I kid myself I know a thing or two about cars and motoring per se. Have done ever since I were an itch in my dad’s crotch. Or to put it more eloquently, perched upon his knee as an impressionable 7-year old, helping him to steer his 1972 Triumph Herald as he reversed it up the driveway of the family home. Only I don’t really. I mean, I know what I like and I like what I know (historically to do with performance Fords circa the mid-1990s, Japanese sports coupes of the same era and Formula 1 during the past decade), yet any vague knowledge-set with regards to what happens under the bonnet of the average family car, what most of those instantly depressing little graphics found within the pages of the Highway Code mean and the official stopping distance of a motor vehicle at speeds of 30mph fall tragically short of the otherwise great expectations those around me lust after.
For me, my car-fetishing takes in grand touring (or rather, the seeking of automotive adventures near and far), valeting my ride to within a millimetre of its base metal on a sunny Saturday morning, hanging with the boy racers on the retail park of a provincial town whence darkness creeps and settles and looking at the more leftfield side of motoring for my own pleasurable ends. And those of my single figure readership. If in doubt, read anything casually uploaded hereabouts. Although admittedly two of the aforementioned pursuits were jacked in a few years back now, mainly on account of my arthritic back and the degree of receding hairline that even a slouch beanie hat can no longer mask. But none of this dilutes my own standard of car buffery or indeed, buffoonery, which goes a long way to explain my enduring love affair with three middle-aged men with rotund stomachs and the type of blazers which Top Man really shouldn’t be allowed to sell to those over 45.
And on Friday the 14th October 2016 I finally got to meet my heroes in the (slightly wrinkly) flesh. In a tent; in Whitby, North Yorkshire. Albeit more of a giant marquee in the harbour car park, as opposed to a snug 4-man pop up variety pitched in a field perched on the cliffs overlooking said harbour. Which would, admittedly be a bit weird/surreal. Yet no more surreal than the actual occasion itself and which – after my own birth – now rates as arguably the best day of my life thus far. And no, before you ask, I have never been married nor have sired small people to my understanding. In the event I was one of the 400 individuals (with their plus ones in tow) who were selected to attend the filming of the Whitby episode of the inaugural Amazon Prime series, in the direct aftermath of selling myself to the powers that be; via a virtual application form and a follow-up phone call. Pimping myself in the context of describing just why I love the triumvirate of Clarkson, May and Hammond so, establishing who my favourite is (and outlining the reasons for arriving at this decision) and why I should be afforded this incredibly rare opportunity.
Obviously I paid mention of my 1983 computer desk (minus an Amstrad CPC-464 which came free with it) which I have in recent times transformed into a slightly sinister and creepy shrine to the aforementioned trio (complete with their mug shots decoupage’d onto the upcycled piece of remote-working office furniture several times over), my unrelenting obsession with May’s hair and brogues and the underlying fact my current squeeze had previously been to see filming of that other motoring magazine show they once made for another TV licence fee-funded channel, of whose name escapes me. And whereby she was accompanied by her ex-husband to add insult to the male injury I’m still nursing. The latter factoid rankling with me to the very day; that was before I received an email confirming that I had been one of the 400 hand-picked to represent the shire of Che at Whitby harbour in little over a week’s time. Only to later have revealed that the final 400 had been whittled down from a staggering 592,000 people who had originally applied/attempted to sweet-talk the production company responsible for making The Grand Tour into letting them be the special ones; instead of me and my unknown cohorts/cast of, er, a few hundred. The total losers.
So, anyway, gloating aside (and before we go any further), the back story. If you recall, the last time the former presenters of BBC2’s flagship motoring programme, Top Gear were holed up in North Yorkshire they were colloquially known as the current presenters of BBC2’s flagship motoring programme, Top Gear. Now some 18 months on from that whole debacle, the team return to the scene of one of their number’s (not so) finest hours, under a new banner; offering more of the same motoring-based high jinks and boy’s own adventures of prime-time Tee-Vee yore, but different. When we say the same scene, we mean the same county at least. Or God’s own country, as the region which gave us its titular pudding, the world’s best cheese, the inventor of the toilet and Michael Parkinson is sometimes better recognized as. Oh, and an extra ‘T’ pre-cursing every word. Now in cahoots with once-obscure-TV-channel-now-with-big-ideas, Amazon Prime, Messrs Clarkson, May and Hammond are all set to be a motoring force to be reckoned with once more as they arise, phoenix-like from the ashes of TG. We feel this in our waters, as we’ve all been party to the snazzy new online ads which have been teasing the impending The Grand Tour of late. However, time and initial viewing figures will tell. Or, if you were very lucky, and like me acquired a pass/uber rare insight into the cloak and dagger behind the scenes live action as the final touches are put to one of the most eagerly awaited new series’ to ever be broadcast, will sassily know early doors.
Gary Barlow’s Mum
So, to the day itself then, and my pre-determined date with destiny. And trust me when I say I’ve enjoyed a few of them in the past. Such as the time I bumped into Gary Barlow’s mum while walking my dog, the occasion in which I spoke at length to one-time Hearsay strumpet and subsequent Corrie landlady, Kym Marsh/Ryder/Lomas/Marsh again on the phone (discussing her solo pop career in my professional capacity as an online journo) together with that memorable night that I almost copped off with Izzy from Hollyoaks in a Chester nightclub, but misread the signals and ended up watching her being dragged into the toilets by another man 10 minutes later. Anyway, I digress; and after being welcomed/frisked by security at the site of the makeshift studio, geographically located right on the quay at Whitby’s iconic harbour, my plus one (who else, but my motoring show-filming old hand/missus) and myself were afforded the level of hospitality you normally only read about. And more readily associate with a rock star’s backstage rider, which read as a what’s what of locally-sourced tea, mineral water and chips. But sadly no evidence of locally-sourced women of the night or non-sugary white powder you consume straight off the formers’ vessel.
Of course, another reason that I elected to request the company of my long-term girlfriend in the legit guise of my guest for the day is because (along with loving her and respecting her as a woman and all that shizzle) she is very easy on the eye. And is a dab hand at applying make-up like a female cast member of TOWIE preparing for a night out on the razz. With the method underpinning my madness being that – according to Top Gear folklore – the more, how can I put this in 2016 parlez, attractive the laydee was/is, the nearer the front of the studio (and therein closer to the presenters) they were all but guaranteed. Suffice to say I ensured that my already stunning other half spent the entire road trip up to the North Yorkshire coast applying DEFCON 1 levels of cosmetic products to bag us front row seats. And boy, did her/our efforts pay dividends once we entered the Grand Tour’s big top. Whereby the show’s floor manager immediately singled us out for front row allocation and essentially, THE best seats in the house. The sort of seats that were they situated in a rock concert venue would cost the star-struck buyer as much as, well, a reasonably priced car. I’ll remember the life-affirming sentence he uttered till I take my very last breath, that poetry to my ear going something EXACTLY along the lines of; “Hey, you look a cool couple, I want you at the very front.” A sentence which instantaneously justified my top knot, stupendously teenage hi-tops and sprayed-on jeans in my superficial mind.
As it happened we were escorted to five upturned crates which formed a bench which were placed directly in front of the top table as it were, and the precise place where Jeremy, James and Richard were set to conduct the whole shebang in literal moments. We were seated so close we could see the whites of each other’s eyes, of which contact was made several times during the recording of the show. The sort of proximity that stalker’s charters were designed to severely restrict, yet I had seemingly slipped through the (Whitby trawlerman’s) net and was now sat less than 10 feet away from my heroes. And on whose every word, facial expression, paparazzi-aimed flicked V and seamless link I hung for the next couple of hours, as 400 like-minded folk enjoyed a once-in-a-lifetime experience under canvas. Not to labour the point too much, but we were all privy to the making of a complete episode of the forthcoming debut series of the much hyped and long-awaited new televisual vehicle for the inimitable threesome, which is scheduled to be broadcast between now and the end of the current year.
Unfortunately I can’t divulge too much more, in terms of details about the programme itself, not least because I quite like the versatility and mobility my knees give me, and by signing a confidentiality agreement beforehand means I might, potentially compromise the rudimentary biomechanics of my simple being by sharing so much as a snippet of the show’s format/content with you. What I CAN say without any risk of personal harm befalling me (or lawsuits being delivered) is that The Grand Tour certainly DOES live up to the pre-series hyperbole and takes up where the old TG left off. And when I say the old TG, I’m not referring to the days of Rippon, Goffey and Wilson for those of a particular vintage. That said, there’s more than enough new twists and turns to satisfy those who are craving something a little different from the tried and tested formula which went before. Ultimately though puritans can rest assured that features, reviews, jolly japes and lively discussion on topics closely related to the core elements of cars and motoring were all in the heady mix once more, whilst I can so much as allude to the fact that the boys have plenty of new tricks up their floral print-cuffed sleeves to promise a bright new version 2.0.
As to my favourite bits that I can safely wax lyrical about, a witty dig by Clarkson of his ‘successor’ at that other motoring show garnered a timely explosion of laughter amongst the gathered masses, whilst maintaining the subject of one of Jezza’s favourite pastimes (creating explosions, not Chris Evans-baiting), watching a high profile ‘sleb crash and burn in Whitby harbour drew much applause. And as hinted earlier, the sight of the leader of the Grand Tour gang extending a warm welcome/middle digits to the throng of Daily Mail photographers stood on a cold quayside opposite the heated marquee was hopefully caught by one of the countless cameras here, there and everywhere for posterity. Incidentally I never did get my photo opportunity with either or Jezza, May, Hammond (unlike my lady friend achieved in her comparable TG episode-recording of yesteryear), due to the obvious concern of the programme-makers to take all precautions necessary so as not to leak any imagery of what went on in The Grand Tour on tour studio before it hits the screen from November onwards. Effectively, what happened in Whitby that afternoon in October, stays in Whitby. For the time being any road.
As a footnote the editor would like to say a massive thank you to the crews at Amazon Prime, ApplauseStore and everyone else associated with the day for making it a thoroughly enjoyable experience from beginning to end, where every care was taken to ensure that the general public were made to feel not only special, but vital cogs in the episode’s component-driven machine. Fantastic vibe, informal approach and a superbly accommodating atmosphere, whilst everyone was well catered for from the outset. Needless to say Messrs Clarkson, May and Hammond were on top form; warm, relaxed, jovial and actively engaging with the audience at every opportunity and were, naturally, the undoubted stars of a show which is even more hotly anticipated by 400 very lucky people at this juncture. Bravo chaps and chapesses and a mahoosive thank you. Not least to the floor manager, Matthew who put the bums of my girlfriend and myself on the best seats in the house!