During a quick pitstop from filming The Grand Tour, Richard Hammond talks to David Johns about life after Top Gear, jet-powered rocket cars, a love of camping – and heroes in the sky
Richard Hammond calls it ‘customer feedback’. Well he would, wouldn’t he? “Whenever we use a service, it’s always a good idea to tell people what we think of the experience,” he says. “And if it’s positive, the people providing the service like to hear that their customers are happy and that they have done a good job.”
This being the Hamster, and one third of the irreverent Clarkson, May and Hammond triumvirate, Richard isn’t talking about how rapid Amazon delivered his parcel, or how easy it was to switch energy suppliers, or to deal with his bank. This customer feedback is of the ultimate kind… about saving lives. And specifically, saving his life.
Just over 10 years ago, Richard was knocking at the Pearly Gates after a high-speed test track accident saw the jet-powered car he was piloting while filming for BBC Top Gear crash at nearly 300mph. Flipped upside down and buried in the grass beside the track, Richard was eventually extricated and airlifted to hospital by air ambulance. Suffering serious head injuries he was in a coma for two weeks and his family and friends feared he would never recover.
STUCK IN AN IGLOO
As we all know, he did – and Richard is in no doubt as to the reason why. “Without the brave crew of the air ambulance getting to me and getting me to hospital so quickly, I wouldn’t be here today. So, I’m sure glad they were around.” To this day, the celebrity presenter never misses the opportunity to talk about and promote the air ambulance cause – which is why he was speaking to me just hours before flying out to Dubai to film for the new Grand Tour series.
In case you’ve been stuck in an igloo in a snowstorm somewhere in the Artic, The Grand Tour is Top Gear reborn, sort of, only different, more extreme, and without the BBC. Screened online by Amazon Prime, the series has been reported as having a £160million budget for 36 hour-long episodes, which works out at more than £4million a pop! Which all sounds a bit excessive until see Clarkson and May blow up Hammond’s caravan with a rocket launcher! So that’s where the money goes…
Richard describes the show as a ‘huge camping expedition as The Grand Tour team travels the globe to drive, test and generally muck about with and destroy every conceivable type of vehicle. The enterprise suits Richard down to the ground because he says he has always ‘loved the great outdoors’. He remembers that as a teenager he would set off into the countryside with his border collie for weeks at a time, hiking the hills during the day and camping at night. Since then he’s made and slept in bivouacs on moors and mountains, in the Amazon rainforest and high in the Canadian Rockies. He’s also camped on the Arctic ice, lying in the midnight sun, listening to the sea ice shift beneath him at night at minus 50C.
Unforgettable experiences. But a deadly 300mph crash isn’t something anyone would want to remember however. Fortunately, you could say, Richard doesn’t recall a whole lot about his mega-accident in 2006. “I was spark unconscious,” he says. What he has never forgotten is the debt he owes to air ambulance ‘heroes’.
“It’s a weird thing, but almost all the time the air ambulance crews deal with victims in the most dire, serious situations and then once they have delivered them to hospital they probably will never see them again. I’m lucky, I’ve had cause to meet lots of different air ambulance crews around the country, presenting awards such as The Pride of Britain Awards. And they are all, without exception, very keen to hear from people who they have helped. Keen to talk to satisfied customers if you like. I’m more than happy to do that.”
Richard’s horror crash was near York so his lifesavers were from Yorkshire Air Ambulance. But as a Solihull-born lad who now lives in Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire, he devotes as much time and support as he can to championing Midlands Air Ambulance. Both Richard and his wife Mindy are ambassadors to the charity, supporting both national and local fund-raising and awareness. Mindy’s godson was airlifted to Birmingham Children’s Hospital by Midlands Air Ambulance after a life-threatening equestrian accident.
Jobe was knocked unconscious after he was struck a big blow to the right side of his head by a horse. Placed in a coma to stop seizures, doctors at Ross-on-Wye Community Hospital feared the worst for Jobe and he was airlifted by Midlands Air Ambulance 60 miles to Birmingham for emergency treatment. The specialist care helped Jobe make a full recovery.
Richard said: “Midlands Air Ambulance service is entirely funded by public and charitable donations and receives no Government or National Lottery funding. So, it is vitally important for the public to support their local air ambulance service. These crews are the real definition of heroes. When you live in the countryside you find that country people have a way of coming together and doing things to help each other and the community as a whole. This is what we do with the air ambulance. It’s a vital part of the local, regional and national community. It’s not overstating it to say that I, and many, many thousands of others, owe our lives to them.”
HAMSTER IN SHORT
- Richard is nicknamed The Hamster due his short stature. He’s 5ft 7ins. (Jeremy Clarkson is 6ft 5ins)
- Brylcreem once ranked Richard’s barnet as the best haircut on TV.
- After his accident, Richard developed a taste for celery which he previously hated.
- Publicity in the days following his accident helped raised £250,000 for the air ambulance charity.
- Richard sparked controversy in December for a comment in The Grand Tour in which he appeared to link eating ice cream with being gay.