Sunday 25 September 2016

'Top Gear' hosts Chris and Matt pitch up for Roller-coaster spin in Kingdom

Majella O'Sullivan and Graham Clifford

Published 17/04/2016 | 02:30

THROW-IN: Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc with local referee Richie Williams filming Top Gear at Gallarus GAA club, Kerry. Photo: Don MacMonagle
THROW-IN: Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc with local referee Richie Williams filming Top Gear at Gallarus GAA club, Kerry. Photo: Don MacMonagle

It is probably a lesson in how not to treat a €400,000 Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe - allow a team of burly west Kerry footballers traipse all over the white leather upholstery with muddy football boots.

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But make no mistake, the luxury 'Roller' was only the sideshow. The main event was its driver Matt LeBlanc, actor and new presenter of BBC's Top Gear.

LeBlanc and co-presenter of the top-rated motoring show, Chris Evans, rolled into An Ghaeltacht's football pitch at Gallarus after 12 noon yesterday, two hours after their expected time of arrival.

But while fans, spectators and waiting media gathered at the west Kerry GAA grounds, the stars of the show were able to enjoy the sights of Dingle, relatively undisturbed.

Like the car he's testing for the show, this is LeBlanc's first time in the Republic but he hinted he would be back.

He even delighted spectators with his famous catchphrase, a la Joey: "How you doin'?"

"It's been really nice and I haven't had a chance to do very much because we've been working long hours but it's been great," he said.

"Everyone's been super nice and I'm having a nice time."

He also revealed he had tasted his first Guinness, which was "delicious", followed by a second and a third which "weren't too bad either".

His co-presenter Evans - who was driving a 1976 Rolls-Royce Corniche - is a huge fan of Kerry and also enjoys watching Gaelic football, so was anxious this would form part of the shoot.

"We ended up here because it's over the water and we had to come film in Ireland," he said.

"We had the Rolls-Royce Dawn and one of the most beautiful backdrops in the world, so that's why we came."

And asked if he'd like to come back, he replied: "You know, we might just stay. It's easier."

An Ghaeltacht chairman Sean O Cathain had given the producers permission to drive around the periphery of the field but not on its hallowed turf.

He was equally protective of the club's senior panel which faced Killorglin's Laune Rangers in the first round of the championship last night, and so were banned from taking part in the set-up match for the BBC cameras.

The whole object of the exercise was for the Gaeltacht and Dingle teams to decide which car they preferred.

In the end, referee Richie Williams had to intervene and deemed Evans's 1976 Corniche the favourite.

Afterwards it was back to the Dingle Pub, followed by a jaunt around Slea Head.

In Kenmare and Dingle, the crowds gathered to welcome the new hosts of the world's most popular factual series. Sunshine delighted tourism chiefs and had TV execs purring. With a worldwide viewing audience of 350m, this is marketing gold which Tourism Ireland simply couldn't buy.

Evans and LeBlanc, alongside other co-hosts such as Eddie Jordan, have been filming for months ahead of the upcoming series due to begin on BBC next month - from South Africa to America and Europe - but here in this corner of the Kingdom they went with the flow and soaked up the welcome.

For Chris Evans, Kerry holds special memories and he spoke of how he was so inspired listening to Gerry Ryan one morning on the radio while visiting the county that he immediately decided to buy a radio station in the UK and get back on air after a spell away from the airwaves.

"It was a life-changing moment, I'll never forget it. Gerry was amazing, he was the best of the best. Because of him I got back into radio," explained Evans.

It's clear he, too, feels at home here as he roamed freely around his hotel lobby in Killarney on Friday night.

Such freedom to wander unchecked among locals was significantly greater than he might get on the other side of the Irish Sea.

But amidst the craic and banter there was serious work to be done and schedules to be adhered to.

"It's still possible for us to screw this up," joked Matt LeBlanc.

Sunday Independent

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