Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards went down in British folklore for his performance in the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics. After narrowly missing out on qualification for the 1984 GB downhill skiing team, Eddie decided to make history by becoming the first person to represent Britain at Olympic ski jumping four years later. Here, despite (and probably because of) coming dead last in both the 70m and 90m events, the Eagle soared into the nation’s hearts.
When Eddie agreed to talk to us, Harry Harland “jumped” at the opportunity to pose a few questions to him, covering the ‘88 Olympics, jumping off chest-of-drawers and his unlikely pop music career…
1. How did you get into ski jumping?
The first time I went skiing was on a school ski trip when I was 13. I’d learned to ski at the Gloucestershire ski centre beforehand. After that I skied in a lot of races, especially slalom, which eventually led to the national team. At 17 I got my licence to race internationally and I went off to race in the USA. Whilst training at Lake Placid, I ran out of money and decided that, as there were a lot of racing skiers but no ski-jumper in the GB team, I’d have a go at that… And really I never looked back!
2. Have you ever skied down the stairs in your house?
I’ve only ever been down the stairs on my tummy I’m afraid! For practicing in England I had a variety of techniques though. The key really was the take off position. It’s absolutely crucial to get that right! In order to hone my technique, sometimes I’d just jump off the chest-of-drawers onto my bed, but mainly I’d use a machine that was given to me by the Norwegian Ski Jumping Club. The machine was kept in the garden and had a pivot with a bar that would lift me from jump position to flight position. It’s key to get that right, of course!
3. Those jumps are pretty high. Was there a moment when you first climbed one where you thought “Holy sh*t, I’m going to die!”
Not really. The first time I went up one of the 90m jumps was when I was working in Kandersted in Switzerland. I climbed it just to have a look before trying one of the lower 70m jumps. A few weeks later I put my skis on and went down the full 90m jump, which was pretty scary but I survived! I always knew that if I landed on my feet I’d be alright, even if I fell afterwards, so that calmed my nerves!
4. Given that the other great story of the 1988 Winter Olympics was made into a film (Cool Runnings), have you ever been approached for a similar project?
Yeah, 11 or 12 years ago I signed a deal to make a film about my career. It’s been in the pipeline ever since. Funnily enough I have a meeting with the new director on Thursday to discuss it. I’m currently writing a new biography about the struggle of going to Calgary and life since, with all the blood, sweat and tears in it. Hopefully once I have finished it, they will base the film on that.
5. And who would you choose to play yourself?
Well, obviously someone like Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt! I think the most likely person at the moment is Rupert Grint (who played Ron in Harry Potter).
6. Do you feel Eric the Eel has stolen your thunder? Has he ever contacted you?
I was asked to be on a few TV shows around the time, talking about him. People drew obvious comparisons, as both of us were doing sports where there were no practice facilities in our own countries. I had a lot of empathy with his situation, but no we’ve never been directly in touch. There was a similar situation with the Snow Leopard (Ghanaian skier Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong) in the 2010 Winter Games. He really distanced himself from being associated with people like me and Eric. He felt that he was a good skier and that the comparisons were unflattering. In my mind he was taking it all just a bit too seriously. Who knows though, he might surprise us all at the next Olympics?
7. Did you ever consider wearing contact lenses?
At the time I considered it, but I couldn’t get on with the lenses that they gave me, they were too hard. Of course nowadays they are much softer so it might have been different. However about 9 years ago I had eye surgery, so the iconic glasses are gone I’m afraid… I still have them though for after dinner speeches though!
8. How did you end up releasing a single in Finnish despite not speaking the language?
Very strange story! Back in 1991, Finnish folk singer Irwin Goodman wrote a song about Eddie The Eagle. His record label contacted me and asked if I would come and sing a duet with him, so I went over to Finland to record it. I had been in the hotel no longer than 5 minutes, when I got a call saying that Irwin had died of a heart attack. The studio people asked me if I would sing a song in Finnish as a tribute, so I went along to the studio and learned the words phonetically before recording it. The song, “Mun nimeni on Eetu”, went to number two in the charts and I ended up touring with the band for 6 months! I even played in front of a television audience of 5 million and at a festival in front of 80,000 fans. It was amazing! The strangest moment though was when I was asked to sing on a Norwegian TV show. The Norwegians speak no Finnish, so here was an English man singing Finnish phonetically to Norwegians. It was bizarre!
9. Where does winning Total Wipeout rank in your list of lifetime achievements?
Ha ha! Almost as high as the Olympics! I had a great time doing it. My kids absolutely love the show, so when I was asked the year before and couldn’t do it I was devastated, but they asked me the following year and I said yes. They flew me down to Argentina and I was up against athletes like Derek Redmond, so I knew it was going to be really tough! I absolutely loved it though and wish I could do it all over again…
10. Maybe they’ll have a champion of champions episode?
Ha ha. I would be there in a flash! Definitely!
11. When was the last time you put on a pair of skis?
It was in Mayerhofen in April, there was some wonderful powder there, especially given how late in the season it was. I still live close to Gloucester Ski Centre, where it all began, so try to get there every now and then. My eldest child has tried skiing once, I was teaching her. Like most kids she doesn’t listen to dad, but she’ll get some lessons with a proper instructor! Do I still do jumps? Not so much. Although I still have the equipment and have stayed fit, just in case I get asked to do it for the opening of a ski jump or something. I’d like to think my jumping days aren’t over yet!
12. Are you excited about the Summer Olympics coming to London? What events are you going to?
I’m afraid that I didn’t apply for any tickets and actually I’m looking to be out the country on a cruise when they’re on! I can’t stand watching sport on the telly! I love playing tennis for example, but never watch Wimbledon. I get bored very quickly because there are no characters in sport these days. When I was younger you had Nastase, Conners, McEnroe, etc but they’re all like robots now. Golf is the only exception, but even then I’ll watch about 20 minutes before I just want to go and play golf instead…
Trivial Pursuits would like the thank Eddie for kindly taking the time to talk to us.