There’s a moment on the new season of Top Gear where host Paddy McGuinness nearly drove right up through the pearly gates.
On a road trip across Nepal, on some of the most unforgiving roads on Earth, co-presenter Chris Harris is standing next to his car when the handbrake gives way.
The Renault 4 starts hurtling down the mountainside, straight toward Paddy, who has no idea there is nobody at the wheel and no way of stopping it.
Only because of sheer luck — in the form of a rock that knocked the Renault 4 off its fateful path — is Paddy still here to tell the tale.
And while the scene might look like a stunt pulled off by producers, Paddy told Monsters & Critics in an exclusive interview ahead of the new season that it was anything but.
“That’s one of those things where people who watch that presume that was a setup, and it wasn’t — it just happened, you know,” he says.
“[Top Gear] is quite organic in that sense of whatever we’re filming, they just film it and we go with it. I remember seeing that car coming towards me and thinking ‘what is this tool [Chris Harris] doing?’
“And then, as I was thinking it, I looked and I thought ‘hang on, the tool is stood outside of the car, but the car is still coming towards me.’
“Then I quickly realized Harris wasn’t even in it, and then it was a bit like … before it got to me it sort of hit a rock and flipped over, so I was relieved not to be written off.”
The Renault 4, which you can see in the clip below, ended up so damaged that the team had to abandon it (Harris, who also spoke to us about the new season, told us he has since shipped it back to the UK to restore it.)
Paddy is a family man, a doting dad to three young kids, and he has been happily married to his wife Christine for nearly a decade. He told us that before he started his job as a host of Top Gear that he never really went abroad because he doesn’t like flying.
So what does Christine now make of him tearing off around the world to film Top Gear and ending up in some pretty scary situations?
“Yeah, well what I tend to do with my wife and my family is, whenever we go away filming I never tell them what we’re doing,” he says.
“As soon as you mention … ‘oh I’m just driving on this road, it’s only a mile up on the side of a mountain’, you know they panic, they get worried and that puts a little seed in your brain then and start… sometimes you can be overly cautious which actually can work against you.
“So, when we’re in things like Nepal on some of the roads we drove there, you’re sort of in the zone and you push through it, and it’s only afterwards you look, even when it came on the telly, we watched it and we couldn’t believe how high up those roads were, even though it was us driving them.
“You’re sort of going ‘Jesus, did we do that?’ So yeah, it just takes you out of your comfort zone.”
Another terrifying moment in the season comes when Chris and Paddy’s third co-presenter Freddie Flintoff, a former international cricket player, bungee jumps off a dam while strapped into a car. Watching the scene will leave you feeling sick with nerves, guaranteed.
How they decide who does the scariest Top Gear stunts
So how did Chris and Paddy manage to get out of having to do that stunt, leaving Fred to draw the short straw?
“Well, it’s really easy working with someone like Fred,” jokes Paddy. “He’s not the brightest of chaps so you can just trick him by using like Jedi mind games on him or something, and also, now, because he has no fear of anything, when anything is suggested at a production meeting, they go ‘we’re going to set you on fire and launch you into space’; and he’s like ‘yeah, I’ll do that,’ and you’re like ‘yeah, off you go, no problem.'”
“There’s no arguing, there’s no ‘oh I want to go up the dam’, so once he volunteered for it we left him to it. That was one of them ones… what you didn’t see on the TV is he was actually suspended over that dam for about 45 minutes while they were sorting cameras out and everything else so it was a bit hairy for him, but he did it the lad, bless him. And we’ve got more things like that coming up.”
The three co-hosts have natural on-screen chemistry, but do they get on as well off-screen as they do in front of the camera? And does Paddy think the three of them can now carry the show, which has undergone several casting changes in recent years, forward as a team for the long-term?
“You know what it’s like,” says Paddy. “That chemistry, you’ve either got it or you’ve not and I think the public see through it if you’re pretending.”
“With us, they can clearly see… I think you know when people are getting on when you see them arguing, as mad as that sounds, because you only have those arguments and debates with friends don’t you really?”
“If you don’t like someone you probably won’t even get involved with arguing, you just leave them to it, so we’re lucky that we get on on-screen and we get on off-screen as well. So long may it continue.”
Clarkson, Hammond and May
Earlier this month Paddy posted a jokey tweet poking fun at Jeremy Clarkson, who for years presented Top Gear along with Richard Hammond and James May. We asked if Paddy had ever had any contact with the three of them, and if they had they had ever spoken about the show?
“I’ve met all three of them, God I’m going back probably about 15 years ago,” he says. “I was at an event in London — the NTA Awards — and I was in this box and they came in because they were up for an award, and I was actually having a beer with [then Top Gear producer] Andy Wilman and said hello and that was the end of that.”
“Then, just as they announced we were doing Top Gear, I was at the Pride of Britain Awards and I bumped into Richard Hammond and he was absolutely lovely. You know, saying ‘give it your best shot, make it your own’ and everything else and that’s what we’ve kind of done.”
“It’s actually nice when people come up to me and go ‘I’m not really into car shows, but I’ve started watching Top Gear again’ because they can watch it with their family and they can have a bit of a laugh and they see some amazing places and there’s nothing worse than seeing someone going through a bit of hardship while your sat at home having a cup of tea and a biscuit. It’s a nice feeling. We’re the ones who are going through the mill and you can enjoy it at home.”
Does he think people still compare the current hosts to the original trio or have people finally moved past that?
“I think there’s still a lot of angry people on the internet, but that’s not just us, that’s for everything. isn’t it? You’ll always find someone on the internet, but we’ve kind of come through that now.
“To be honest, when it was announced in the UK, and when we started talking to people out and about when we were filming, we had nothing but support and positivity and it shows that with the viewing figures. They were the highest that they’d been for like six or seven years, and we’d only just started it. James, Jeremy and Richard had had eleven years to get that chemistry and we sort of hit the ground running with it.”
Paddy says his favorite car to drive from the new season was the McLaren Speedtail — in which Chris Harris raced an F35 fighter jet (Paddy drove it off camera) — and he says the best car he’s driven recently is the new electric Porsche Taycan, which he says is “absolutely unbelievably fast.”
So what does a man who gets to drive all the best cars in the world have in his garage back home? A Ferrari? Lamborghini? A Porsche of his own?
“Well at the moment, because I’m a dad with three kids — and I’m lucky that I do Top Gear because I’m in and out of that many different cars — at home, it’s just what’s practical.
“So, I’ve got a Land Rover Discovery that I throw the kids in and all the luggage in the back and everything else, and that’s my sort of everyday car now because all I do is just ferry the kids around.”
Top Gear returns to BBC America with the Nepal Special and all-new episodes this Sunday, August 30, at 8 pm ET/PT.