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The Great British Invasion, by Andy McNab CBE MM DCM

“I’ve been into bikes for about 25 years. I first started getting into them when I was in the army, purely because I had the chance to go and get my motorbike licence when I was serving."

"They said, ‘Right, you’ve got a week off – go and learn how to ride.’ The bikes we learnt on were these dreadful old 250cc CanAm Bombardiers, but from there I just got into two wheels because it was easier to get around. I’ve had everything from £300 shitters that fall apart after ten minutes to a BMW R1200RT, which is what I’ve got now.

I started going on the Great British Invasion about four years ago, and I’ve done it three times now. I met the organiser of it through a mutual friend, and he just said, ‘Look, we’re basically going to scream around the States on Harleys and raise money for a charity called Childline Rocks.’ I liked the fact that it was all organised for you and you didn’t have to worry about anything: you get there and you’ve already chosen your bike, which is waiting for you. You even get a route card every day. When I turned up to my first Invasion all you had to do was get on the bike, ride from British Columbia in Canada and cross the border through all the National Parks into Montana and Idaho – simple. There were some fantastic rides. I’ve just carried on doing it from there, really.

It’s just really free and easy – my wife even comes on it with me. We get a Harley Electra Glide, because it’s basically got a sofa on the back. So she sits on that and I annoy her by constantly flicking the radio channels every two minutes. On the last one through Mississippi and Louisiana we were passing all these hugely religious towns with big crosses everywhere, so I just used to flick the radio onto the Christianity channel. That annoyed her even more, because she’s Jewish.

The Great British Invasion is basically like the coolest, craziest road trip ever. You’ve got a great collection of people who go on it for a start: there’s the Sons of Royalty, the ride’s house band who play loads of gigs along the way, plus people from the music business, the finance industry and lots of ex-military people. The first event in 2008 had a couple of very senior people from the armed forces, including a chap called Brigadier Richard Dennis, who used to be in charge of the entire British Army. He remains the only person to ever get lost on a Great British Invasion, which he actually managed three times. He said he wasn’t lost, just ‘geographically embarrassed.’ We gave him a hard time about it, but he took it very well.

It’s a great mix of people. You end up making some really good friends – you can get to a town and there’ll be loads of people on Harleys waiting to meet you and join you for a bit of the ride. It’s quite funny that there are all these former soldiers that go on it as well. The year before last there were a few blokes from the SAS and a couple of Marines, who’d heard about the Great British Invasion from somewhere. We all turned up and they came over and went, ‘Alright Andy, what the bloody hell are you doing here?’ But having so many former soldiers has its disadvantages. We were near Salt Lake City in Utah and there was a gun range there, where you could just go and try out all these firearms. That’s all anyone wanted to do – shoot Glocks and AK47s. The problem is that us military people had no fun, because we basically had to tutor them all day. It was like we were running a bloody course!

I’d say a typical day involves about 200 miles of riding – 250 at the most. When you’re going through these huge National Parks in places like Utah you have a pretty long day in the saddle, but it’s not like you’re on a motorway: you’re on these amazing roads going through the sort of stunning scenery that we’ve all been brought up on watching Westerns. It’s a great part of the world to explore on a bike, because you’ve got the freedom to stop and do what you want. People on the Great British Invasion are always seeing something and peeling off to investigate. On the last one we were going through Mississippi and people were taking detours to go and see BB King’s old house and all this stuff; I was with a mate of mine, and his girlfriend decided she wanted to try this shellfish in some minging old hut somewhere that she’d read about. So we went and had this meal and guess what? It was absolutely rank. She loved it, though. But we finished, got back on the road and caught up with everyone. Nobody cares – it’s all very chilled out.

Riding a Harley around the Deep South of America makes a bit more sense than doing it round Yorkshire. I’ve never had a Harley over here. If you see a load of blokes turn up on Harleys in the UK wearing all the gear, they take their helmets off and it’s usually a bunch of retired accountants and dentists – they’re the only ones who can afford all the official Harley stuff. It’s not really a bike for me, but if you’re in the States it’s universal. Everybody’s got one, and everyone does the Great British Invasion on a Harley. You have to.

You’d have thought we’d get strange looks all rocking up into towns on Harleys, but we don’t at all. I think they’re just so used to it over there. If 20 blokes on Harleys rolled into Basildon, people would be looking around thinking, ‘Hang on, what’s going on here?’ But in the States it’s just the norm, so people aren’t intimidated. They’ll come over and have a chat about the bikes. In Montana they knew were coming and about 60 people on Harleys turned up and joined us. I love that about America.

One of the best things about the Great British Invasion is that you’ll probably see Morgan Freeman at some point, who is one of the coolest people on the planet. I first met him in Los Angeles years ago on a social thing, because one of my business partners is in films and knows him really well. We were in a hotel there and got introduced to him, and he ended up spending the evening with us. He and my wife really got on because of yoga – Morgan’s a bit of a hippy. So we began this friendship, but when the idea started for last year’s Great British Invasion to go through Mississippi, the plan was to end up at a club called Ground Zero in Clarksdale, which Morgan co-owns. Anyway, the people organising the ride wanted to see if the Sons of Royalty could play a gig there, so my wife said, ‘Hang on, I know Morgan – I’ll ask him.’ She emailed him to see if they could play on a Wednesday or something, but he came back saying, ‘Let’s do it on a Saturday – we’ll make a massive thing of it!’

He’s a lovely bloke. With people at the top of their profession like him, all the bullshit disappears. It’s the people in the middle who throw wobblies and demand six hairdressers and all that shit. He’s got it sorted: he goes to LA to film and then comes back to Mississippi.

When you speak to him, the Shawshank Redemption instantly comes into your head. Well, that and the recent mobile phone ad he did! I told him about that and he’s going, ‘What?’ I was saying what a brilliant advert it was, but he didn’t have a clue about it. He was laughing going, ‘Is that what it’s come down to now? Flogging cell phones?’ He’s an icon, and a very funny guy as well.

When we’re riding about we’ve all got these Sons of Royalty patches, which the Brigadier had initially advised us against wearing because he thought we might get into trouble in that part of America. But you have to bear in mind where you are in the world. The black/white thing still exists in the Deep South – not as much as it used to, maybe, but it’s still very much there. On the last ride we’d stopped off at one of these picnic places in the middle of nowhere to get something to eat and this van turned up with all these White Supremacist stickers on it. One of the ex-Marines who was there was a black guy, and he was reading these slogans and just couldn’t believe. So he goes over to these people and says, ‘What (i) is (i) all this?’ He was trying to get them to explain all the racist jokes they had on the van, but they started waffling on about freedom of speech and all that. You just have to laugh at them, really. The thing is, I remember being in North Carolina having a BBQ at a picnic area and all of a sudden a Ku Klux Klan meeting started happening. I was like, ‘What the fuck is this all about?’ So to get back to the point, no one cares if you’ve got a few patches on the back of your jacket. You can do what you like.

The Great British Invasion is a bit like a really good-natured stag do. For me, I’d never been to places like Montana and Idaho before – I thought Idaho was flat and they just grew spuds there. Absolutely not: it’s mountainous, has amazing scenery and is great for riding. All of a sudden, you’re going to all these cool new places, having a right laugh, listening to great music, having a few drinks, talking to some nice people – it’s brilliant. You end up in these one-horse towns waffling on to some fantastically random people. It can get quite boozy, mind – some of the lads really go for it.

Obviously I have to keep up the whole anonymity thing while I’m on the ride, and it is in the back of my mind, but I just have to be sensible with it. It’s nothing to doing with Iraq or any of that – it’s to do with Northern Ireland and the stuff I used to do there. But a lot of the time you’ve got a helmet on so everyone looks quite similar. Mind you, in some States you can ride without a lid, and someone was taking the piss saying, ‘Look out Andy, the bloke with the shades and the scarf on his head is gonna stick out like a sore thumb – those insurgents will definitely find you!’

If you’re thinking of doing the Great British Invasion, just do it. Seriously. It’s a great way to have a brilliant time and raise money for a worthy cause as well. There’s none of this having to run five marathons in five days malarkey – you get on a bike, ride round the States and raise loads of cash for children who need our help. Easy. Who wouldn’t want to do that?”

Andy McNab’s latest book, The Good Psychopath’s Guide to Success, co-written by Professor Kevin Dutton, is out now

This year is the fifth Great British Invasion and sees the event head to the west of America for more Harley-based japes involving incredible rides and, quite possibly, the firing of guns (legally, of course). You’ll fly into San Francisco in mid-September and from there it’s an 11-day exploration on two wheels, taking in Yosemite, Death Valley, the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Route 66, the Sandia Mountains and New Mexico (Breaking Bad country). Exact details and prices were being finalised as Bike went to press, but the cost of the return flights, accommodation, breakfast and the hiring of a Harley will be in the region of £4,000. That price doesn’t include meals other than breakfast, security deposits for the bikes (around £700 per machine) and all the drinks you’ll want to buy Morgan Freeman when you’re telling him that The Shawshank Redemption is “like, my totally most favouritist film EVER.” The only other thing you need to do is guarantee the raising of at least £1,000 per person or couple for Childline as part of your participation.

For more info on the trip, phone Classic Tours on 0207 619 0066 or visit
For more info on Childline Rocks, see

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