The former EastEnders hardman joins the series for a special episode featuring the restoration of a Land Rover.
National Geographic’s popular car restoration show returns to the channel this Valentine’s Day with a televisual love letter to one of the country’s most cherished cars, the Land Rover. Tune in on 14th February at 8pm to catch the first of two brilliant, fast-paced and funny new special shows featuring a live studio audience and a celebrity guest in Car S.O.S Special: 7 Day Challenge with actor and documentary-maker Ross Kemp. The second instalment at the same time on the 21st February will feature rock ‘n’ roll superstar Rick Wakeman.
Filmed at the British Motor Museum in Warwickshire, home to the world’s largest collection of historic British cars, Car S.O.S Special: 7 Day Challenge sees parts-blagging extraordinaire Tim Shaw and master mechanic Fuzz Townshend attempt to restore a beloved motor in just seven days before returning it to a deserving owner.
Below Ross discusses his experience of working on the programme and fronting hard-hitting documentaries:
How do you feel about being a guest star on “Car S.O.S Special: 7 Day Challenge”?
I’m really excited about it. Car S.O.S is a people show, and I like people. It’s not just about driving a flash car and having an opinion about it. Most people don’t have the opportunity to drive the flash cars you see on some car shows. But Car S.O.S is about the cars real people drive.
What else do you enjoy about the show?
I also really like the fact that it’s about helping people. It’s doing some good. In this episode, Brian has had cancer. Tim and Fizz are restoring his beloved Land Rover, and now Brian knows his children and grandchildren will inherit it. That’s a wonderful thing.
Are you a fan of Tim and Fuzz’s, too?
Definitely. I really like them. They’re down to earth and real. They’re not fake. They’re genuine and accessible and are not trying to score points. They’re also honest. There’s a strong element of humour in Car S.O.S, but Tim and Fuzz are not trying to be funny. The worst thing you can do as a presenter is try to force the comedy.
How did you find it driving a vintage Jag on the show?
It was amazing! You won’t see a car like that again. It was the last one to come off the conveyor belt in 1995. It had a cassette player! There was no CD player. There was a lot of play on the steering wheel and I had to press the brake extra hard to make the car stop! But the power was incredible. The V12 engine suddenly just went “Whoosh!” It was like being in a lift in a department store. You wait for a second and then just fly! When I was a kid, the C&A in Romford had a lift just like that. The effect of the Jag was the same – just a lot more luxurious!
Do you have a long history with cars?
Yes, I’ve always loved cars and now have a Ferrari and an Audi. Cars have played a very important role in my life, but when I was growing up in Essex and waiting to go to drama school, I had no money and no car. I couldn’t get a girlfriend because, no matter how good your recital of Hamlet was, if you didn’t have a car, no girl was going to look at you!
So when did you get your first car?
When I was 20. When I got a job on Emmerdale, I bought my first car, and when I got a job on EastEnders, I bought my first house. You can live in a car, but there is more room in a house and the sanitary conditions are better! That first car was a midnight blue Capri. It’s registration number was JZT 194W – you don’t forget a thing like that!
Did things go smoothly the first time you drove it?
No! I was driving up to Emmerdale in the days before mobiles. I stopped at a service station and put 10p in a phone box to call my mum. She told me, “Your insurance company have rung and said they won’t insure you to drive. They won’t insure actors.” That’s still the case!
What happened next?
I waited in the service station, and eventually my mum managed to get me insurance. I was three hours late getting to the Railway Hotel in Leeds. But as soon as I parked the car there, girls started saying hello to me. See, I was making up for all those years without a car!
You have made a name for yourself in recent years by making some extraordinary documentaries in some of the most dangerous places in the world. How has that affected you?
It’s made me a better person. Over the years, if we’re lucky enough to make it, we all change and grow.
Some of your friends weren’t so lucky, were they?
No. I’m very fortunate. I know a lot of young men who went to Afghanistan with me never came back or who came back seriously altered. That has had a profound effect on me. We are incredibly lucky to live in this country. It’s slightly corrupt in the UK, but it doesn’t get on the grid compared to other parts of the world.
Making your documentaries, you have seen a lot of people in extreme situations, haven’t you?
Yes. I went to Kobani in Syria, which was the site of a serious battle between Isis and the Kurds and was heavily bombed by the US and Russia. One little boy came up to me there. He offered to exchange local currency into dollars and euros. He also tried to sell us rings and watches. They all came from the people in the rubble. That boy doesn’t have a Nintendo, he doesn’t even have a bed.
What do you enjoy about being a documentary presenter?
It’s not the attraction of danger per se. It’s about the camaraderie – which is not like anything I have ever experienced in any other genre. That kind of trust and looking after each other’s backs brings an incredible feeling of comradeship. I love that.
Can you carry on doing this forever and how do people who have been in war zones cope afterwards?
There is a shelf life to how long you can keep running around jumping in ditches with six stone of kit on your back. You have to be physically and mentally tough. The best way of exorcising memories is to talk about them. Afterwards, we’ll sit around, talk and de-stress. The people who have PTSD don’t do that. That’s why, long before we had mobiles and laptops, we would sit around the fire after hunting and gathering. We need that human interaction.
What have you learned from making your recent series Ross Kemp and the Armed Police?
Soonish, all police will be armed this country. The world is changing. We behave according to the barriers drawn around us. Every time there’s a cut in the number of police officers, there is an increase in crime.
And finally, do you enjoy driving?
No. It such a pain driving in the UK. Even on the motorway, you’re sometimes limited to 50 mph. At the age of 54, I now much prefer sitting in the back of a car! Having said that, I was just looking at a McLaren. If I have a very good year, I might get one!
Car S.O.S Special: 7 Day Challenge airs Thursday 14th February at 8pm on National Geographic