INTERVIEW | We chat to ‘Top Gear’ presenter Chris Harris
In their fourth series at the wheel of Top Gear, Freddie Flintoff, Chris Harris and Paddy McGuinness hit local screens this month. The 30th season of the iconic motoring show launches on April 15 at 8pm on BBC Brit, DStv channel 120.
From Freddie Flintoff being dragged along a Scottish runway by The Stig in an Ariel Nomad to a celebration of cars from the James Bond franchise, as well as an emotional drive down memory lane in their fathers’ cars, the trio’s fourth series together has something for everyone.
We got the lowdown on the forthcoming series from Harris.
It sounds like you had a wonderful time with the Bond cars.
Yes, I’m a total Bond obsessive. I love the cars and I watch the films almost religiously with my kids because they’re one of the ultimate viewing experiences. Bond manages to do what we’re trying to achieve with Top Gear –produce content you can watch with little people where both age groups feel they’re getting something they want to watch. To get access to the back catalogue of Bond cars was amazing and I love that we feature some cars you’d forgotten about. It’s all very well to turn up in a silver Aston Martin, the famous cars are fine, but we’ve got a lovely old Toyota 2000 GT and the Alfa GTV6 from Octopussy. Of course, we dressed up as some Bond characters which should keep people amused.
You feel quite cross about the concept of a mid-life crisis car, don’t you?
Some might say my garage is proof of one rolling mid-life crisis. But being viewed as being a bit sad for having a certain kind of car is something I find bizarre. In every other aspect of our lives you’re encouraged to rebel against the ageing process – in the way you dress, what you put on your skin and so on. But if you buy a car people perceive is too young for you, you’re a bit of a prat, and I still don’t understand why there’s that stigma. Our film was good fun though and we’re embracing the mid-life crisis car as a mid-life opportunity. Cars are a fantastic way to do what you wanted to do when you were younger, and to do it unashamedly, not caring if you look ridiculous. Fred drives the ultimate symbol of the man who is balding on top and can’t let go: the TVR.
Did any of the films stand out for you?
Scotland was good fun. We were using off-roaders off road, which is quite a rare thing, and I was lucky I had the right vehicle –the Land Rover Defender is handy. I have been quite nervous about filming this series given the pandemic. I know we’re allowed to and I’m comfortable doing it, but when the rest of the country is locked indoors it’s a difficult thing to be out having fun in cars. The Scottish film gave us an opportunity to look like we’ve been on a trip and the big scenery makes it look like we could be in Norway, but to stay in the UK and be respectful. We’ve produced a show that will entertain people, but I didn’t want to be pratting around outside people’s homes in supercars, and we didn’t do that. I’m pleased with how the series has turned out.
You were reluctant to film the fathers’ cars episode?
It was problematic for me. It’s a heartfelt film and it was probably further than I ever wanted to go sharing my personal life on TV. My father died a long time ago and even though you move on with your life I still find it difficult to talk about him. I’ve got lots of cars and I’m very lucky I can get hold of most cars I want, but out of respect for my father I’d never sat in the driving seat of that BMW model before, and it took some persuading to get me to do the film.
I loved driving the car. I loved watching Paddy and Fred go through the same emotional journey as me and talking about how integral the motor vehicle was to your relationship with your parents.
Are you nervous about teaching your own children to drive?
They’re not quite at that age yet but I’ve been out in the car with my son and taken him to the fields to drive around. I’m in the awful position of being known to be an expert driver so I’m the worst possible person for him to sit with. Instinctively I would always say you should never learn to drive with your parents.
What do you get up to between takes?
Fred and I tend to look at an awful lot of used cars on auction sites and discuss what we’re going to buy next, even though we never buy them. We love that. Car classifieds is a great point of conversation for us. Paddy loves to know what’s for lunch as soon as possible. We start early and while everyone’s having coffee at 8am, Paddy is asking about lunch. Then he’ll give you his views on whether it’s good, bad or indifferent, there’ll be a build-up and when it arrives, he loves to talk you through it: how he feels about the lunch, the presentation, temperature. He absolutely loves it and it’s a joy to watch him.
I like the fact that I’ve got two buddies who I can talk utter bobbins with. That’s the sign of a real friendship. More tellingly, when you’ve got nothing to say you just shut up and look at your devices like three moody teenagers and silence is golden because we’re being brainless.