MACHO personalities go with the territory when hosting a show about cars, but Paddy McGuinness, Freddie Flintoff and Chris Harris have revealed themselves as true softies.
In the new series of Top Gear, starting on Sunday, the trio all pour out their hearts for the first time as they fondly remember their childhood bonds with their fathers.
It happens in an emotional segment of the show as they try out the cars they were ferried around in as kids.
Despite playing cricket for his country and beating Australia to win the Ashes, Freddie, 43, says his greatest achievement is being a great dad to his own four children — just like his old man, Colin.
In an exclusive chat, he said: “Not just being a father, being a good one is probably the biggest achievement you could have.
“I’ve got four kids and as we were driving around, you start comparing yourself to your dad.
“I want to be like my dad and I’m thinking about how I’m bringing my kids up and how he brought his kids up. I want to do it in the same way.”
For Chris, 46, who has three kids, the “dad’s car” feature was a rare opportunity to talk about his father in a moment that nearly brought a tear to his eye as he sat in the driver’s seat of a BMW like the one from his childhood.
'BEING A GOOD DAD IS THE TOUGHEST THING YOU DO'
He said: “Spending time in those cars just brought it all flooding back. You look around, you see heating controls, you see a stereo, you think, ‘I remember, grabbing that when I shouldn’t have done when I was nine’, and getting told off.
“It makes you realise that a lot of the relationship you had with your dad was probably based around going in the car — to school, to sports clubs at the weekend, going on holiday.
“Being a good dad, it’s the toughest thing you do.
"How often do you finish a tough day at work or something else in your life is challenging and then you’re presented with a child, a child-based conversation, and you realise that’s twice as difficult and meaningful and more important than anything else you do?”
And for Paddy, 47, whose three children with wife Christine have all been diagnosed with autism, the pandemic had a silver lining as it meant the new Top Gear series had to be filmed in the UK, so he was never far from his family.
He said: “It’s been lovely. It’s nice to be filming in the UK because normally we’d be jetting off here, there and everywhere, so we’ve got a chance to chill out and see a little bit of the British Isles as well.”
The upcoming series will really show the trio’s age, with a whole segment dedicated to them going through a midlife crisis — although they are perhaps in denial, as they insist that the cliché of buying a convertible sports car at a certain age is actually a midlife opportunity.
However, when asked directly if they are going through crises, Paddy admitted: “Look at us. Obviously we are right in the bloody midst of one.”
Even so, their screen longevity is not in any doubt, as a younger generation are now tuning in to watch them, even if they have a combined age of 136.
Chris, who joined the show in 2016, said: “We’re very proud of the fact we’ve got a young demographic coming to Top Gear.
"But let’s be honest, the middle-aged man is probably the heartland of our viewership, and therefore we want to say to them, ‘Don’t feel embarrassed about so many of the things you’ve done in the past five years. Embrace them, make them an opportunity’.”
And referring to Freddie and Paddy, who joined in 2018, Chris said: “The information and the data shows that what we were doing from the last two series on BBC2 and the arrival of these two has resulted in a much younger audience coming on board.”
And he joked: “I think largely because of the way Fred looks and, obviously, Pad’s intellect, it really helps.”
The lads were in a playful mood for our interview via Zoom and showed the chemistry that viewers have seen on screen, which has led to higher ratings as well as a move from BBC2 to BBC1.
In fact our chat descended into an exchange of insults that wouldn’t have felt out of place down the pub.
It started after I observed that Freddie, wearing a black turtleneck and silver-rimmed glasses, had appeared for the interview like a James Bond villain, an attempt to link to one of the trio’s new episodes.
But unable to resist the opportunity to get back at a journalist, the Lancashire lad — almost as famous for his sense of humour as his cricketing skills — mocked my unkempt barnet, saying: “F***ing brush your hair next time.”
Eventually remembering he was there to talk about Top Gear, Freddie returned to the segment in the show which sees the trio try out classic Bond cars and dress up like characters from the iconic films.
'WE ALL AGREED IT WAS A VERY STUPID THING TO DO'
And he claimed: “One of us fancies themselves as James Bond — and it definitely isn’t me.”
Chris chipped in: “Let’s face it, when he’s wearing the dinner suit, driving the DB5, I did see a different Paddy McGuinness for a minute.
"He just presented himself differently, I could see him supping a martini and breaking young ladies down with his chat.”
So could former Take Me Out host Paddy take over from Daniel Craig? The star, in casual Bond style, simply said: “State of mind, lads.”
Freddie added: “It was funny, I was Jaws and we were chasing Paddy in his DB. It was lovely to see, because it was like Paddy living his boyhood dream for a bit.
“He was making all the noise. It was such a fun day and I’m not a big Bond fan, but seeing all the cars, you couldn’t help getting excited.”
The series also sees Freddie racing in a battery-powered off-road Extreme E against a stunt man in a jetpack.
Carrying on the Bond theme, the lads perform their own stunts, including one wearing titanium shoes and being dragged along, water-ski style, on their feet at nearly 100mph behind a car driven by the Stig.
All three agreed that this was the one stunt that was filling them with fear — even Freddie, who in a previous series bungee-jumped in a Rover Metro off a 500ft Swiss dam.
Paddy said: “Sometimes we get presented with a challenge that maybe two of us go, ‘Oh, we don’t fancy that’ — well, this is the only time where we’ve all agreed it was a very stupid thing to do.
"And how I know when it’s dangerous and not worth doing is when Freddie looks worried. I think, ‘God, it must be bad because he’ll do bloody anything’.
“I saw Freddie’s run. He was doing, like, 90mph. His feet are all over the show and I thought, ‘If he comes off now, he’s in big trouble’.
“And when we finished, we all said, ‘Never again’, but I suppose when you see it on telly it looks good.”
Freddie said: “Out of everything we’ve done, that’s the one thing I had to have a bit of a chat with myself about.”
- The new series of Top Gear starts on Sunday at 8pm on BBC1.
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