Paddy McGuinness: 'We are like big kids ... Top Gear is best job in the whole world'
Top Gear is back with a new line-up: Andrew Flintoff, Paddy McGuinness and Chris Harris. Georgia Humphreys looks behind the scenes
There aren't many TV shows which could survive several different presenting line-ups and still be going after dozens of series. And, yet, Top Gear is about to rev up for its 27th run on BBC Two. It's an all-new trio at the helm: comedian Paddy McGuinness and cricket star Andrew 'Freddie' Flintoff join returning host Chris Harris - the white-suited legend that is the Stig is back too.
The challenges are just as tough, once again the show has been filmed all over the world and we can expect yet more celebrities showing off their driving skills in the Reasonably Priced Car segment.
But there's been a different atmosphere on set this time.
"Top Gear, in the time I've been doing it, has always had a bit of baggage, or something difficult, or awkward, that you had to carry and I'm not going to go into what those were," Harris, who previously presented the show alongside Matt LeBlanc and Rory Reid, suggests, diplomatically. "There's a sense that anything is possible - and we get on, as well."
Although Flintoff (41) and McGuinness (45) knew each other a little, they'd never hosted anything together before or with Harris (44).
"You can watch people on telly and go, 'Oh, that's forced', but I was so pleased that we all clicked straight away," says McGuinness, who is famous for his work with pal Peter Kay, including early Noughties comedy Phoenix Nights.
The Take Me Out presenter adds excitedly: "We're like big kids, we've got the best job in the whole world."
There's certainly a different sort of style to Top Gear now - it's notably light-hearted and perhaps feels a bit more accessible for non-car nuts than before.
Harris, who launched his popular YouTube channel, Chris Harris On Cars, in 2014, points out that "with the change in media", if you want to watch technical stuff about cars, "that's online, on YouTube".
"It's not for 8pm on BBC Two on a Sunday, is it? It's got to be a more general show. And that means fun. And these two, frankly, they walk through the door in the morning and I start laughing," he adds.
The three TV personalities are lively, affable and humorous and definitely have no fear about teasing each other.
Asked to describe their co-stars' driving styles, Harris guffaws: "Oh, my god!"
But McGuinness is speedy with a comeback: "I'd describe Chris's as very slow."
Meanwhile, Flintoff, who's also a panellist on Sky One's A League of Their Own, labels himself as "enthusiastic".
"Paddy's is squealy - and it's not the tyres," Harris pipes up again, smiling. "When he gets excited, he goes higher and gets quite squeaky."
Then, he takes on a more serious tone, reasoning: "They're both good drivers - they wouldn't be doing this unless they could drive. We're a bit more rigorous than perhaps we let on, the way we screen-test.
"If someone turns up and they are absolutely mustard on camera, but they simply cannot drive, you ain't going to get the job. It's as simple as that."
Top Gear has made headlines in the past, because of accidents during filming. Richard Hammond suffered life-threatening head injuries when a stunt went wrong while he was a presenter on the show alongside Jeremy Clarkson and James May. Were there any bad injuries this series?
"There were a few bumps and bangs and things like that," admits McGuinness. "I've just had keyhole surgery on my shoulder. But I've carried that for a long time."
He adds, matter-of-factly: "Take the film in Borneo - you don't really get a sense watching it of how steep them hills were and you did get knocked about a bit. Nothing too major."
"Fred tried to kill us early on," Harris jokingly chimes in. "He rolled the hearse."
"You've got a good success rate on this show, haven't you?" McGuinness quips in Flintoff's direction. "He's driven three cars and rolled three cars."
The former sportsman made the news in February after knocking down a market stall in Mansfield, during filming for the motoring show.
"I just gave it a bit of a nudge," is his quick-witted defence. "It was slippy, Mansfield."
"What you don't see on the film is that, at the end of the day, Mansfield was super-welcoming and helpful, they helped us lock the roads down," Harris recalls.
"Afterwards, the town dignitaries came out, the mayor, everyone was out and we had a photo afterwards. There was one lady at the end who was a bit scowly and I said to Fred, 'I think she might be the lady who runs the market'. And, sure enough, she made a beeline for Fred saying, 'Look what you've done to my market stalls'."
"I offered to pay for the stall," Flintoff says, sheepishly.
As well as the aforementioned trip to the treacherous rainforest of Borneo, the show also features films from the sweltering African desert and the wilds of Iceland.
"Personally, I've loved having the opportunity to travel," enthuses Flintoff. "I've been lucky since I retired from cricket to have some jobs that have taken me around the world and the life experience you get from it. This has been no different.
"And travelling with Paddy is brilliant - he's like a man who's opened his eyes for the first time."
"I'm a proper tourist," agrees McGuinness.
The beauty of Ethiopia is a memory that stands out in particular.
McGuinness says the only images he had beforehand of the country came from "Live Aid, Bob Geldof, famine".
"So, I was so interested to see what it was like," he continues. "The scenery is unbelievable. The roads are fantastic, because it's got so much investment from China. So, the roads are a pleasure to drive on, the views are stunning, the locals were fantastic."
"I feel like a proud dad the way he now talks about foreign countries," notes Harris. "When we first worked with him, if you got him near Dover he'd start shaking."
- Top Gear, BBC Two, Sunday, 8pm