Idris Elba has just landed after looping the loop in an acrobatic plane and he’s decidedly shaky. “I went up there and thought, what the hell am I doing?” he exclaims, wide-eyed and scoffing chocolate. “I thought I was going to pass out because I’d never felt G-force like that before – the effect on your body is unbelievable. I’m eating sugar now because my body’s still a bit trembly.” Why has he subjected himself to such terror?
Because he still retains the youthful addiction to adrenaline that he developed as a child growing up in east London. Helpful character traits, perhaps, for a new James Bond? He shuts down the conversation. “It’s just a rumour.” The bookmakers are less circumspect. For them he’s vying with Damian Lewis to replace Daniel Craig, but Elba is having none of it. “I’ve no idea,” he deadpans. His new series, Idris Elba: No Limits, sees the Luther star consummating his love of speed in all sorts of high-octane, high-spec vehicles.
But the highlight was when he broke a speed record held by Sir Malcolm Campbell since 1927. The historic “Flying Mile” UK land speed mark was set by Campbell on Pendine Sands in Wales in his legendary Napier-Campbell Blue Bird. Elba returned to the same beach, but in a Bentley Continental GT Speed, which has a top speed of 206mph. He clocked 180.361 mph over a measured mile to break the record. “I’ve sort of conquered fear,” he reveals to RT.
“In life, there is no place for it. I don’t mean to sound deep and philosophical but it’s a waste of emotion. In my life generally I’ve always had to overcome fear, whether it was for my first audition or going up in a plane.” Are his family happy with this career move?
“Nobody knows,” he admits of his mum Eve, girlfriend Naiyana Garth (below) and their one-year-old son Winston, and his 13-year-old daughter Isan, with his ex-wife Kim Norgaard. “I know everyone would just say, ‘Oh my God you’re going to get hurt!’ And I thought I couldn’t handle that. They’ll see it on TV and then my phone will keep ringing and I’ll just turn the phone off.”
His mother, however, must be well used to it. Elba’s love of speed stems from youthful scrapes in the east London of his childhood. “It started off with my BMX,” he recalls. “I remember watching the riders in the early 80s jumping over hills and all that, and it was the first thing I did and I loved it.
Then I would build go-carts and shoot down the hills in Finsbury Park. I have a scar on my elbow where I scraped all my skin off going round a corner on a go-cart made out of pram wheels – with no brakes.” By the age of 14 he already had a Saturday job with a tyre fitter and, with the money he earned, bought himself a red Mini for £50 on which he learned basic mechanics. “As soon as I could buy a proper car I bought an XR2, like a fast Fiesta. I like driving vehicles.”