The masked man has spoken out, writes Mark Hinchliffe
THERE has been no bigger mystery in the worlds of TV and motoring than the identity of the Stig, the stunt driver in the Top Gear show.
Racing driver Ben Collins avoided British press scrutiny and kept his identity secret for eight years until he accidentally outed himself and was sacked just like the Stig from the first Top Gear season.
A new book written by Collins, The Man in the White Suit, answers a lot of the questions that fans of the show would have liked to have asked the Stig but couldn’t.
Are the famous race challenges real? Yes, according to Collins, even those episodes where the result was very close.
Did he reveal his identity to the celebrities he instructed? No. He kept his visor shut at all times.
How much of the show is scripted? Almost all of it. Collins says Clarkson writes comprehensive scripts and often changes them on the run.
Do the presenters really do all the driving? No. Collins says he did a lot of the stunt driving, but the presenters also did a fair bit.
What does he really think of the presenters? He admires the bravery and enthusiasm of Richard Hammond and the encyclopedic knowledge of James May. And though he spars with the talkative Jeremy Clarkson, he still admires and respects him.
But the book also leaves a lot of crucial questions unanswered: Did he get the sack or leave of his own volition as insinuated in the epilogue; if he was sacked, who did it; who pays for all the damage caused during filming; and does he know the identity of the new Stig?
My guess for the new Stig is rally driver Andy Harris, who drove a Fiesta through a shopping mall as Clarkson in a Top Gear episode.
Interestingly, Collins says Australian F1 driver Mark Webber was the first to recognise him. He identified Collins by his walk. The two had raced together in Formula 3.
Collins may be a racing driver, but he’s also an accomplished writer, having penned for Autosport magazine. He has a fluid and conversational writing style that gets a little florid in some places.
Though he delves into his childhood, racing career, movie stunt driving and Top Gear pursuits, the most interest is in his appraisal of the character and driving abilities of the celebrities who race around the Top Gear track at Dunsford, a former Harrier air base.
The book, which includes several pages of photos from throughout his career, was delayed for several months in a legal wrangle with the BBC.
Perhaps those unanswered questions were edited out.
It’s me: Ben Collins has revealed himself as the Stig (inset).