'Last time I was in Kerry it changed my life,' says Chris Evans as 'Top Gear' bandwagon rolls in
'Top Gear' presenter Chris Evans is used to living life in the fast lane, and last night he rushed to Killarney from Cork Airport to kick-start a hectic weekend of filming for the new series of the hit BBC television show.
This will be the first season of the programme to be fronted by Evans and his co-hosts, who include American actor Matt LeBlanc, and former Formula One team owner Eddie Jordan.
Killarney and Kerry have a special place in the broadcaster's heart, as he explained to the Irish Independent: "I've been around the Ring of Kerry before and it changed my life. I listened to Irish radio in the car and (it inspired me) to get on a plane and go back to England because I missed the radio so much. It was because I was listening to Gerry Ryan, he was amazing, and when I returned to England I bought a radio station because of him. So Kerry has so many fond and happy memories for me. Gerry was the best of the best, he's sadly missed."
While filming will take place on the Dingle Peninsula this weekend, Evans, LeBlanc and crew, have based themselves in Killarney until they return to the UK tomorrow morning.
Yesterday, LeBlanc, who made his name playing the character of Joey Tribiani in the US sit-com 'Friends', posed for pictures around the Lakes of Killarney as interested onlookers tried to get a glimpse of the popular star.
It was his first time in the Republic, though he did visit Belfast a few years back. He said: "Yeah, I remember I was flying in, it was during the Orange marches in 1997, and I looked out the window and saw all these lights. It was only when I got closer I realised those were flames. But, no, I had a great time there and we're having a great time here."
Evans told me that he really wants to bring LeBlanc to Kinsale, describing it as "the most beautiful town anywhere in the world".
With the help of council staff, a digger and a garda chaperone, the crew staged pictures and recorded footage at sites such as the Ladies View scenic point overlooking the Lakes of Killarney, and in Kenmare, where LeBlanc practised parallel parking in a €250,000 Rolls-Royce Dawn in front of hundreds of locals.
Today, the 'Top Gear' presenters will travel to the Gallarus GAA pitch, west of Dingle, to watch teams from the An Gaeltacht and Dingle clubs lock horns for the cameras in a one-off clash.
After the final whistle, the new hosts will be pitting the modern Rolls-Royce Dawn against the classic Rolls-Royce Corniche model, and asking spectators and players to vote on which car they prefer - all for an episode of 'Top Gear' to be broadcast later in the year.
And there'll be time for some socialising in Dingle town too, as the presenters seek votes from the patrons of one particular pub regarding which Rolls-Royce they prefer.
'Top Gear' is considered to be the most widely watched factual television programme in the world, with a global viewership of 350 million.
The last ever 'Top Gear' to feature the controversial Jeremy Clarkson was watched by 5.3 million UK viewers, while the programme's audience topped seven million for an episode in 2007.
As a brand, it also includes magazines and websites. And it has a global reach well beyond the UK so it's understandable that tourism chiefs in Kerry are delighted the 'Top Gear' bandwagon has rolled onto their patch.
"This is a beautiful country. We travelled around Killarney today and on to Kenmare and the welcome we got was cool. I'm really looking forward to the Gaelic football game tomorrow but I don't know very much about it. An old guy in a pub in Kenmare tried to explain it to me, the rules and so on, but I didn't really get it," said LeBlanc.
The new series of 'Top Gear' will begin next month on BBC television as viewers tune in to see the new line-up attempt to put their own stamp on a show that's been running for nearly 40 years.
"As Chris says, we're only baby-sitting 'Top Gear'," said LeBlanc, adding: "You know everyone has their own memories about a car, the first time they got their licence or the first time they took a ride with their girl.
"'Top Gear' is such a monstrous entity in its own right but I'm enjoying every minute of it so far. How could I not? It never feels like work and I get to drive great cars and come to beautiful places like Ireland."