Calling from a Manhattan hotel room, unlikely Olympic hero Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards is a spokesman for all things positive. A cheerleader for the underdogs, Edwards fought the odds—and the doubters—to compete in the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary as a ski jumper.
The Englishman’s story is told in the new film “Eddie the Eagle,” starring Taron Egerton in the title role, and Hugh Jackman as Bronson Peary, a hard-drinking, chain-smoking American and former ski jumper who takes Eddie, very reluctantly at first, under his wing.
“I saw the whole completed film on January 3 and I was blown away by it,” Edwards says about the film that opened February 26. “I thought it was absolutely fantastic and it brought tears to my eyes. But it is very, very surreal to sit there and watch a film that’s been made based on my life.”
Edwards adds that he was shocked when he saw Egerton dressed and acting as him.
“I thought, ‘My God. That is just how I looked 28 years ago when I was 24 and I was standing at the top of those Olympic ski jumps,’” he recalls.
Although he placed last in both his events—the 70-meter jump and 90-meter jump—he became a media darling (he was quickly dubbed “The Eagle” by the tabloids) and something of a folk hero, famous for his unorthodox style, appearance and will to compete.
So Edwards knows a thing or two about perseverance. The film, which took 17 years to make, accurately portrays the stumbling blocks Edwards faced in his climb up the figurative Olympic ski jump.
“I was this tiny David of a country against these Goliath nations of jumping,” he says. “I came from a country with no snow, no training facilities, no trainer, no money, borrowed equipment and yet I still managed to get to those Olympic games and compete for my country. I hope it’ll open people’s eyes.”
Edwards says it was easy to keep his morale up, considering he’s always been “extremely self-motivated.”
“I don’t know where I get it from,” he says. “I must get it from my mum and dad, my grandparents, my great-grandparents. Despite people all the time telling me I can’t do this, I can’t do that, stop doing this, I use that to inspire me to prove them wrong.
“If there’s nothing I liked better, it was proving people wrong. If someone said, ‘You can’t do it,’ I’d think, ‘Yes, actually I can and I’ll show you I can.’ I used to do that a lot and I still like doing that to this day. I like nothing more than proving people wrong.”
These days, when Edwards isn’t doing “Eddie the Eagle work”—motivational talks and TV and radio appearances—he works in construction, following in his dad’s footsteps.
“I build houses and extensions. I’m a roofer a plasterer. It keeps me grounded,” he says. “It keeps me fit. It keeps me active. It means I’ll always have a job. I don’t have to rely on doing media stuff and PR. I do enjoy it though. It takes me all over the country, all over the world. But when I go through months without doing any of it, I go back to my construction work where I’m happy as a Larry.”
His wishes for “Eddie the Eagle” are simple.
“I hope that people will enjoy it for 90 minutes, will be entertained by it and be inspired by it,” says Edwards, the divorced father of two daughters, Honey and Ottilie.
“Hopefully people will begin to understand just what it was like for me to get to those Olympic Games. Some of the media was, quite, uh, well, how do I say it, ‘unkind’?
“They had a preconceived idea of what Eddie the Eagle was all about. They thought I was a laugh or a joke. They were taking the Mickey out of all of that. When they see the film, I’m hoping they see just what it took for me to get to those Olympic games. Me getting there was my gold medal.”