'Japan's fantastic railways are never, ever delayed'
Chris Tarrant ventures on some of the world's oldest and most remote railways for his new Channel 5 series. Jeananne Craig is on board to hear about it and the star's recent 70th birthday
From an Arctic train in Alaska to a railway at the 'crossroads of the world', Chris Tarrant has racked up the rail miles and passport stamps for his new series about extreme train journeys. The former Tarrant On TV and Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? host - who insists he is "not a trainspotter, I just love railways" - also heads deep into Argentina, Patagonia and Scandinavia for the Channel 5 show.
Here, he shares his thoughts on the power of rail travel, his concern about being booted out of Argentina and turning 70...
"Japan has got the most fantastic railways on Earth - spotlessly clean, incredibly quiet and just extraordinary. Every single train we went on arrived exactly, to the second, on time," says the Berkshire-born presenter.
"I got back from Japan on a Saturday and I had to go to Manchester on a Sunday to make a commercial. I got the train in the evening from London, and it was 45 minutes late.
"Nobody goes, 'How dare you, this is disgusting'.
"In Japan, it just wouldn't happen. When I got to Manchester Piccadilly, as we come up to the station we crawled to a halt, and the bloke says, 'Ladies and gentlemen, I can only apologise, the train will be delayed for another 45 minutes because of late-running engineering works'.
"So it was about an hour-and-a-half late, and everybody goes, 'Oh an hour-and-a-half, not too bad, we're all British, this is what it's like'. It shouldn't be like this."
Of his travels in Argentina, Tarrant says: "Because of the Falklands War, and because every time England and Argentina play football somebody cheats, somebody is sent off and it's always a really feisty game, I thought, 'They're just going to hate us, I bet the Argentinians hate the Brits'.
"I didn't expect to like Argentina at all. But they were lovely, so nice to us, so friendly, so welcoming, so helpful.
"I had this vision of Buenos Aires as quite a dangerous city with a lot of crime. It's beautiful. Great big wide avenues with trees everywhere, it's a stunning city.
"I love how railways open up access to parts of the world, and to people that without the railway, just couldn't get around.
"We take it for granted, but in many countries, there are no roads, there's no way through the jungle or mountains," says the father-of-four.
"Somewhere like the Congo, somewhere like Bolivia, without the trains, they would be absolutely stuck. They would never move out of their village, it would be virtually impossible to travel, to sell their goods if they're farmers.
"I love all the stories about how all these railways were built, against all sorts of problems like avalanches and earthquakes and bear attacks, and how they create access for people around the world. We've worked out that we've done 168,212 miles since we've started on show one, and it's just short of six times around the globe. So no wonder I look knackered!"
And what of his big birthday celebration recently?
"On turning 70 I had the most amazing secret party, which my missus and my kids had been planning for six months, and I can't believe I had no idea," he says. "I walked into this room for what I thought was going to be a quiet meal with my children, and there were about 500 people there, all wearing Chris Tarrant masks and shouting at me.
"It was absolutely brilliant, and people like Michael Aspel, Lenny Henry, Mike Rutherford from Genesis, Paul McKenna, Jimmy Tarbuck - this list of people got up on stage to talk about me. It was just the most amazing night.
"I can't believe how stupid I am that I didn't see any signs of this."
As for being 70, Tarrant, whose birthday was on October 10, says: "I feel really good about it actually, I'm enjoying it. When you get to about 60-anything, you go, 'Oh God I'll be 70 soon', then you actually get there and think, 'It's all right. I got here, I feel good, I'm fit, I'm really enjoying my life'.
"Somebody said to me, 'Getting old is a bit like Hillary Clinton. She's not very nice, but she's much nicer than the alternative'.
"It's unbelievable. I've never seen an election where people have to decide between two such unattractive candidates.
"The reality is, nobody wants either of them. Donald Trump is clearly such a loose cannon, but Hillary Clinton is carrying so much baggage.
"It doesn't seem to matter what Trump does for the hardcore of his fans, which are millions of Americans. It doesn't matter what he says about women, about Mexicans, about Muslims, about the Pope - they go, 'Yeah, yeah, good old Donald!' And you think, 'hang on!'
"The idea of him debating all our futures with Putin is absolutely terrifying, but I don't particularly want Hillary Clinton. Why don't they just stop the election and give Obama four more years? But apparently it doesn't work like that..."
- The four-part series on Channel 5 begins with Chris Tarrant: Ice Train To Nowhere on Monday, 9pm