Monday 26 September 2016

'Great scenery, great roads, great people' - Top Gear's verdict on Ireland

Graham Clifford

Published 25/06/2016 | 07:23

“Great scenery, great roads, great people,” Matt LeBlanc tells viewers while Chris Evans describes Ireland as “Paradise” and “only a short ferry journey away (for those living in Britain).”

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In an exclusive behind-the-scenes viewing the Irish Independent watched a preview of tomorrow night’s episode of the BBC’s Top Gear programme featuring April’s visit to Kerry and attended the live studio recording of the show at the Dunsfold Aerodrome in Surrey.

And Irish Tourism chiefs are in for a treat with international exposure that money simply couldn’t buy.

Using the best in cinematic filming and production, including drone footage, West Kerry looks simply spectacular.

BBC Top Gear hosts Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc relax in the Killarney Oaks hotel during filming
BBC Top Gear hosts Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc relax in the Killarney Oaks hotel during filming
Twitter shot posted by Chris Evans from his trip to Dingle and West Kerry
Graham Clifford with the Stig during filming
The Irish Independent's Graham Clifford at the filming of Top Gear in Surrey
Irish Top Gear crew (L-R) Aurora Mulligan (Fermanagh), Philip Fleming (Dublin), Orlagh McDonagh (Wicklow)

It’s anticipated that around 2.8 million viewers in the U.K. will see the Irish countryside in all its glory tomorrow night though that figure will multiply many times when catch up and internet viewing is included. Episode two of the current Top Gear series was viewed by 5.4m people in the UK within just seven days.

And because BBC Worldwide sells the show to so many countries globally - viewing figures will run into the tens of millions.

While the already buoyant tourism industry in Kerry is sure to benefit further the Irish Independent learned that the production team also considered shooting the episode in Wicklow before opting for the South West.

Orlagh McDonagh from Baltinglass in Wicklow works as Post Production Coordinator on the Top Gear show. She told the Irish Independent: “When we first talked about filming in Ireland we thought about doing it in my part of the country. We thought about Glendalough, driving over the Wicklow Gap and so on. In the end it was decided to focus on Dingle. I hope next year we can return to Wicklow to film. The finished episode is just amazing. Irish viewers are in for a treat, the country looks so beautiful.  And it beats Star Wars hands down!”.

The Irish Independent's Graham Clifford at the filming of Top Gear in Surrey
The Irish Independent's Graham Clifford at the filming of Top Gear in Surrey

Tomorrow night’s Top Gear episode will see presenters Evans and LeBlanc roadtest the modern Rolls Royce Dawn – as well as pitting it against the classic Rolls Royce Corniche. GAA players from the Dingle and An Gaeltacht GAA clubs will decide which car they prefer and the footage from the specially arranged Gaelic football clash at the remote Gallarus pitch in West Kerry will expose the sport to a whole new audience.

Additionally the programme features local Irish dancers, a chat with a farmer driving his sheep along the road near Slea Head and a visit to the Dingle Whiskey Distillery for a unique test to determine which car is the most appealing.

Philip Fleming, originally from Santry in Dublin, travelled to Kerry with the presenters and crew. BBC’s Head of PR for Global Brands he told me: “The reception from people at home was superb, everyone was so helpful. At Ladies View in Killarney we needed a boulder moved for a specific shot overlooking the Lakes and without hesitation a lovely guy from the council came in with a JCB and temporarily moved it. From the Gardaí to hotel staff to local businesses - the support, cooperation and ‘can do’ attitude was incredible on what was a very hectic shoot.”

And Top Gear producer Aurora Mulligan from Enniskillen said the crew were particularly satisfied with the Irish episode. Between filming she told me: “I can’t wait for people to see this programme. Dingle looks absolutely stunning and we were so blessed with the weather in Kerry. We’ve filmed across the world for this series but the reception from the people in Ireland was the best of the lot.”

Twitter shot posted by Chris Evans from his trip to Dingle and West Kerry
Twitter shot posted by Chris Evans from his trip to Dingle and West Kerry

Despite a shaky start in terms of viewership figures Top Gear’s live audience has settled around the 2.8 million mark - but the BBC is keen to point out that more people are now watching the programme across new media platforms rendering the traditional methods for measuring viewership figures less relevant.

Tomorrow night’s Top Gear programme will air at 8pm on BBC 2.

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