Think of Top Gear and a coterie of larger-than-life male presenters immediately springs to mind – Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and now BBC’s Radio 2 DJ Chris Evans. So it may come as a real surprise to discover that Angela Rippon was Top Gear’s very first presenter back in the 1970s.
Angela’s passion for cars and driving is perhaps less known to her many fans than her unforgettable appearance showing off her high-kicking pins on the Morecambe and Wise show and being a regular fixture on our TV screens in the 1970s presenting the evening news.
She’s driven everything, from articulated lorries and vintage cars to riding Harley Davidson motorbikes, and is a big fan of sports cars, so who better than Angela to spearhead Go Ultra Low’s competition to find Britain’s most enthusiastic female driver over 60?
Celebrating women drivers and electric cars
Her love of cars and driving is plainly obvious as she explains, “The campaign is very straightforward. It’s trying to find the most enthusiastic female driver over 60 in the country and it’s all part of the Go Ultra Low campaign to get people much more interested and aware of electric and hybrid cars.”
Read our guide to electric cars and how they work.
So what is Angela looking for in the female entrants?
She says,“It’s very simple. In just 50 words they have to tell us why they are the most enthusiastic female driver and why they deserve to win the prize, which is a fabulous all-expenses day out at one of the top racing circuits in the country like Silverstone, Brands Hatch or wherever. They get the opportunity to drive a high-performance electric car on the race track with an experienced high performance driver besides them.”
Along with finding the most passionate over-60s female driver, Angela is also keen to spread the message about the benefits of electric cars and dispel a few stereotypes.
“There are a lot of people who still think electric vehicles as being like the old electric floats that sort of trundled along very slowly and didn’t go anywhere.
“But all the new cars produced by the top eight manufacturers are really high performance cars that give an exhilarating driving experience.”
Cheap and easy
Angela’s knowledge of electric cars is encyclopaedic and she goes on to passionately list the many benefits of electric cars.
“Inexpensive to run, 2p a mile on average is what they cost to run in electricity, as opposed to the average of 12p a mile and even more than that if you’re driving a diesel or petrol driven car. You don’t have any road tax to pay on them, so you’re saving at least £100 if not more than that.
“And the maintenance on the cars is very low indeed. If you compare an internal combustion engine which has got something in a region of 100 moving parts which are likely to go wrong, an electric car only has five or six moving parts.
“You’re probably saving over a year in excess of £1,000 on the car. And all these are things that people need to know about electric cars.”
However, Britain is still a nation of gas guzzlers and for Angela the biggest obstacle to the widespread adoption of electric cars is the price. She says, “As with anything, when they are being first produced there are fewer of them and they are going to be that just little more expensive. But you get a government grant of up to £4,500 to help you buy them.
“And as they haven’t been out on the road for very long, there isn’t much of second hand car market at the moment and, when you have a second hand car market that brings down the prices as well.”
Read our review of the UK's best-selling electric hybrid car.
A lifelong love of cars
It was Angela’s father who taught her to drive in a Rover 90 (“a tank of a car”) after school and she passed her driving test first time at the age of 17. She remembers, “I had to make sure I didn’t wear my school uniform when I took the test as I think the instructor may not have had too much confidence in me!”
Angela describes herself as more of a driving fan than a car fan. Getting behind the wheel and experiencing the exhilaration of driving itself is what she loves most rather than knowing all the nuts and bolts under the bonnet.
So seeing as this self-confessed driving fan has road-tested more than her fair share of cars in her career, what would be her dream car if no expense was spared?
She replies, “I would go back to my wonderful Triumph GT6 which I absolutely adored. It was bright yellow, long bonnet and it was very feminine sports car. I loved it.”
And if she was taking on a road trip, who would her dream travelling companion be?
“Sir David Attenborough. I love driving my convertible with the roof down in the country and you feel very at one with the environment.
“Having someone like David beside me - and he’s such an expert in everything - he would be able to describe the lie of the land, the plants, the birds, the mammals, everything that we saw when we were driving and it means I wouldn’t have to take my eyes off the road as he would be my running commentary. And that would be perfect.”
For more tips and useful information, browse our motoring articles.
Top Gear returns to our screens
And finally, with the new series of Top Gear about to hit our screens with the much-talked about new presenters, BBC’s Radio 2 DJ Chris Evans and ex-Friends star Matt LeBlanc, will the show’s first ever presenter of the show be tuning in?
“Probably yes. It depends on my work schedule but even if I can’t watch it live, I’m sure I’ll watch it on catch-up."
She goes on to explain the differences between the 1970s Top Gear and its current incarnation.
“When I was presenting it, it was very much a magazine motoring programme so the content was really quite different from the way they do the programme now – and that’s quite right because a programme that lasts as long as that, if it’s going to go on entertaining and challenging its viewers it does have to change over the years and of course it has.
“I’m sure that the new line-up will take it to another level again. They’ll have a completely new way of presenting the programme.”
For more information on the Go Ultra Low campaign and to enter the ‘Gran Prix’ competition to find the most passionate female car fan over 60, visit www.facebook.com/GoUltraLow