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Top Gear Expedition

Race to the poles special - Magnetic North pole - 1998

I was part of the team that guided Top Gear to the 1998 position of the Magnetic North pole. The company involved on the logistics side, Polar Challenge, normally specialise in endurance races in the polar regions but, along with Toyota, Arctic Trucks and the BBC, they were helping to put the program together.

The premise for the show was that one presenter, Richard Hammond, would race a dog team guided by polar explorer Matty McNair against the other two presenters, Jeremy Clarkson and James May, who would be in a Toyota Land cruiser. It was a 350 mile journey with the ‘finishing line’ being the position of the Magnetic North Pole.

I was to be one of two guides to May and Clarkson, and was to accompany them, along with a doctor. I had already met Richard Hammond on my way there as he had been training hard with Matty and the dogs in Iqaluit, a neighbouring Inuit settlement. Once he had finished, he joined our  team in Resolute Bay while we waited for the other two presenters to fly in. James May, however, did not seem too keen on the Arctic: when I asked him if he was enjoying himself, he answered in a rather gruff voice that, “it’s cold and I don’t like it!”. Still, at least he was honest!

Nevertheless, I was really impressed at the way that the crew and presenters worked in such adverse conditions. As May had already made clear, working in freezing temperatures isn’t for everyone, especially when you have to pitch your own tent, look after yourself and have the added stress of making a film that will be viewed by millions of people. I performed my role as and when needed, but stepped aside when the cameramen set up the shots and got on with the actual filming. Spirits were high in camp and, as might be expected from the Top Gear team, there was a lot of banter and laughter.

We covered the ground quickly and everything went well – for the most part anyway. We did get slowed up for about a day and a half by ice rubble, which had to be navigated around. Two days before we reached the Pole position, we saw a female polar bear and two cubs crossing the ice just ahead. It was a great moment – both for the filming and for the whole team.