We talk to broadcasting legend Angela Rippon about Top Gear, fighting senior stereotypes and her passion for electric driving.
“I don’t think there should be any driving stereotypes. I have this theory that because those of us over sixty are children of the 1960s, we were liberated. Women had the opportunity to do all sorts of wonderful things, including being able to drive fast cars or fun cars.”
And drive fast, fun cars Angela Rippon certainly does. The legendary BBC journalist can’t hide her excitement when she’s talking about driving. Whether describing tearing up the motorway in her Mazda MX5 convertible or reminiscing about her antique Mini—“It came off the production line on 6 April, 1960 and they only started making them in the back end of 1959”—it’s a subject you sense she could enthuse about for hours.
Presenting Top Gear in the Seventies. Image via BBC
Rippon’s delight with driving started early. She had dreamt of getting behind the wheel since she was a small child, and when she turned 16 her father finally allowed her to drive his imposing Rover 90. “It was a bit of a tank of a car, rather large. I used to [learn] when I finished school, so I was sitting there in this huge car in my school uniform. It must have been a bit terrifying for some of the people who saw me with my L plates!”
She soon progressed to smoother engines and fondly remembers driving the MG MGB, MG BGT and a Saab 900 turbo. Her favourite car, however, was a bright yellow Triumph G6. “It was a beautiful sports car, and I always felt that it was a very feminine sports car.”
"A woman over 60 is going to be a darn sight safer [driving] than a man aged 19!”
Despite her love affair with petrol engines, it seems the future is electric for Rippon’s car collection. “I was listening to the radio this morning and they were talking about the plans for expansion at Heathrow airport. They were saying that the majority of carbon emissions come from cars rather than aircraft so by 2020, all of the vehicles at Heathrow will be electric. They recognise the importance of doing something for the environment.”
Today there are 71,000 electric cars on the road, and a new model is purchased every 13 minutes.
They’re often seen as a more expensive option, but Rippon reassures, “there are advantages to having electric cars and the more that are bought, the more the cost will come down. More and more people are realising their importance for the environment and also the fact that they’re not losing performance by going with an electric car over a petrol car.”
In fact, the government also now offers grants between £2,500 and £4,500 to those buying electric vehicles.
Parked electric cars in London. Image via Go Ultra Low
“They have virtually no emissions, whereas petrol and diesel cars obviously have carbon dioxide emissions which are really bad for the environment and people’s general health.”
“Electric cars and hybrid cars give off hardly any CO2 at all, but the advantages are that they cost two pence to run and the charge will take you on anything from 100 to 700 miles, depending on the car. That’s compared to twelve pence or more for petrol driven cars. You don’t even have to pay road tax.”
Such is Rippon’s enthusiasm that she’s teamed up with the government’s Go Ultra Low campaign to encourage more people to drive electric. Her new competition, dubbed the ‘Gran Prix’, is attempting to raise awareness while finding Britain’s most passionate female car fan over 60, a title they’d surely have to wrestle from Rippon herself.
"I’m a journalist and being a journalist was always more important than the fact that I happened to be a woman as well."
“It’s not just for grannies, it’s for any woman over 60 who loves driving… The prize is for her to have a once in a lifetime, all expenses paid day driving high-performance electric cars on one of the most famous racetracks in Britain. All we need is for people to write us 50 words via email or Facebook telling us why they should win.”
When I suggest that her campaign might be overturning stereotypes about older drivers, it’s clear I’ve hit a nerve. “There are less accidents involving mature drivers then there are drivers under 21, so it’s a completely false stereotype. In fact, a woman over 60 is going to be a darn sight safer than a man aged 19!”
Rippon at the 2012 Chelsea Flower Show
As part of this generation of safer drivers then, what habits really grind Rippon’s gears when she’s out on the road? “Bad manners. I think bad manners lead to unsafe drivers. [Laughs] I get really cross when you stop and let somebody through and they don’t bother to say thank you. I think, ‘Where are your manners? Come on, it’s not your road’. I’m sure it has a lot to do with road rage. People lose their tempers because of the bad driving of others, or just because they think they’re rather superior to everyone else.”
She’s less fussed when asked about the new Top Gear line up. Rippon was the show’s first presenter back in the 1970s and she’s distinctly nonplussed when it comes to the BBC’s decision to feature just one female presenter in their team of six.
“When I was presenting it, it was very much magazine programming. I’m a journalist and being a journalist was always more important than the fact that I happened to be a woman as well. There are lots of programmes where you have women on the programme and no men at all. I’m sure they thought very hard about what they’re going to do and how they’re going to do it.”
And with that, this child of the ‘60s is gone, presumably off to drive one of her fast, fun—and now electrically juiced—cars home.
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