Classically, hamsters are known for their prowess on just the one wheel. Richard ‘the hamster’ Hammond, on the other hand, is far better known for his exploits on two – and so ahead of this weekend’s Top Gear Live event, which is marking the show’s 10th anniversary, we asked the man himself to list his most memorable of the lot.
BUDGET SUPERCAR CHALLENGE
“For one task, the three of us turned up in three Italian supercars: I drove a bright yellow 1978 Ferrari, James had a Lamborghini, and Jeremy rocked up in a classic Maserati. The only problem: they only cost us ten grand apiece, meaning every single one of the cars was broken, leaking and near enough on fire. James's car arrived on a tow-truck, for crying out loud. Our mission was to travel from Bristol to a lap dancing bar in Slough. And while exotic dancing was a nice reward to aim for, it wasn’t worth the sheer embarrassment of having to ask strangers to give you push starts. A truly magic if humbling experience.”
BEING CHASED OUT OF ALABAMA BY REDNECKS
“One point I knew we were making something special with Top Gear, if not completely crazy, was when we made a film in Alabama, where we drove through small towns with slogans ranging from ‘man-love rules’ to ‘Nascar sucks’ emblazoned on our trucks. We asked for trouble and we got it. Rocks got pelted at us, and we were then chased off by guys with guns in trucks. It was the first time we realised that we were making TV but were also still in the real world. We feared for our lives. I honestly thought those harmless statements would cause as much offense as writing ‘cream teas are rubbish’ on the side of a car and driving to Cornwall. I was wrong.”
VISITING KUBU ISLAND
“I’d dreamt of seeing the baobab trees ever since seeing them in my Big Encyclopaedia Of Nature book as a child, and for one special episode I got to see the marvellous things up close. We made a special crossing in Botswana, taking us over onto Kubu Island. Located around salt flats, the place was populated with baobab trees. The moment I reached out and got to touch the bark, well, it felt like touching a dinosaur. It was a magical moment. The vehicle I drove on that trip was a 1962 Opal Cadet called Oliver, which I then later shipped home from Africa and now it’s in my garage. The magic lives on.”
THE TOM CRUISE VISIT
“Having Tom Cruise on the series was a little weird. When I started at Top Gear, we set out to make the best car programme possible, and for a decade we lived up to that – but when Hollywood’s Tom Cruise came out to meet us at an old race track in the middle of nowhere, I knew our show was bigger than any of us had imagined. Despite being a big star, he’d be asking us all sorts of questions about cars, he knew a lot about the show as if he watched it all the time, was very professional, and a great driver too. His time was the fastest by a celebrity for a while. Those times are genuine and he was committed.”
GOING TO THE BATHROOM IN THE NORTH POLE
“Our trip to the North Pole was staggering. I’d flown out earlier than James and Jeremy because I needed to learn how to run dog sleds, and my mind wasn’t right as I practiced in God knows what sort of temperatures and had to share a tent with a load of people. The only privacy I could get was the bathroom, a single outdoor shed. Yet, to get there you had to march out onto the ice with a shotgun over your shoulder and a toilet roll under the other and hope not to bump into a polar bear. So in there, perched on a makeshift lavatory, with possibly two hundred polar bears outside, I just didn’t care about my impending safety, my sanity was all I needed. It was a private high point.”
Join James May and his BBC Top Gear co-presenters Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and The Stig for the ultimate Top Gear Live experience at Birmingham’s NEC this October 25-28. Kids go free. Tickets and information at www.topgearlive.co.uk.