EXCLUSIVE: The Stig unmasked and in Dublin
Some say that he has no understanding of clouds, and that his ear wax tastes like Turkish Delight; all we know is he’s called the Stig, or Ben Collins to his friends.
It was bizarre to watch Ben Collins wearing his famous white overalls without the iconic, white Simpson helmet guarding his identity as he walked into Dakota Bar on South William Street this afternoon.
For those of you who don’t know what I’m on about, here’s a little explainer:
BBC’s Top Gear employs an anonymous, silent, racing driver to test super cars on their track and coach celebrities for their turn in the reasonably priced car.
Collins was the Stig for eight years until an alleged leak from the BBC led to an article identifying him in Radio Times magazine.
Now he works as a movie stunt man, racing driver and still makes the odd appearance in the Top Gear live shows.
“I never wanted to leave the job, it was too much fun” admitted Collins, “but in the end I knew that since my identity was in the papers it would be the end and by the time I’d been there six or seven years.”
“The rumours were starting to gather and things like Wikipedia had formed.”
“There was loads of stuff out there linking me to the show and then in the end the Radio Times broadcasted it with a front page splash.
“It was a BBC title, meaning it was a real own goal.
“At that point all the other papers ran the story thinking that if the BBC were happy to leak it then it was fair game.
“I stayed on for a year after that, but really the writing was on the wall, if I didn’t leave my days were numbered
“I thought I’d rather walk out with my head held high and have fun with it rather than let it just happen.”
The original black Stig, Perry McCarthy, quit in 2003 and his character was shot off the end of an aircraft carrier in a modified Jaguar XJS.
Collins had wanted a similar send off for his Stig, but it wasn’t to happen.
“I’d have been well up for being shot off the end of a carrier,” he gleefully exclaimed.
“I approached the subject with my boss and I told him that I planned to leave and I said ‘look lets work this out, kill me off in a spectacular fashion or whatever you want to do, but let’s come up with a plan.’
“Unfortunately that’s just not the way it went down and the BBC decided to go legal, which was horrendous and silly.
“But in the end I won that case and I got to move on, I’ve had a great time since, I’ve rebuilt my bridges with the BBC and the guys I worked with.”
Life as the Stig wasn’t all roasted tyres and white jumpsuits as the realities of keeping a secret identity could at times be a touch isolating.
“Going to work as the Stig I would have to check the mirrors to make sure I wasn’t being followed, I’d drive a fairly innocuous car and I would park somewhere away from where I was going to work.
“We had a security gate at the track in Dunsfold, but I would never go in if I was being followed by another car.
“I’d always plan my route.
“I’d bang the balaclava on, say good morning to the security guard, who used to laugh and wave me through.
“Then I would park in the middle of nowhere.
“The test area was a former Harrier test and development centre back in the day so there was lots of pilot changing rooms and whatnot, so I found a good one, which was remote and I used to get changed in there and just loiter.
“If I was not being filmed I would go and hide in there.
“I’m kind of antisocial, so it was okay. “
It wasn’t the first time the 40-year-old race driver had graced Irish shores, having raced a Le Man’s car at Mondello and appeared with Top Gear for the live shows in 2012.
“Mondello is awesome, I love the track, and I’ve been here a few times with GT cars”, he said.
Collins was in Dublin to promote the Coors Light Great Rocky Mountain Game.
“You download it from iTunes or Android and you drive it with one thumb, it’s simple, but fun.”
“Once you figure out how to power up your little sled then you start going really quickly then you can win 10,000 prizes a week. “
It mounts up pretty quickly so you can win beers, vouchers, merchandise and it’s a really cool incentive to get stuck in.
Ben Collins launches the third instalment of the Coors Light Great Rocky Mountain Game in Dublin.
Download the game from the iTunes or Google Play store and play to win thousands of weekly prizes.
Visit www.facebook.com/coorslightireland for more information..
Check out this weekend’s Sunday World for the full interview with Ben Collins, where he discusses Top Gear’s new hosts, the future for Clarkson and which presenter is fastest around the track.