Michael Dunlop: My depression secret and the struggle to keep a roof over mum's head - the bailiff came and said banks had claimed back the house
Michael Dunlop and his mum Louise
At the end of 2013 I decided to hang up my helmet - for good. My walking away from the roads was nothing to do with money and everything to do with money. Aye, I was p****d off at Honda but I realised they were the tip of the iceberg. The things on my mind would sink the Titanic.
The problem, I have to admit now, is that I never dealt with things as they crept up on me. Maybe if I'd told Honda what I needed more money for, they'd have struck a deal better suited to my needs. Because I wasn't after big bucks to spend on booze and birds. I just wanted to keep a roof over my Ma's head.
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In 2013 our time ran out. The bailiff knocked on the door and said the banks had claimed back the house. Mum was alone when they came. I'd have lamped them if I'd been there, even if they were just doing their jobs. You don't terrorise someone like that. We had to pack our bags and get out. As simple as that. We both found little places that weren't what you'd call "home".
I let the problems build up, I know I did. When I was racing I was doing so well that the real world didn't touch me. I ignored the s**t going on with the house, with Dad's estate, his memorial, everything. It was denial, plain and simple. The debt collector was ringing every day but while I was on the track he couldn't touch me. He couldn't get into my helmet. There was no phone in there. But at the end of the year, when I took the helmet off, it felt like the floodgates had opened - as though I'd been Moses parting the Red Sea but now it was all about to come crashing down. And there wasn't a thing I could do.
I was lost to the point that I didn't know where it would end. There were all these things going on and I was just being worn down from every side. It starts gradually and then builds up. When so much stuff is punching you at once, it's very hard to see anything positive between the blows.
When the Honda thing fell through I couldn't actually be bothered fighting any more. I couldn't see any light at the end of the tunnel. I didn't realise it but racing was my crutch. My enabler, I think you'd call it. I had reached such heights in 2013 that below was a long way down. And I fell all the way without a parachute.
I never spoke to anyone about what I was going through. I'm a man in a man's world. The only person I could discuss things with, apart from my dogs, was myself. I've never told a soul about any of this before now. I'll be interested to see how it goes down. I can't be the only man who's felt everything slip away yet not care enough to stop it; the only boy who's felt like he was in the eye of a hurricane and just wanted to curl up and hide.
* * *
At the start of 2014 things were bleak. I'd sold my bikes or locked them away. The banks were putting Mum's old house up for auction. There was nothing on the horizon worth looking at. I just wasn't interested. Still the phone kept ringing, though. I'd ignore the calls, then look at numbers. I noticed one number kept calling. For days on end it kept ringing. Eventually I picked up (it was someone with the offer of a new bike who wouldn't take no for an answer)...
And that is how I got back into bikes. It all snowballed from there. Other things were beginning to sort themselves out as well. Our old house hadn't yet sold at auction and I wanted it to remain like that until I could get some cash together to make my own bid. Eventually the bank lost patience with the lack of bids and I was able to get the house myself.
My Dad's legacy, the house that Robert built, was staying in the family. It was an emotional time. Apart from the bikes, that house was our connection with our Dad. Over the course of a few weeks I felt a bit of light beginning to shine in my head again. The light at the end of the tunnel, I suppose.
Mum was happy to have the house back in the family on principle - that word again - but she didn't want to live there any more. It was too big and there were too many memories of Dad, so we found her a nice, smaller place she could rent and make her own.
As for me, I took a slice of the old grounds and decided I'd follow in Dad's footsteps and build my own home. I rented out the main house to pay for it. It would take a couple of years but I loved getting out there, personally taking every job as far as I could then getting the experts in to finish it off. The skills I learned. I can't think of anything more satisfying. When it was finally ready to move into it, the first thing I did was put my TT trophies in pride of place on the wide mantelpiece, all seven of them. They looked the business, but there was space for plenty more.
Joey and Robert
Joey Dunlop, the boy from Ballymoney, was untouchable at every circuit he raced. But the one where he was the undisputed master isn't in Ireland at all. The Isle of Man Touring Trophy is the pinnacle of the sport.
Between 1977 and 2000 he won 26 races around the mountain circuit - a record that stands today. Uncle Joey was a trailblazer, no mistake, but he wasn't the only one dragging the town into the headlines. When Joey brought home another winged lady trophy there wasn't a prouder person in all of Ballymoney than his wee brother.
Eight years younger, Robert idolised his big brother, like everyone did. Scratching around for something to do with his own life, Robert decided he'd follow in Joey's footsteps, but by anyone's standards those are some boots to fill. The weight of the Dunlop name, people said, would be too great for him. The media, even my grandad, they all said he needed to find his own way in life or forever be compared to big brother Joe. And maybe they would have been right, assuming that all Robert wanted to do was win.
To a degree I think Dad chose to ride because the craic - the good time - was there. The boys are away every weekend, having a laugh, drinking beer, chasing women, and he wanted a slice of that. So he took up the bike as a way to get in on the fun. That's my honest opinion.
Then a thing happened: my dad realised he was actually good at it. Bloody good. Joey Dunlop fans are not going to like this, but a lot of experts said that Dad was a rare talent. On plenty of tracks he was every bit as good as Joey, and maybe on some days even better.
I'm not saying that to disrespect Joey in any way, because he was the undisputed king of the roads. He was The Man. Our entire family owes everything to that boy, as does our town. But I think if my dad had come to racing earlier in his life he might have made more of a name for himself...
While Joey had a reputation for being withdrawn and quiet, Dad was happy to live up to his title as the 'George Best of racing'. But that was a bit of a con, to tell the truth. When Dad was trying to make his way out of Joey's shadow, it was actually my mum who suggested he try to come out of his shell a bit and grab a few headlines.
Racing is a very private sport; you need your own people and your own space around you. But if Joey had a problem on his bike, he knew there was one man on the grid who'd give up his own engine if it meant his hero getting over the finish line first. And afterwards they'd both go for a glass of red wine with the boys, both get a bit lairy, and when the journalists came sniffing for a quote, Robert would be the man leading the singing and dancing. Joey loved that. The fewer the people wanting a word with him, the happier he was.
They were peas in a pod, Joey and Robert. They'd walk over hot coals for a sniff of a race and I think that's what people respected.
I've been into pubs in the middle of nowhere and there's a photo of one or both of them on the wall. I've been in Hong Kong and had people who don't speak English shake my hand because of those boys.
I've even experienced a couple of scenarios where I've had strangers go down on their knees and bow to me, in Ballymoney and beyond. So, yeah, Dunlop country is a thing. No pressure on the rest of us then.
It tore the town apart, no word of a lie. Strangers were hugging each other and crying in the streets. No one could believe that Joey was gone. It was July 2, 2000. My uncle's racing over in Tallinn, Estonia, and the conditions are wet to say the least. These days the TT won't run if the weather's bad, but it used to, and so did the other events.
No one really knows what occurred. It was nothing to do with not knowing the track, because Joey had already won the 750cc race and the 600. He was going for the hat-trick on the 125 when his bike left the road and smashed into the nearby trees. There were no spectators there. It's only when he didn't go past his next checkpoint that questions began to be asked.
Obviously they rang my Dad. He was over with Joey's family like a shot. There was all the practical stuff to attend to. First things first, they needed to get the body back to the UK. Telling his mum was the worst. You should never bury your own children and that woman, May, had suffered enough with my Dad's injuries and Uncle Jim's as well.
The worst thing for her and Grandad Willy was having no time to themselves. It's all right lovely strangers commiserating on your loss when you nip out to buy some bread, but they had no time to grieve themselves. They were in the spotlight from the moment the news about Joey hit Ballymoney.
It was well intended but not right. Everyone was in shock. Even at 48, Uncle Joey was flying that year. He'd recently won his third hat-trick at the TT so you'd never say he was losing his touch. It didn't make sense. Whereas my Dad was unbreakable - no pain, no accident could stop him - Uncle Joey just never crashed. He never had any of those moments that dot every racer's career. The boy just never made mistakes.
I remember the mood in the house being awful. No one spoke for ages. I think in case we started crying. It was terrible.
Flowers kept arriving and you'd again be reminded why. My dad was not given to tears but you could see he was hurting worse than when he'd come off his bike himself. The whole town shut down. Everyone felt they knew Joey. He'd done so much for them, they wanted to give something back.
On the day of the funeral there couldn't have been a house with a soul in. Everyone turned out. And not just from Ballymoney. People travelled from all over the country. And of course, more than ever, bikers were welcome. Among the 50,000 mourners a good few were on two wheels.
The procession to Garryduff Presbyterian Church was like something out of a film. You'd think the Queen had died. My dad went in the main car. I walked ahead with my cousin Ben, Jim's son. We were dying inside but it was Joey's kids we really felt for. We'd lost an uncle. Those boys and girls a dad. I couldn't imagine how that must feel.
All I knew is I never wanted to find out.
ADAPTED BY LAURENCE WHITE
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