Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Who Is The Stig?

Hey girls... Wanna go for a ride?
I am a little late to the party on this one. Mainly because I have known that The Stig was Ben Collins for about four years now, as does anyone who took the time to do a bit of internet research when they got a bit bored. If the news yesterday and today (the super injunction of a high profile sporting star being widely ignored, even in the house of commons) proves anything, secrets are much harder to keep in the computer age, especially if you are in the public eye for eight years and sell T-shirts with the logo 'Who is The Stig?'

I finally got around to reading Ben Collins autobiography 'The Man in the White Suit' the other day. I enjoyed it, as I am sure any petrol head would, but it did start me trawling the internet looking for quotes and articles around the time of his 'coming out'. I found it hard to believe that the BBC would spend so much trying to silence Ben, after all Top Gear really did benefit from having four presenters, even if the fourth one was anonymous. I was surprised to find that around half of the comments I found on blogs, boards and newspaper sites considered him some sort of traitor for biting the hand that fed him. Jeremy Clarkson described him as greedy.
Ben Collins - The Stig
So, is Ben Collins just a greedy little oink who cashed in and betrayed his bosses, or is he the underdog? The guy who deserved more and was held back by the white suit and tinted visor? I'm afraid it's not that simple... Let me present three views:

If you are a Top Gear fan of lower income, you probably think he is an idiot. After all, he got paid for ragging around a track in some of the hottest cars known to man, became the icon of a decade (even if no one knew it was him) and had the anonymity to go shopping at Tesco on the corner without being mobbed. It sounds like your ideal job, right? After all, accounts seem to show that Ben was earning in the region of £70,000 - £100,000 a year depending on who you believe.
Jeremy Clarkson... Counting the millions
If you are a Top Gear fan of higher income, you might look into those figures a bit further. After all, rumour has it that Clarkson is on around £1,000,000 or more a year for Top Gear alone. On top of that, Top Gear has made him a household name in a large portion of the world... A fact which allows him to shift shed loads of books, DVDs and other merchandise every Christmas, making him even more money. As he owns part of the production company, he also gets an income from anything with the Top Gear name or Logo on it. Ironically, this includes all that Stig merchandise you see in your local supermarket at holiday time.
Soap on a Rope?
Richard Hammond and James May, while they might not share the pot in the same way that Jeremy Clarkson does, have been able to use Top Gear as a springboard to launch themselves into countless other presenting roles, book deals, guest appearances etc. Their Top Gear salaries of £300,000 - £400,000 per year are only the beginning.

So...Eight years trussed up in a white Alpine Star race suit while wearing a visor so no one knew who you were. You are one of the stars of the show, in fact you are arguably the most recognisable figure ON the show. You get paid a fraction of the other presenters salaries, you don't even get a portion of your own merchandising. You have no increased prospects after the show, because the BBC have you so tightly sewn into confidentiality clauses you probably can't even put Top Gear on your resume. In fact, anyone who might want to employ you will have do deal with the assumption you have been sitting on your arse for eight years.

Finally (and possibly most importantly) if you are a racing driver, you can have no other view, Ben Collins is only doing what any sensible driver would do. Racing drivers are used to large sums of money (even if it is their sponsors money) and the irregularity of an income which is up one month and down the next. They are not motivated by money as many of us are, more by success. Offer a GP2 driver a choice between a million pounds and a winning car, see which one he chooses. Money is only a means to an end to a racing driver. The Stig wasn't greedy, but he does have to provide for his family while doing that one thing which defines him... Drive.

A few years ago, Ben was a hairs breadth away from a seat in NASCAR. Along with that seat would have come cash in the millions and security for his family. If the deal had materialized, would he have been a traitor for abandoning the BBC to to and race tin tops in the good old US of A? Of course not. Still, if we were in his position, wouldn't we want any potential race team we may drive for to know (even in a whisper) that we were The Stig? That we had lapped even a made up test track faster that Formula 1 drivers? Wouldn't we want a bit of financial security while we were out looking for our next drive?

Racing drivers will do whatever they need to do to get into a winning car or, failing that, any car...

As a final thought, as far as Ben was concerned, he was on his way out. The speculation on the internet and newspapers that linked his name with The Stig was getting more and more widespread. The Top Gear production team started to put other people in the white suit when he wasn't available... In the past they would work around him. All good things must come to an end eventually, and Ben knew that one day soon, he would be replaced. So he started to write a book. When the day came, he could at least be recognised for his input to the biggest car show in the world.

For anyone who thinks I am biased, read the book. Read it, then go back to the internet and read the comments made by Clarkson and May. Think on the irony of Jeremy Clarkson calling Ben Collins 'Greedy'.
For the Stig lover who has everything...
Although Ben will never again wear the white suit (all the rights belong to Top Gear) I hope he will still have something to offer as a presenter on another show (Fifth Gear). As a matter of fact, I might even start to watch it!

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