This Blog has absolutely nothing to do with Stocks and with the Market in its current ungenerous mood it seems a good time now for ‘Something completely different’.
A few Weeks back I did my usual Weekend Blog and included a Link to a YouTube Video of BBC Top Gear which came from the Last Episode of Season 2. Sadly since then the Video is no longer available on YouTube due to ‘Third party Copyright Infringement’ but my mate @InvestingMartin did some poking around and managed to find it here - thanks chap !! You need to scroll to 33 mins ish:
Following on from that, I have had countless questions about what it was like to appear on Top Gear and I think the best way to respond is for me to produce a Blog about it, so here it is.
How it came about
I had a Motorbike Accident back in 1998 and spent something like 7 months in Stoke Mandeville Hospital and needless to say I made a few mates while there who were in a similar boat with Spinal Injuries of various types etc. Anyway, my mate Rob from the Hospital is totally Car nuts and he somehow got tickets to attend the filming in the Studio of Top Gear one evening through the Subaru Owners Club and at the time they were doing a piece every week on things like ‘The World’s fastest Religion’ and ‘The World’s fastest OAP’ and other such silliness. Anway, my mate got chatting to the Producer after the Filming and said to him that they should do one on ‘The World’s fastest Disabled Person’ and Rob offered to bring some mates along and that sort of thing.
Anyway, Rob then roped another mate Tim and myself into it and Top Gear themselves tracked down a coule of other Guys to get the Drivers together, and the date was set where we had to go down to Dunsfold Aerodrome just below Guildford to do the filming on the Top Gear Test Track.
The Day at Dunsfold
Of course it was an utterly miserable day with very heavy and relentless rain and we were introduced to Marc Haynes who is the Son of the Haynes Manuals Family (TIDM: HYNS - see, there is some Shares stuff in here !!) and it turned out he as Paraplegic and raced a stripped-out Porsche 911 from about 1986 in the Historic Car Racing Series. This was all very complicated because the Porsche was worth a mint (this was about 12 years or so ago I guess) and with nothing inside it except all the Racing Gear like the Seat and Racing Harness and Fire Extinguisher and Roll-Cage etc., and a very highly tuned and expensive Engine, it went pretty quickly and the wide tyres etc. meant it gripped really well.
First off we had a safety talk and all that sort of thing and I recall we had to do it with ‘The World’s fastest Politician’ and the bloke from the Monster Raving Looney Party was there and also Bernard Jenkins the Conservative Brexit enthusiast who was quite a decent bloke to chat to although he struck me as quite pompous and a bit of a buffoon really. He seemed clueless about what a Car even was !!
We then had to see the Track to learn which way it went so they shoved 4 of us in this very normal Skoda Favorit Estate (probably a 1.9 Diesel) and we were taken round the Track by a very young Racing Driver who apparently was in Formula Ford or whatever it was. This is where things started to go a bit wrong - despite it being an incredibly dull Skoda, the Racing Driver was just simply insane - he quickly got the thing up to full speed and then must have driven round the complete circuit without once touching the Brakes. It was useless for showing us the Track because we either had our eyes shut or were having our Faces rammed against the Windows as the Car careered round various Corners. I think he might have taken us for a Second Lap but whatever happened I was completely clueless on which way the Circuit went or what to do at each Corner etc.
Then we were ready to get in the Porsche and do our Laps - I think we were allowed 3 Practice Laps each and then we had 2 Laps where we were supposed to ‘Go for it !!’ and set our Fastest times. This was then complicated by the fact that Marc Haynes was extremely nervous about his Car - the problem arose because the Engine was very highly tuned and the Car had a Manual Gearbox that had been adapted for Hand Control use with a Hydraulicly Operated Clutch but it was really difficult to use and if you missed a Gear the Engine would Rev-out and Marc was worried the Valves would jump out of the Top of the Head.
With this in mind Marc decided that I was the only sensible one of the Group and that I should drive the Car first - this was fine with me as I appreciated that he was lending us the Car and I realised that if I blew the Car up then the whole Filming would be over and I didn’t want to be responsible for screwing everything up. There was yet another complication when they tried to get me into the Car because the Roll-Cage meant that there was only a tiny ‘Hole’ to get my Body in once the Door was open and due to my Paralysis (I am paralysed from the Chest down) it was a lot of man-handling and suchlike to get me in (I don’t remember getting out but that must have been really difficult as well). I remember sitting in the Car and being utterly exhausted before anything had even happened and the Windows were all misting up with the terrible and constant Rain and once I got going the Windscreen Wipers were tiny and pretty much useless. So I couldn’t see much if anything and I was just focused on not Crashing and making sure the Car was still in one piece for the filming to continue.
I think my mate Tim was next and he was just utterly insane. He made the Young Racing Driver look like Grandma. I think he span off the Track on the Second Corner and carried on in such a vein with utterly bonkers speed followed by trips over the Grass and generally posing a Danger to anything that was in the vicinity. Having said that, it was when Rob got in the Car that things went off the scale nutty - he only just missed hiting the Ambulance that was there in case of any Emergencies !! Rob at the time owned one of those Mitsubishi FTO things which was a pretty cool car but he drove it like a lunatic - and he then went up a notch on the daft cars with a Toyota Celica Supra which I think was putting out 420BHP which is a huge amount for a car with a reputation for being a handful.
The other Guys that Top Gear had found then drove very well and one guy who was some sort of Karting Champion was just so fast and smooth it was amazing - needless to say he ‘Won’ but he barely even got a mention when the TV Segment actually went out. While all these nutcases were doing their best to either Blow-up Marc’s Car or to just wipe it out against an Ambulance, I was sat with Richard Hammond and that was really fun because he is a top bloke. It was just a good old laugh really and one of the best bits was when they got us to Wheel up the Track ‘in Formation’ which is the footage which is shown at the Start of the Segment as it went out to the TV Audience (it might have been the ‘best bit‘ because it had finally stopped raining). This was quite an insight to how things are filmed because the Camera Bod showed us ‘The Rushes’ of that sequence and it just looked amazing.
The Way Home
So the Day pretty much finished and it was arranged that we would come back in about a Week’s time on a Wednesday Night to film the Studio based bit and I then headed off to the Car Park and got into my Golf VR6 that I had at the time.
Now things got even more complicated. I drove up the road from the Aerodrome bit and got to the Junction right next to where Chris Evans was living at the time and I made a big error here because instead of turning Right, I went Left without thinking. After a while I realised I had gone the wrong way and I turned round and headed back re-tracing my route (I have one of those weird, possibly false, memories of adjusting the Radio and thinking how plush and comfortable the VR6 felt after the Porsche). As I came up to the Chris Evans Junction there was a really sharp Left-Hand Bend and I am assuming it was partly due to the Rain and perhaps I was tired and of course I had got used to the ‘Grippy’ feeling of the Porsche and somehow I totally lost control and my Car was all spinning up the Road and at one point I remember being on the Right Hand Side of the Road and staring a big Traffic Sign in the face when suddenly the Car span back across the Road to the Left and slammed Bonnet first into a Ditch and a Wall etc.
Needless to say this was rather shocking and because of the impact the Airbag went off and the Car was smelling like it was burning and Smoke was pouring out everywhere. I had no time to think and I remember looking at my Wheelchair which was dismantled and on the Passenger Seat as usual and deciding to throw myself out of the Car and just get away as fast as possible before it exploded like on the Films and stuff. So I drop myself onto the Wide Grass Verge and I am dragging as fast as I can away from the Car when some bloke appears from nowhere and says “Are you alright?” and suchlike at which point I scream “It’s ok, I’m a Wheelchair user and my Chair is in the Car but it is going to blow up so we must get away fast” and the poor chap must have been even more bemused by the fact that my Trousers were down around my Knees by this point as I had been dragging myself across Brambles and all sorts of Roadside Vegetation !! He also seemed to think I was injured from the Crash.
After a while we realise that the Car is not going to go up in a Ball of Flames and it turns out that the smell was the small Explosive Charge that helps fire the Airbag and the ‘Smoke’ was actually Talcum Powder type of stuff that they pack around the Airbag to help it work or something. So the guy gets my Wheelchair and somehow I manage to calm down and he gets me in the Chair etc. All the while it is wet and miserable and probably raining again.
Now another complication arises - after the Filming at Dunsfold Aerodrome, the likes of Richard Hammond and the Producer are heading home and come to the Junction and find me in the Hedge !! The Producer was great because he let me wait in his Car while the RAC came to rescue me and I remember it being a very late and exhausting evening by the time I got home. But of course I would have far rather the Top Gear boys knew nothing about my little excursion into the Undergrowth !!!
The Studio Filming
I remember getting really fed up with how the Studio bit just got delayed and delayed. We were told first off that it would be the following Wednesday Evening but then as the Day approached we were told it would have to be the following Week because they were doing a Jaguar Special and of course we wouldn’t fit in with that (shame Marc Haynes didn’t race an old Jag !!). This seemed to go on and on and then finally we got a slot and all headed off to Dunsfold again.
I remember wheeling around the Studio looking at the Cars they had there and I recall a Bentley GT when they were still quite new and desirable and my other memory was of meeting James May for the first time and him and Hammond were a right laugh. It was actually very noticeable the contrast with Jeremy Clarkson - it is clear that the pressure was all on him as he was calling the shots and it was obviously his Show but when you boil it all down he was a bit of an arse - he came over and said “Hi“ to us but I got a sense he was just doing it as a formality. Hammond and May just struck me as 2 blokes who had got very lucky to be involved in such a Programme and they were just very normal and having a laugh - they also did remarkably little whereas Clarkson was busy organising things and bossing people around and stuff.
The other thing that stood out was how the Floor Managers or whatever you call them were moving the Audience around to give the impression of a vast crowd - in truth there were a few people there but it certainly wasn’t a massive group and everyone was corralled into areas around where a particular Camera was placed and it clearly works to give the viewer the idea that the place is rammed. It was in fact a massive Hangar and there was loads of empty space. Mind you, there were wires and things everywhere so I imagine it was a Health & Safety Officer’s worst nightmare.
Anyway, you can see on the Video how it went in the Studio and myself and Rob seemed to steal most of the Limelight and of course they gave me loads of stick about crashing into the Ditch on my way home. I was by far the slowest of the Group but I am sticking to my explanation that I was saving the Car for the good of the tribe !! Due to all the delays in doing the Studio bit it turned out that we were just a short segment in the Last Programme of that particular Series and you can see from the whole Programme that there were loads of bits they just shoved in at the last chance. It was a shame because I felt they could have made a lot more of my TV Stardom !!
Talking of which, there was quite an amusing follow up many Years later. As a special treat I took my Brother and my 2 Nephews and my Niece to Eurodisney near Paris when they were probably something like 8, 10 and 12 or so. Anyway, I was chatting to my Niece in my Hotel Room when all of a sudden one of the Boys shouts out “Hey, Uncle, you’re on the Telly” - and of course I thought he was winding me up but sure enough, there in French, was me on Top Gear !!!!! That was a bit surreal.
So, there you go, now you know all about my Celebrity Status and International TV Superstardom……..(Autographs are available for an extortionate fee).
Welcome to my Educational Blog Page - I have another 'Stocks & Markets' Blog Page which you can access via a Button on the top of the Homepage.
Please see the Full Range of Book Ideas in Wheelie's Bookshop.