something I do need to get sorted. I live on a private road so I do get the chance to ride the larger capacity ones occasionally.
So did you ever use a scooter in London?
I had a Honda C90 when I was 17 in London because you could ride those on a provisional licence and I didn’t have a car licence. I didn’t give a shit at the time – it might as well have been a pizza delivery bike – but I thought I was Jimmy out of Quadrophenia.
So you’ve never had a chance to go to a scooter rally?
I’ve always been a bit of a loner and my interest in Mod and scooters is just really self-indulgent. It’s not really something I want to share with other people. A lot of my mates go to the Brighton Mod Weekender and that’s the only one I’ve ever considered going to.
There are a lot of scooter clubs up where I live in the North West though. I had some airbrushing done on my PX a few years ago by some guys from a place called the Mod Shop in Chorley, but they’ve moved now.
How much involvement did you have with designing the Fred Perry collection and how does that work?
They come to me with a standard idea for an item because they know what sells and then we tweak it from there. I like to have an input in colours, tipping and little details like sleeve length, zip positions on the back or the length of the body for example.
It all looks like stuff that suits you and you’d wear yourself.
Yes I do wear it. That’s the beauty of being able to have an input on it.
Fred Perry hail you as “A MODern British Hero”. Are you comfortable with those labels?
Yes I am, I’m proud of it, but I’m very wary of ‘playing to it’. A lot of Mod is about taking things and adapting them. If you look at the original Mods they adopted parkas, desert boots and Fred Perry shirts and people followed suit. Mod is about evolving. You only have to look at Weller now and how he has his suits with three buttons and bell-bottom trousers. That isn’t very Mod, more late-60s dandy. Mod evolves but I think what is important is sticking with some of the fundamentals of looking smart.
I don’t like the way all the national press jumped on Mod after the Olympics though: all Quadrophenia and taking the piss out of it. That’s just ignorance and they don’t really know what they are talking about.
What do you think are the essential ingredients of Modernism? Does ‘clean living in difficult circumstances’ still hold true?
Times have changed but the real fundamental things are still the same: about having a bit of style and liking nice things. Even if you are wearing a pair of jeans you can still be smart if you carry yourself well and the clothes are well-designed. Certain labels still give you that. People still shop at Fred Perry because they remain true to their style; whether you are wearing a Harrington or a button-up polo shirt. Some brands are different: you can buy Bermuda shorts in Pretty Green.
Do you find the traditional narrow definitions of Mod restrictive?
I think people can be really snobby about it, but things have to move on. I love a lot of the heritage of it but I try to avoid the clichés. I don’t want to look like I’ve just walked off the set of Quadrophenia. To me it is still about evolving and putting your own stamp on it.
You shared a DJ slot with Paul Weller for a radio show last year on BBC 6Music and you played lots of Soul music. What does that mean to you?
I love it. My wife Catherine is from Wigan and a lot of her family used to go to Wigan Casino, so I am surrounded by it where I live, but I was also aware of it from a young age through my uncle. It’s a niche thing and I’m not sure you fully understand Northern Soul until you start buying singles.
So are you a ‘vinyl sniffer’?
I do buy vinyl records but I don’t go crazy with it because I don’t want to become addicted. I’m naturally a hoarder and a bit obsessive, and I already have enough things in my life that I do that with. I’ve talked with Eddie Pillar about when his records got pinched so I can understand the emotional attachment. Collecting Soul on vinyl is never ending so I just don’t want to get into it.
Have you ever been to any Mod clubs or Soul nights?
I never went to any Mod clubs in the 90s because I wasn’t really aware that I was a Mod at the time. I went to a few Northern Soul Nighters at the 100 Club but even those I found a bit snobby if I’m honest. I just like what I like, and it’s for my own satisfaction, not to be seen out and about.
The gold details were chosen to symbolise Bradley’s haul of Olympic medals taken right after the Tour de France victory. The badges are actually Albrafin coated which is much more durable than gold.
Restoration: Gran Sport Scooters, Birmingham
Paintwork: White with BMW Ontario Gold. All graphics stencilled and airbrushed by Matt at i-Paint.net, Walsall
Engine: as Innocenti intended but with electronic ignition
Custom Upholstery: Leightons, Birmingham