TV & Movies

What Top Gear was really like from boozed-up races to pizza pants

I AM jumping out of a Range Rover in the middle of Amsterdam’s red light district with Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond.

The Top Gear presenters had just dreamt up another crazy late-night challenge — Celebrity Sex Shop Sweep.

We had 15 minutes to visit a sex shop and buy a present for a colleague in the team.

This was one of those moments when you think: “Well, I didn’t see this coming during my careers talks at school.”

Later, with plenty of booze flowing, we present our gifts to one another in a hotel conference room.

I can’t actually remember what I bought, my mind has blanked and been scarred by the ones I do remember.

Like Richard Hammond’s. He was given a head harness and gag with a large penis attached. Jeremy’s package was a large silicone set of buttocks.

Another night, this time in Birmingham, it was decided to swap the fleet of Range Rovers for a huge limo that could carry all ten members of the Top Gear Live team.

It was decked out with full nightclub interior, lights, leather, leopard print and a fully stocked champagne bar. The boys loved it.

En route to dinner, James May, the usually quiet one, was overcome with excitement, and maybe a little alcohol.

Standing on a table in the limo he poked his head out of the sunroof and shouted abuse at the people of Birmingham. He was hauled in to prevent a small riot kicking off.

There was always a smattering of girls at dinner, as it was a pretty male-dominated group and girls arm wrestling became a favourite after-dinner game.

Somewhere along the line, to add a bit of interest to the sport, Richard started to feature as the “table” for the arm wrestling to take place on.

He was ceremoniously covered in a white tablecloth and sponged down in preparation with wet napkins. Celebrity Loo Roll Challenge had to be played out in a full restaurant, otherwise it wasn’t deemed worthy.

This challenge involved James, Richard or Jeremy coming back from the loo with loo roll stuck down the back of their trousers but still attached to the roll back in the cubicle.

To complete the challenge, they had to get back to the table trailing the toilet roll all the way without tearing it. The big man was the champion at this.

These crazy nights came at the end of punishing days for the boys at Top Gear Live shows.

Top Gear Live evolved from entertaining a few families and petrolheads in a small arena track-side at Silverstone race circuit into a worldwide stadium tour of 18 countries, 31 cities and performing for two million fans.

They continued until 2015 and in the final year made £7.5million. We took over race circuits with these huge motoring festivals, with the likes of F1 racer Lewis Hamilton playing car football.

The show became the Cirque du Soleil of motoring, with incredible stunts like Car Bungee and the Stig in a Rage Buggy doing a Hot Wheels- style 360-degree loop-the-loop and crazy motor acts from around the world.

The presenters had to arrive on stage in the arena at speed in supercars, and then there was a whole cast of stunt cars and novelty vehicles, such as the Roman-style chariots pulled by motorcycles.

The boys never failed to be excited by some new supercar or one of their old favourites in the motorised cast that was part of what was known as Car Porn.

But for all this drama and spectacle, the highlight of the shows was the uncut banter from Clarkson, Hammond and May. Banter that would ordinarily be cut from the TV shows wasn’t edited on tour.

In the beginning, when I got involved in 1997, I was making tea backstage. I went on to become personal assistant to all three presenters while on tour.

I was very lucky to join the tour circus with the three most famous middle-aged, very “stupid”, clever and funny men who knew a bit about cars.

I became part of the show’s family, a “sister”, a “mother”. To me they were overgrown naughty schoolboys. There were tears, tantrums, dramas, plus exhaustion and the obligatory sex and drugs and rock and roll.

It was like touring with rock stars, complete with private jets, supercars, superyachts, champagne and monumental hangovers.

In Johannesburg, South Africa, Jeremy, James and Richard were so hung over they were seriously concerned about how they would perform their races on track, due to start in less than an hour.

I was genuinely worried, as this wasn’t like larking about in the arena. This was proper racing around a proper track.

I quickly remembered that the paramedics who had been on duty at all our other events in the country had offered Vitamin B12 injections in the past to help with hangovers and tiredness.

I knew first-hand about these, having had them for health reasons. They give you an immediate pick-you-up. I suggested the B12 to the boys. Jeremy sent me off in search of the paramedics to see if they had any.

I came back into the green room to report the good news that the paramedics would come up to administer the injections. Jeremy asked: “Where do they inject?”

Instantly, I said: “In the eye balls,” knowing that JC had a massive aversion to anything to do with eyes. The injections were actually delivered into their backsides, which Richard opted out of. He went for his trusted recovery option of Berocca.

James and Jeremy were up for it, especially as the paramedic was a rather attractive blonde. They had no shame and lay face down on the giant bean bags with pants down for all of us to see.

I was instructed to add B12 shots to my bag of essential things to be available for any hangover emer-gency. There were also last-minute requests for props for the show.

Over the years I have had to source some very random items, such as dozens of pizzas to make pizza pants, a Rolls-Royce Phantom convertible and a selection of sex toys and women’s underwear.

The pizza pants were for Jeremy to wear — over his jeans — to prove that they were fireproof and could actually be used to cover the outside of a Space Shuttle to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere.

Later, Richard and James challenged him to prove his knowledge and presented him with the pizza pants. They then took a blowtorch to them, directing it right at Jeremy’s “vegetable patch”, as James called it. I can confirm pizza bases are fireproof and Jeremy is ALWAYS right.

The Rolls-Royce was to replace a last-minute dropout from the Car Porn line-up, and the sex toys and underwear were planted in James’s suitcase, which he converted into a motorised vehicle. All in a day’s work!

One night we arrived back from the NEC in Birmingham to discover our house had been decorated for Halloween and we were welcomed by staff made up as zombies lying on the floor and up the stairs as if they were dead.

Jeremy was not amused, just tired and hungry, as were Richard and James, but Jeremy made the most noise about it.

Meanwhile, across in the other side of the house, the party was getting started with other members of the crew and TV baker Paul Hollywood, who was up for a party and, as a fellow petrolhead, very excited to hang out with the boys. The feelings weren’t mutual. Awks. Big time.

Paul was ushered out of the kitchen. It was a tense half an hour while I kept the boys happy with drinks in the kitchen and the others tactfully tried to arrange for poor old Paul to get a taxi.

I would like to claim that, in the absence of my calming influence, all hell broke loose in Sydney.

At a press conference Jeremy, while being interviewed by Australia’s Jono Coleman, called our then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, a “one-eyed Scottish idiot”.

This, of course, went down like a lead balloon and the Top Gear Live organiser was rudely awakened in the middle of the night by the powers-that-be at the BBC back in the UK.

Jeremy, as ever, was reluctant to apologise. There were calls by charities for the blind for him to be banned from performing.

He did eventually apologise for referring to Mr Brown’s one eye, but refused to apologise for calling him an idiot. Our tours would never be the same again.

We would always be accompanied and watched over by a BBC official to make sure we never allowed Jeremy to say or do anything controversial.

This was very annoying and also pretty pointless. Was anyone ever going to stop Jeremy doing or saying what he liked?

  • Adapted by MIKE RIDLEY from: Off-Road With Clarkson, Hammond And May, by Phillipa Sage, published on May 13 (Ad-Lib) £8.99.

Middle-aged men

The Maintenance Guide

Marlboro Lights – Clarkson
Camel (blue pack) – May
E-cigs, chargers, refills – Hammond
Nicotine gum – A JC must-have. He chewed it like a masticating cow on speed from the moment we stepped into an airport
Lighters
Beef Hula Hoops
Mini Cheddars
Jelly Babies
Minstrels
Liquorice Allsorts
Berocca

Lemsip – for man flu
Glandosane – human spit in a can, yes for real. Very expensive, used by performers in the event of a lost voice/dry mouth
Bottle opener/corkscrew – always, always, always
Senokot – for when you’ve got to go…
Imodium – for when you just can’t stop…
Favourite DVDs – Ted, The Wolf Of Wall Street, Rush, Local Hero
Vitamin B12 injections – ultimate hangover cure
Black Sharpie pen – for autographs
Water, Red Bull, Diet Coke, ginger beer, rosé wine, sauvignon blanc, gin, tonic – a must for any private plane or tour bus

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