These days England cricket’s larger than life figure Freddie Flintoff travels to exotic places. Borneo, Iceland, Peru, Switzerland and Ethiopia aren’t the countries he would have hoped to venture during his first innings as a professional cricketer.
His latest game-changing moment came when he bungee-jumped a red Rover Metro Cabriolet off a dam in Switzerland. “I have experienced things in this car, I have never experienced in life before,” Flintoff says in a behind the scenes video of the stunt he pulled off for Top Gear, the iconic auto show on BBC.
Strapped into the car, the former England all-rounder, falls a few hundred feet in the budget convertible into the mouth of the dam and is left dangling at the bottom for nearly an hour before being pulled out. The stunt has garnered thousands of views and helped the television series drive into the new year with strong ratings.
So much so that for the first time since it was aired in the 1970s, Top Gear is set for a slot on the more popular BBC1 from BBC2, which telecasts niche films and documentaries.
Flintoff and his co-hosts; presenter/comedian Paddy McGuinness and motoring journalist Chris Harris, have brought back the sparkle to the jewel in the crown of the British Broadcasting Corporation. And if naysayers are to be believed saved it from being axed. The threat was in the form of a proposal to remove license fees, which fund channels like the BBC, and the possibility of slashing of budgets looming. Producers of Top Gear, which costs upwards of half-a-million pounds per episode to make, are now breathing easy.
With Flintoff in the driver’s seat since last year, viewership has crossed over 4.3 million, the highest viewership since 2016, the year after the iconic presenter Jeremy Clarkson was sacked for punching a producer because there were no hot meals at the end of a shoot.
Clarkson’s rowdiness was the straw that broke the camel’s back as the legendary host has in the past landed in a soup for seemingly racists comments, which didn’t go down well with viewers in certain countries. Giving Clarkson the pink-slip also saw the exodus of his co-hosts James May and Richard Hammond and it left a void which those who stood-in, including Matt Le Blanc (Joey of Friends fame) struggled to fill.
What has worked the new three-man tag team on BBC is the childish energy, the easy banter, the effortless jokes, good-natured humour and absence of one-upmanship. Clarkson, May and Hammond have been drumming it up on Amazon Prime, the streaming platform, and their show the ‘Grand Tour’ has been popular too. But at times the trio seem to be trying too hard to sound cool.
Flintoff’s daring-do — he has also flipped a family estate when trying to outpace a Land Rover Discovery over a marshy track — has brought fresh life to the show and more importantly has got the younger audience tuning in once again, hence the plan to move Top Gear to BBC1 to target the 16 to 35-year-olds.
Flintoff is not new to television and has taken up professional boxing for a Sky show and also starred in ‘Freddie Flintoff Goes Wild’ — a wildlife series of extreme experiences. Another fling with Discovery channel for the 2011 series ‘Freddie Flintoff vs The World’ saw him try out extreme sports — from rodeos in Texas to Lucha Libre wrestling in Mexico (a rib injury while running the ropes ruled Flintoff out of the scheduled bout, but former teammate Darren Gough filled in).
Yet nothing beats being able to match Clarkson.
“I was in cricket and that was my dream job and it is not often that you get to do your dream job twice. If there was a job I wanted to do on TV, it was Top Gear,” Flintoff says.
By the way, Flintoff’s first car was a Porsche Boxster. “I was on tour in Pakistan and I was bored. So I bought it,” he tells Top Gear website.
Wonder what the ratings are in Pakistan.
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