What made Richard Hammond get back in one of the cars that almost killed him?
Richrad Hammond took another parenthood milestone last week, one he found alarming. “My youngest daughter passed her driver’s license,” he says.
“It was strange to see her walk out the door alone for the first time. I thought, “Well, that’s it then.” ‘
Now you’d expect Richard – most famous for presenting high-octane car shows Top Gear and The Grand Tour – to have taught Willow, 18, and her older sister Isabella, 21, to drive. Alas, his services were not required.
While he was allowed in the car with his two daughters as they practiced their hill starts and three-point turns, he had to agree not to talk. At all!
Richard Hammond, 52 (pictured), says he was allowed to sit in the car while his daughters learned to drive but was not allowed to say anything
“I dated them, but only for legal reasons, and most of the time I had to keep quiet because their driving instructor had taught them how to drive to pass their driving test. Anything I say would spoil it.
He doesn’t seem remotely offended about it. ‘Oh my God, no, I couldn’t teach them to drive to pass their exams. I doubt I would pass. In fact, I’m sure not.
You mean you’re going too fast? Drive like Jeremy Clarkson is watching you, ready to tell you about your skills?
“No, I would probably be able to curb those kinds of urges, but everything has changed in the test since I did it. You have to open the door in a particular way now, so as not to open it to traffic. I am certain that I would fail.
Clearly, Richard, 52, is a man who knows how to feel terror in a car. He is as famous for his epic crashes as he is for his television presentations.
In 2006, while filming Top Gear, he spent two weeks in a coma and suffered brain damage from a catastrophic accident. He was traveling over 300mph in a jet-powered Vampire when a front tire failed, causing the car to roll over.
He was rushed to hospital after being cut from the vehicle, lucky to be alive.
A decade later, he had another near-miss, this time on the Grand Tour, when his Rimac Concept One supercar flipped over, rolled down a Swiss mountain and burst into flames. Presumably sitting next to a teenager inspires a different kind of terror?
Richard pictured with his eldest daughter Isabella. In 2006, while filming Top Gear, he spent two weeks in a coma and suffered brain damage from a catastrophic accident.
He’s laughing. “I wish I could tell you that sitting next to my teenage daughters as they learned to drive was more terrifying than rolling down a Swiss mountain in a blazing supercar, but it wasn’t, because my daughters are actually very good drivers.” . I think maybe they learned from watching me make mistakes.
Richard is completely out of the car for his latest TV project, leading a Channel 4 show called Crazy Contraptions, which he considers a sort of Bake Off for geeks. The show features teams competing to make a complex chain reaction machine that can perform a simple household task like feeding the dog or running a bath.
These jaw-dropping devices – also known as Rube Goldberg machines after the American cartoonist whose work featured them – have recently been sweeping social media thanks to aficionados like top authority Zach Umperovitch.
Zach is a judge on the show, advising teams to battle for four days to build vast contraptions using only household tools chosen from a provided selection.
The tasks are silly, of course, “but no more silly than asking people to design a cake in the shape of something else,” says Richard. The process is addictive to watch though, and like Bake Off, it doesn’t matter if the contestants fail.
I don’t want to take any risks. I am a father and a husband and I do not want to deprive myself of it
“Things don’t always work out, but that’s part of the thrill,” he says. “That’s where the nerve-wracking part comes in.”
He looks like an over-excited schoolboy about it, the whole shebang appealing to his inner nerd. He’s exactly the kind of person who wonders if he could use a pulley system to pour milk over his breakfast cereal in the kitchen without getting out of bed (exactly the kind of task set on the show).
When he’s not leading TV shows, he runs a classic car restoration business. “I’m fascinated by it all,” he says.
“My grandfather – my mother’s father – was a coachbuilder and an engineer who could build anything, and he was a big influence. »
He and his family live in a £2million castle in Herefordshire with extensive outbuildings for his DIY which during lockdown has become something of an obsession. “As I rush into middle age, I find that I love building and making things,” he admits.
Sounds like a midlife crisis subversion of classic red sports cars? ‘Exactly. My midlife crisis will more likely involve tearing down the red sports car and rebuilding it.
It’s been interesting to watch what the Grand Tour trio have been up to since the pandemic stopped performing on their far-flung filming tours. They’ve all taken care of smaller projects, though who could have predicted that Jeremy Clarkson’s show about his farm would become another television juggernaut.
Was Richard surprised? “Well, no, because I knew it was his passion,” he says.
Richard’s love for classic cars has also led to a TV show. “For the same reasons – it was a real passion, something I would have done anyway, but locked out, I started thinking, ‘What could a TV show do? ? “”
Later this year he will present another program in which he will travel along some British rivers. “I’m very lucky because these things – whether it’s restoring a classic car, walking along a river or watching the process of building gear – are things I would do anyway, but I can make them for work.”
The rivers show sounds safer than some of his previous shows (barring the risk of falling in, of course). Does he take fewer risks in his forties?
It was reported years ago that he was on the receiving end of a warning from his wife Mindy, who, let’s face it, had good reason to be concerned about him.
“It’s not a case of Mindy saying, ‘You don’t have to…’. I don’t want to take any chances either. I’m a father and a husband. I’d rather not leave the stage left and be deprived of it.
It’s always hard to talk about the lasting effects of his brain injury, mostly because those things are impossible to quantify. He certainly suffered memory loss in the years immediately following his first big crash, but says it may have nothing to do with brain damage.
“It’s been a lot of years since, but obviously it was a brain injury, a frontal lobe injury in my case, and I spent a lot of time examining myself.” But I had other changes in my life, ones that affect us all in middle age.
“My memory isn’t as good as it used to be, but maybe that’s because I’m 52.” It seems almost joyful to be 52 years old.
“I must say that I have reached my fifties. I like being a big one!’
It’s telling that in January Richard did something he didn’t expect – he got back in the (rebuilt) Vampire supercar for the first time. A team of car enthusiasts had painstakingly restored the burnt-out car, charting their progress on YouTube.
He had a (macabre?) interest, especially when he discovered that this restoration was happening “in my corner of the country”. So he went to have a look and – surprising himself – agreed to sit behind the wheel again.
I had retraced these moments several times, as far as I was concerned, they were my last minutes
He admits it was a big deal. “It was a very weird experience, quite haunting actually, because even though I remembered going in there before, I couldn’t remember coming out of it, so technically I was still in it.”
Did he find himself transported to the worst moment of his life? “God, yes, of course, because I had recounted those last moments many times.
“As far as I’m concerned, those were my last minutes. Still, I was fascinated to see this machine that had tried to kill me.
“It had failed and I wanted to deal with it. He was a bit of a demon, and in life it doesn’t help to still have demons.
“If you can put them away, you probably should. I hadn’t been there when it was still moving, but I might come back.
The point is, he was able to appease ghosts just by getting out of that car on his own.
“It was a strange feeling, knowing that the last time I had been airlifted to hospital with brain damage. This time I just went out and had a cup of tea!
- Crazy Contraptions by Richard Hammond, Friday, 8 p.m.