John McGuinness MBE – An interview.

After years of racing fans calling for it to happen, road racing legend John McGuinness has made the New Year’s Honours list for 2021. John has been awarded an MBE for services to motorcycling and motorcycle racing. We sat down with the 23 times TT winner to get his feelings on being awarded an MBE.

SB: Finally, John. After all these years, an MBE. Did you ever expect this?

JM: I wouldn’t say that I expected to receive this award. I know a lot of the biking public have asked the question as to why I haven’t had one in the past, but I genuinely didn’t see this coming. Of all the years where a racer could do with a real boost of positivity after a tough year, 2020 is the perfect year to be recognised and this is a great way to finish the year on a high. 

SB: A long time coming, how are you feeling about a trip to Buckingham Palace?

JM: Of course this MBE isn’t about just one year at the job, I’ve been racing for thirty years and to have that kind of dedication formally recognised is something that I’m incredibly proud of. I love the monarchy and when I’ve seen people lining up and being presented with an honour on the red carpet, in one of the most famous buildings on the planet, I’ve always thought about how proud those people must feel. It’s just a shame I wont be getting mine from the gaffer, I don’t think she gives them out anymore. I know that Maria Costello got hers from Prince Charles, I’d love to meet Her Majesty. I just hope I don’t have to wear a mask to receive it. I get the need to social distance but I’d hate to have to be handed mine by a COVID friendly robot that whirs along the red carpet dishing them out.

SB: When did you find out about it all?

JM: I didn’t know until a couple of days ago. It wasn’t long after that I realised a hell of a lot of work has gone into this by a load of people. It’s really nice to know that people were willing to spend a lot of time and energy on this to make it happen. My nomination involved people that have played a role in my career writing statements and helping to paint the picture that I’m worthy of the award. I was surprised to see who had and who hadn’t found the time to support me. Those that are reading this now knowing that they were involved in the process have my respect. Those that are reading this now knowing that they promised to help and then did nothing, know that I still feel exactly the same way about them today as I did did before. I know lots of people and have done a lot of hard work for me to be recognised. If I didn’t deserve one, I wouldn’t get one and it makes me feel good to know that someone has decided I’m worthy of an MBE.

SB: In racer terms, MBEs are thin on the ground. What do you think Joey would think of your news? 

JM: Well I’ve still got a lot of catching up to do when it comes to being mentioned in the same breath as Joey. I can remember being stood in Joey’s house and seeing trophies and medals from all over the world for weird and wacky races that he’d won. His MBE took pride of place and for me to receive one for the same reason he did makes me feel immensely proud. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, he was my hero and to be even mentioned in the same breath as him, even after all these years, still makes me feel ridiculously proud of what I’ve achieved. I’ve probably still got some catching up to do when it comes to people like Carl Fogarty and Dougie Lampkin, himself a 12 times world champion. I’ve been made a part of a fairly exclusive club at last. Dougie Lampkin’s got one, David Knight’s got one, these are people that I love to bits and that have been there for me for a long time. They’re great ambassadors for the sport, they’re still in it after a long time and they’re still well respected at the highest level.

SB: If you bumped into 19 year-old John McGuinness in the street today and wanted to tell him about your journey, what would you say about this?

JM: I’ve been on a hell of a journey thanks to motorcycle racing. From syphoning fuel out of dumper trucks so I can get my KR1S to the next race meeting at 19 years old, to meeting Prince William at the TT a few years ago. I had no idea I’d be where I am today. I’d want to let me know to just keep at it. Becky’s buzzing for me as well, she’s been part of the team that has got me the MBE and she’s been working away without me knowing. It’s been awarded to me, but it’s an MBE for the McGuinness family really. It’s a tight knit unit that’s never really been broken, there’s been a few frayed edges along the way but anything would be after 31 years and we’re a solid team that’s hard to break.

On a personal level, this MBE is in part something that I’ve earned for getting over the big crash and making a comeback. That classic TT win I took after the crash, after the Tramadol nights where I was climbing the walls at home at three in the morning, months of staring down at my leg in a cage wondering if I’d ever get in a set of leathers again and moments where I just felt lost. To get back on any bike and beat everyone round my favourite place to ride in the world was a reward to everyone that helped me get over the crash. It was me repaying their faith in me and that took energy from me and from them. This MBE recognises the work that everyone put into that journey.  The easy way out would have been to bow out with that injury, to limp away saying that there’s nothing that can be done for my career now and my boots are going to have to be hung up. But I didn’t do that. Half way through my recovery journey, I didn’t have the strength to open my car door. That’s a long way to come back from to end up being stood back on the top step of the podium and in case people didn’t realise it, picking yourself up off the deck is as hard as winning, sometimes harder. 

SB: How does it make you feel about your racing future, rather than your racing past?

JM: Receiving an MBE hasn’t changed my racing resolve at all. I knew before I was awarded mine that I wasn’t ready to retire and that hasn’t changed. I want to experience riding a big bike well at the TT again and I’m happy to wait for that chance to come again. If you look all the way back to 1996 and my first TT, the aim was always just to enjoy my racing. Earning a few quid and having an adventure along the way is a welcome bonus and is clearly an important part of it now, but I’m just chasing the same post race buzz I always have done. To ride well and go to the pub with my mates to buzz off it afterwards, that’s what it’s all about to me. Last time I raced at the TT I couldn’t wait to get on the ferry and come home. It was never ever like that for me and that’s the reason why I want to go back.

SB: John McGuinness MBE. Have you thought about how your name will sit?

JM: When you win a race you expect to be handed a cheque and a piece of silverware, that comes with the territory. To receive and MBE is a different thing, I’m in very good company. I’m super proud to be awarded this. It’s something that’s fairly hard to put into words. It’s another level of cool, an old school award that I couldn’t be happier to receive. I’ve already started wondering if I’ll add MBE after my name on everything. I don’t want people to think I’m being a knob if I do that. A gas bill is still a gas bill when it lands on your doormat, regardless of what letters you have after your name.  

Words: John Hogan and John McGuinness. Images: TT Press office and Dave Collister