BOOK (1988)

Nostalgia trip: Eddie the Eagle by Michael Edwards - a loser takes all

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 April, 2015, 6:51pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 April, 2015, 6:51pm

Eddie the Eagle: My Story
by Michael Edwards
Weidenfeld & Nicolson

"There's no success like failure," Bob Dylan wrote in his song Love Minus Zero, No Limit in 1965, and in 1988, at the Winter Olympics in Calgary, Canada, British skier Michael Edwards proved it. There was something about the accident-prone Olympian - Britain's first representative in ski jumping - that endeared him to the global audience.

Edwards has pursued many callings over the years - builder, plasterer, pop star, lawyer and more - but his core career has been that of celebrity heroic failure.

He was, briefly, an author. His autobiography, Eddie the Eagle: My Story, was rushed out while he was at the zenith of his fame, having just represented Britain in the 70- and 90-metre ski jumping events, coming spectacularly last in both.

By the closing ceremony, in both fame and popularity Edwards had eclipsed the medal winners - not all of whom took it well: he got hate mail as well as fan mail.

His level of competence fell hilariously short of Olympic standards - yet he had legitimately qualified to be present in Calgary. In 1988 he was in the top 10 - barely, at No9 - of the world's amateur speed skiers; held the British ski jumping record (by international standards a modest one); and, more impressively, set the world stunt ski jumping record by clearing an obstacle of 10 cars and six buses.

Yet this was the man who, on arrival at the Calgary airport, walked into a closed glass door.

Edwards got to Calgary without sponsorship of any kind, paying his way there by doing hard manual labour and living as cheaply as he could to save his pay. He was so poorly equipped that the Italian team gave him a helmet and the Austrians a pair of skis. The equipment didn't save him, but Edwards - who couldn't see where he was going without his glasses (which misted up in mid-jump) - got up every time he fell, dusted himself down, and made a joke of it.

He made a fortune on personal appearances, merchandising deals and pop records - including one in Finnish, although he couldn't speak a word of the language.

Edwards has a lasting legacy: he got to Calgary by being the best in his chosen sport that Britain had to offer. Afterwards the bar was raised so that this would not happen again.

A biopic is now in production starring Taron Egerton as the hero and Hugh Jackman as his coach. There is no success like failure. Dylan was right.