Top Gear's on BBC1 now so less swearing…but we get to crash better cars
LIKE many of us in lockdown, comic Paddy McGuinness reached for food and booze.
And like the majority of the country, the Top Gear host came out of it with a slightly bigger waistline.
Though not all of us went on Instagram to confess that our extra inches hid our nether regions from our view — but Paddy did.
And in a moment of bored experimenting, he also went blond — which he says made him look like Paul Gascoigne.
In an exclusive chat with The Sun, 47-year-old Paddy says: “I put on about a stone and a half and bleached my hair — I looked like Gazza in the Nineties.
“Everyone else in the country put weight on so I thought, ‘You’ve got to be honest and talk about things’. There’s no good putting on a girdle.
“I bought a webbing belt, and there’s a bit of stretch in them. They’re fantastic.”
As lockdown restrictions eased, Paddy and his Top Gear pals Andrew “Freddie” Flintoff and Chris Harris returned to film the 29th series of the TV motoring favourite.
And it’s not only Paddy’s fresh look that viewers will notice in the upcoming episodes.
Due to social distancing, the petrolhead audience was barred from its usual practice of surrounding the hosts in the aircraft hangar studio in Dunsfold, Surrey.
Instead they watched outside filming while in their cars, which sparked a wry smile from motoring journalist Chris, who saw a modest Ford Mondeo next to a £1.15million hybrid LaFerrari.
Paddy says: “It turned out really good, so we’re talking about maybe doing that going forward, regardless of social distancing and everything else. It added something when everyone brought their cars outside. It was like a bloody big rock concert.”
I say it must have been like a “car show” — meaning exhibition, rather than the TV variety. I should have kept my mouth shut, because before I can explain, I’m getting the mick taken out of me like I’m the fourth member of the presenting team.
Freddie sarcastically says: “It’s not the Bake Off, this.” Rescuing me, Chris, 45, says: “It did feel a bit like a car meet. Everyone turned up in their pride and joy. Please excuse their sarcasm. It had a good feel to it.”
The silver lining to this humiliation is that the trio’s natural instinct to poke fun at each other makes for entertaining viewing and has resulted in the show being at a new peak in the post-Jeremy Clarkson era.
'IT'S NOT BAKE OFF, THIS'
I’m chatting to the trio at Top Gear HQ via Zoom and they are all in the same room, though separated by Covid screens. But Freddie and Chris can’t help pushing them out of the way and crushing Paddy, who is sat in the middle.
The C-word that they are always asked about — chemistry — is a big thing for viewers, given how the hilarious Jeremy, Richard Hammond and James May’s on-screen antics made the show a big hit for more than a decade until they quit in 2015.
And with recent ratings consistently improving, the lads have deservedly been rewarded with an “upgrade” from BBC2 to BBC1. An audience of 3.5million watched the latest episodes, which aired earlier this year, and more than a million saw the repeats a few days later.
Paddy says: “People watching TV know if someone’s faking it, and the fact that we’re pretty much arguing all the time shows that we get on, in a weird kind of way.
“You do argue with your mates — who’s the best at this, who’s the best at that and who’s got this or that.
“So it’s worked all right. It’s not forced, we never do anything that we feel is forced, and the producers never ask us to do anything or script anything that we wouldn’t say ourselves naturally. And long may that continue.”
The change to BBC1, announced in February, will inevitably mean a bigger audience. But Paddy insists the content hasn’t been changed for the new channel.
Chris jokes: “You’ve got to crash more expensive cars because it’s a bigger channel. So on BBC 2 we had to crash a Ford Focus but for BBC1 you go up the power chain a bit more.”
Paddy adds: “It feels just the same as what we’ve always done. We’ve not changed the show to suit BBC1. Back in the day we were saying, ‘Well, as long as we can keep the show the same as what we’ve done, then we’ll do it’.
“That’s why people enjoy it, so we’ve kept it the same. Hopefully we’ll get some new eyes on the show, people who may not necessarily be petrolheads as such, but who just want to enjoy a bit of entertainment.”
Freddie, 42, says: “There’s something for everyone, really. Obviously the car stuff which Chris does for the petrolheads is entertainment value. From our point of view we’re still trying to make the best show we can and we’re trying to make it better all the time.”
There is one minor detail that the trio have had to alter. Chris explains: “We’re not allowed so much swearing, which is a problem for Paddy because he’s got a potty mouth at times, but he’s learning to adjust.”
'SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE'
Turning to his co-host, Paddy says: “I’ve swapped out certain swear words, but I’ll still call you a c***.”
The show trailer features familiar territory, with tyres screeching, boisterous cheering from the lads, cars hurtling down mountains and speeding around sideways in a makeshift motordrome ominously dubbed The Wall Of Death.
They also race around Alton Towers theme park in Staffordshire, drive €30 hire cars in Crete, and attempt to save the ice cream van. There is also a crash — which seems to be turning into a series tradition — when Paddy shunts a £250,000 1990 Lamborghini in the Yorkshire Dales.
He jokes of the smash: “It’s almost as though we’re trying to get the viewers in.”
It follows Freddie’s 124mph crash in September 2019 at York’s Elvington Airfield, where former host Richard Hammond nearly died when he overturned a 370mph dragster in 2006.
Paddy plays down his collision, saying: “I wasn’t that hurt. Everyone else thinks it was some kind of 200mph smash, and it wasn’t. But the boys didn’t talk about it much. I was more upset about what I did to the car.”
Sensing an opportunity to have a go, Chris says of Paddy’s explanation for the shunt: “He’s been asked this 11 times today and that’s the 11th different answer he’s given. We’ve had sheep, horses, oil on the road, a unicorn, torrential rain, a turtle, an ewok and Chewbacca.”
Crashes aside, it is Top Gear’s adrenalin-pumping high-speed moments that Freddie is getting his kicks from these days, having retired from professional cricket in 2009.
He describes one of his stunts in the next series, driving a 30-year-old Jaguar XJ220 at 200mph, as the nearest feeling he has had to playing for England in the Ashes.
He says: “It was like nothing else I’ve driven before. You can go fast and you just have to hang on to the wheel. You could feel it. It was noisy and you had to keep it straight.
“Out of everything I’ve done, the most adrenalin I’ve felt is walking out to bat. But driving that Jag came quite close to that. I had a weird sense of achievement once I’d done it. I got really excited, which is not like me at all.”
In the last series, Freddie took part in a bungee jump down a 500ft Swiss dam in a Rover 100 — so the stunts seem sure to ramp up even more in future.
He says: “Your tolerance to them becomes heightened. It’s like Nando’s — you work your way up the spicy food. So God knows what the thinking for the three of us will be for the next series.”
Hopefully their families won’t be watching.
- The new series of Top Gear starts at 8pm on October 4 on BBC1.
I try wall of death
By Joe Kasper
I JUMPED at the chance to take part in one of the show’s famous stunts, writes Joe Kasper.
I was told to make my way up the steep hill to Alexandra Palace in North London – where I normally watch the darts at Christmas.
In the episode, the lads drive three insurance write-off cars around the fairground-style Wall of Death – something I’d only seen on The Simpsons.
I felt a little jelly-legged as my temperature was taken as part of the usual Covid checks before I was strapped into the passenger seat.
My expert driver gradually increased our speed and ventured further and further up the walls until we were sideways, where I experienced G-forces and a sensation like being on a ride at Thorpe Park.
I was told we were only going at around 25mph, but it felt double that.
Freddie joked: “It’s similar to having ten pints at the darts, then walking down the hill.”
The way I felt afterwards, I’m glad I hadn’t had ten pints, otherwise the poor guys at the BBC may have seen them again . . .
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