The new series of Top Gear starts this Sunday, and by coincidence I have recently read The Man in the White Suit by Ben Collins. He, you may recall, was the Stig for several years until he outed himself when it became obvious that the papers were going to do it for him, and this is his story. Now I don’t doubt that Ben Collins is a pretty good racing driver (one of many who never made it to the top), but he is in a rather unusual position here in that he is most famous for being an anonymous TV character. The rather obvious parallel, given the status that the Stig assumed on the back of Top Gear’s popularity, is with a dual-identity superhero like Batman – something Collins himself picks up on and does a good job of trying to explain from an insider’s point of view; as the Stig, he became a semi-legendary figure in petrol-head circles but could not use this to further his own career as a racing driver. So what we have is a story about a modern celebrity who remained anonymous.
As you’d expect, much of this book consists of behind-the-scenes views of various memorable Top Gear stunts (car football, bus racing, training celebs to drive the reasonably-priced car, etc) which give the reader a glimpse of the professionalism of those involved in the making of the show – rather like Richard Hammond’s book As You Do. However, the best parts are when Collins leaves the white suit behind and goes back to his day job and various extra-curricular activities. Thus, for me the stand-out chapters are the one about competing at the Le Mans 24 Hours (which bears comparison with the Le Mans chapter in Martin Brundle’s excellent Working the Wheel), the GT crash in Romania and training in the Brecon Beacons with the Territorial Army – who, rather innovatively, sponsored him in the ASCAR series. Blokey stuff, of course, but I liked it. A lot.