IT’S been more than two decades since Chris Hoy boosted his student bank balance by stacking shelves at Blackwell’s bookshop.
Back then, he was known to friends and colleagues as a determined young man who was already taking his first tentative steps to sporting stardom.
But despite being just a few years away from grabbing silver at the 1999 Berlin track cycling world championships, few could have predicted quite how far he would go.
Now, 18 years later, the cycling supremo has returned to the South Bridge store to dish out his very own book – and sign some copies for his legions of young fans.
The 11-time world champion has recently penned his second Flying Fergus title, continuing his popular children’s series aimed at encouraging youngsters to get on their bikes.
Back behind the till at Blackwell’s, he said he harboured “great memories” from his time at the bookshop – then James Thin – as a cash-strapped student.
“I worked in the stationery department back in 1995,” he said. “I have some great memories of working here. I wasn’t a massive reader as a child, but when I found an author who I enjoyed, like Roald Dahl, I would get really stuck into it.”
One former colleague, meanwhile, gave a fascinating glimpse of the unassuming lad who would later erupt into the limelight as one of the most celebrated cyclists of all time.
Margaret Fraser, who worked alongside Hoy all those years ago, said: “Chris worked in the stationery department when he was in his first year at [Edinburgh University’s] Moray House, I think it was usually on Thursday nights.
“It was the run-up to Christmas and you can imagine the department was very busy. We had quite a large range of gift items for the students at that time. He had the patience of a saint as one of his jobs was putting the backs on to the earrings that we stocked.
“He also told me, because of his training regime, he could totally zone out and didn’t mind the repetitive nature of that particular job.
“When I came in the following morning everything that I had left – orders to check, paperwork and pricing – was always completed and put in the correct places. I was sorry when he left.”
Her glowing praise for the young Hoy’s dedication to the task in front of him is echoed by those who trained with the Olympian when he was in his late teens and early 20s.
Edinburgh cycling legend Brian Annable – who helped train Hoy from the age of 17 – said: “He was a gentleman. An absolute gentleman. He didn’t blow his own trumpet, and he helped others.
“He trained hard, but like most youngsters he trained at the things he was best at, rather than the things he was worst at. But once he became a key member of the British team there were professional coaches there [to spur him on].”
Hoy attended the Capital’s prestigious George Watson’s College before moving on to the University of St Andrews, and then transferring to Edinburgh University.
Around the time he was putting in Christmas shifts at the store, his intensive training was beginning to pay off.
In 1998, he competed in the Commonwealth Games, followed by the UCI Track Cycling World Championships the following year. Six Olympic golds would follow in the coming years. Perhaps – just perhaps – he owes some of his phenomenal focus to his stint as an Edinburgh bookseller, painstackingly putting the backs into earrings and carefully checking over orders.