DOUBLE Olympic gold medallist James Cracknell surprised shoppers in Chipping Sodbury while out canvassing for the European elections.

The rower, who won the coxless fours in Sydney in 2000 and Athens in 2004, was in the town as part of his campaign to become Conservative MEP for the South West and Gibraltar.

He met with local Tory councillors and supporters at the Conservative club at Tudor House, on Hatters Lane, before walking the length of the medieval High Street to talk to shoppers about their views on the upcoming European election.

James, who suffered a contrecoup brain injury when he was hit by a petrol tanker whilst on a cycling challenge in America in 2010, told the Gazette first and foremost he wanted to encourage people to vote.

“UKip have raised the profile of the European elections so I suppose for that we should be grateful,” he said. “But the first thing is to get people to vote. Turnout at the Europeans in normally under 30 per cent and now is the time change is needed.”

He added: “I am trying to keep the campaign simple, it is about getting the best situation for Britain. And a vote for UKip is wasted as they cannot do anything and Labour and the Liberal Democrats will side with Europe too much.

“I believe Europe is better off with Britain in but we need to make sure Britain is better off in Europe. We need to stick our hands up and renegotiate otherwise we may as well walk away, which is not something I believe in.”

The 42-year-old sportsman, who has trekked across the globe for charity, said he hoped his background would help him in the world of politics.

“I think it is going to be frustrating,” said James. “I am used to being in control and if you train well and race well you will do well. Whereas with politics there are so many things out of your control - Maria Miller for instance or if Cyril Smith was a Conservative – which makes it difficult.

“All I can do is get to May 22 and do the best I can.”

He said his notoriety did help get a foot in the door with voters.

“It gets me a question for free,” said the would-be Brussels politician who has family in the South West and said it was the only region he wanted to represent.

“But after that you only have two or three minutes and I don’t think the European election is the same as a General Election, it is about the party you stand for.

“The most important thing is to get across what the party stands for but I am trying to understand all the issues in all the different areas of the South West.

“Nothing is going to happen overnight. But I am in this for the long-term and it is not something I had to do but something I wanted to.”

The European Elections take place on Thursday, May 22. Visit to find out how to register.