Car S.O.S is back this week on National Geographic with guest star James Nesbitt.

Tim and Fuzz travel to Ballygowan in Northern Ireland to take on what turns out to be the worst car they have ever encountered. The 1959 MGA Roadster, which has been rusting for over 40 years, belongs to former engineer Billy.

His family life was turned upside down when his son John and daughter-in-law Lynette were tragically killed in South Africa on their honeymoon in 2014. The story made headline news around the world and it was Billy who had to hold the family together. Tim and Fuzz enlist the help of family friend James Nesbitt to return the MGA to this most deserving of owners. 

The series also sees Tim and Fuzz take on their first ever rally car with a 1989 Peugeot 205 Gti, and a classic VW Karmann Ghias, however before all that James Besbitt talks his appearance in the opening edition…

How did you come on board for this episode of Car SOS?

Billy’s brother, Ian, works in my facilities company in Northern Ireland. He contacted me and asked if I would get involved. I wasn’t initially sure what the format would be, but the moment I arrived on Saturday, I could sense this was something special. The car has undergone an extraordinary transformation from scrap to this absolutely stunning MGA.

It’s an extraordinary story, isn’t it?

Absolutely. This is the second anniversary of the darkest time in Billy’s life. So there is an enormous amount of sensitivity today. As much as this is something that will give him a great lift, it’s also very poignant that he was going to restore this car with his son John. It’s a very, very human story.

How did Billy’s family set up this restoration?

Billy’s daughter Kathryn started the ball rolling on this project because she saw that the family could have fallen apart after John’s death. She knew that Billy has been the glue that has held his family together and that he truly deserves this moment.

The commitment of the SOS team is something to behold, isn’t it?

Definitely. This is the first properly new built MGA in 60 years. Last night it wouldn’t start, so they kept working on it into the wee small hours. The team are utterly committed and moved by this story. This is a very inclusive and accessible and human story about real people. I think audiences will be very affected by it.

Was the MGA difficult to drive?

Yes. I was nervous. But I thought, “If I’m going to crash a car, this is the time to do it. There are plenty of people from Car SOS here who could fix it!” Also, I passed my test in a Lada, and if you can drive a Lada, you can drive anything!

Presumably you have driven a great variety of cars in your job?

Yes. I’ve driven a huge number of cars in my acting career. I’ve raced round any number of corners. I’ve even driven a speedboat. On Lucky Man, I had to drive a speedboat at 4am towards the Thames Barrier. I was completely out of control. If you look at my face in those scenes, you can see I look utterly terrified. That was genuine!

You have given your fee for Car SOS to charity, haven’t you?

Yes. When they told me that there would be a fee, it made perfect sense to donate it to WAVE Trauma Centre [the grass-roots, cross-community, voluntary organisation which supports people bereaved, injured or traumatised as a result of violence in Northern Ireland, of which James is Patron.] I’m privileged to be involved with WAVE. Its work is ongoing. In the same way that the healing in Billy’s family is ongoing, so the healing in Northern Ireland is ongoing. New cases keep coming up, and WAVE are constantly counselling new people. Every year more and more people feel able to talk about the trauma.

Finally, how do you think viewers will respond to the reveal at the end of this episode Car SOS?

Seeing Billy’s reaction today when the restored car was revealed, you couldn’t help but be moved – and I’m sure audiences will feel the same. We live in cynical times, but that felt like a very pure and true moment. There are so many TV programmes these days where the reality feels forced. But just occasionally, we see moments like this where we sense the impact it has on someone and feel that out of darkness rays of hope can come.

Car S.O.S, Thursday 8th March at 8pm on National Geographic

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