Changing Gear with Tiff Needell
Hampshire Now talks to former racing driver and presenter of TV’s Fifth Gear Tiff Needell.
What are your connections to Hampshire?
I was born in Emsworth, but my early days were spent in Weybridge, Surrey. We have been Hampshire based for the last 20 years though.
When did you decide to get behind the wheel of your first car?
I always wanted to become a racing driver and Jim Clark was my big hero. I left school at 17 and took myself down to Brands Hatch to the racing drivers’ school there. I won a competition in the Autosport magazine to win a Formula Ford racing car.
What was the highlight of your career?
Being a Grand Prix driver sitting on the grid at the Belgian Grand Prix – it was my whole dedication for nine years. I did 14 Le Mans 24 hour races and ended up finishing third there in 1990, so that was a pretty proud moment as well.
What was Top Gear like to work on?
It was wonderful. Gradually the TV career took off more than the racing career. When Jeremy Clarkson left to do his chat show, the figures went down a bit and they took it off air, much to my shock! So we got the whole Top Gear team and offered it to Channel Five, who jumped at the chance and created Fifth Gear.
What were the highlights of doing Fifth Gear?
I famously refused to not take off the traction control on the Ferrari. People always remember that one!
Do you see yourself as a rival to Top Gear now?
I recently did a cameo appearance on Top Gear, when they were short of a Stig for a while. I stepped in and helped them out, so it’s a very friendly rivalry!
Are there any sneak previews to anything coming up?
Our new series started in April. The Ferrari FF was the highlight of my series so far and driving a Porsche 911GT3 on the ice in Lapland was pretty exciting as well but I’m hoping to try the new McLaren super car soon.
What’s been your favourite car to drive?
I’m a bit limited because it has to be a petrol engine and it has to be rear-wheeled drive. So that’s BMW, Mercedes, Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Pagani Zonda, so I’m a bit stuck!
When did you decide to move back to Hampshire?
I escaped Surrey, because I couldn’t afford to buy a house! We headed down the A3, over the hills through Hindhead and found Petersfield. It was such a charm to come down to Hampshire. We spent 13 happy years in Petersfield and then we found this fantastic house near Romsey.
So do you ever venture out into other parts of Hampshire?
Obviously the Motor Museum is in Beaulieu and I’ve taken the boys there a few times. Beaulieu is such a gorgeous place, it’s like going back in time. You have to go through the New Forest to get there which is a charming place with some lovely restaurants.
So what is the future for you?
I love doing the television work. I don’t race very much anymore, but I race at the Goodwood Revival every year and I raced recently at the Silverstone GT series. I’ve finally written the great autobiography and called it Tiff Gear. That’s on sale now and, of course, it mentions Hampshire.
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Hear the full interview with Tiff Needell!
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