Ben Collins was the white-suited Stig for eight years on Top Gear. There's an argument that his time there coincides with the show's high point, with the best segments coming from Clarkson, Hammond, and May. In a recent video interview from the Road To Success podcast, he reveals what it was like to work there and the lengths he took to keep his tame racing driver identity a secret.
Collins didn't start racing until he was 18 years old. From there, he kept climbing up the ladder until he ran in the top class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans for Team Ascari. Not too long later, the opportunity with Top Gear came up.
He wanted to do something with the franchise, whether with the magazine or the TV show. The show's producer, Andy Wilman, gave him a try-out in a Ford Focus at the infamous Dunsfold Aerodrome circuit. Wilman didn't seem too impressed with Collins' driving, including asking: "Is that as fast as you can go?"
Wilman must have had a good poker face, because Collins received a call a month later to return to the aerodrome. When he arrived, a white suit was hanging up for him.
Collins decided to keep the secret as the Stig's alter ego. He showed up on set wearing a balaclava to hide his face and never took the helmet off while there. He'd change clothes in a van when filming on location, like in London.
He even created a fake name for checking into hotels with the crew. His pseudonym was Richard Jameson, which came from taking elements from Richard Hammond, James May, and Jeremy Clarkson.
Collins seems bothered about one Top Gear segment never happening. There was a plan for the guys to race at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Collins thought it was the perfect thing for The Stig to do. Unfortunately, things never came together.
"I loved every day I did there," Collins said in the interview.
Eventually, things had to end. The BBC Radio Times published a story that revealed his identity as The Stig and the situation started falling apart from there. Collins felt like the show was slowly phasing him out, and he wanted to leave on his own terms. His final episode was with Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz in the Star in a Reasonably Priced Car segment.
After leaving Top Gear, Collins got into a legal battle with the BBC over the publication of his book The Man in the White Suit: The Stig, Le Mans, The Fast Lane and Me. He calls that time the most stressful period in his life.
Now, he has the Ben Collins Drives YouTube channel where he slides behind the wheel of incredible machines like the six-wheeled Tyrrell P34 Formula 1 car.