on 13 February 2015
Whilst he had already gained some attention by hosting Sky One's "Brainiac: Science Abuse" and BBC 2's "Top Gear", what really brought Richard Hammond to the public's attention was a serious crash whilst driving a jet propelled car whilst filming the latter back in 2006. The outpouring of public support, both emotional and financial surprised even him and the book he and his wife Mindy wrote about the accident and his recovery was the best selling non-fiction book of 2007.
Since then, millions have followed his every action. Thanks in part to his affable nature next to the grumpy old men of Jeremy Clarkson and James May, "Top Gear" is BBC 2's most popular show and I find myself wanting him to win every challenge. But not everything that happens makes it onto the screen and his reported 17-mile run home through the floods in Gloucestershire in the summer of 2007 to ensure he was at his daughter's birthday was widely reported as not only a sign of his recovery from the crash but his devotion as a father. Now, in "As You Do", we get to look behind the scenes of some of the stranger "Top Gear" challenges, but also of Hammond's life.
There are five major stories in the book, three dealing with "Top Gear" challenges, one with the 2007 floods and one with another show he recorded. The "Top Gear" challenges are ones any fan may be familiar with; recent ones involving the Polar expedition, the drive across Botswana and trying to build an amphibious vehicle to cross the Channel to France. The others are about the aforementioned story with the floods and meeting one of his idols, Evel Knievel, to film a documentary about his life. If any of these things are new to you, particularly the "Top Gear" ones, this may not be the book for you, as Hammond does assume you're familiar with the show and these challenges in particular.
For any reader, Richard's writing style is very laid back and chatty. Even when he's filming in sub-zero temperatures, he's an incredibly positive person and he looks to wring every single piece of enjoyment he can out of life. When something doesn't go quite so well for him, he sees it as entertainment for the rest of us and has no thought of hiding his own embarrassment by admitting what he may have done wrong. I can't think of many people, even ones who aren't nationally recognised TV presenters, who would admit to being weed on by one husky before being dragged through several piles of dog mess by another. Hammond, on the other hand, knows that the kind of people who enjoy "Top Gear" will laugh at a story like this and so he passes it on, unhesitatingly and willingly making himself a source of our amusement.
This makes the whole experience of reading Hammond's books like being in the pub with a mate telling you about something he's just been up to. The whole thing reads as if you've just seen him and said "Hello, mate, not seen you in ages. What have you been up to?" His last book felt the same way, even with the more serious subject matter. Here, where's he off filming and generally having a lot of fun, it's an even more enjoyable read and the tone of his writing fits in beautifully with some of the strange things he's getting up to. I laughed out loud several times whilst reading "As You Do" and it's never at Hammond, always with him.
The major problem with this book is that most of the strange and amusing things he gets up to are generally whilst he's filming some of the challenges for "Top Gear". As a big fan of the show, this didn't present too much of a problem for me, but I can see how it could for other readers. If you're not a big fan of the show, then this book is going to leave you a little confused. Hammond does manage to explain briefly the point of his being in Botswana or the Arctic, but without being a fan of the show and seeing the friendly rivalry they've built up over the years, it's difficult for him to explain the relationship they have and why the show and the people are so important to him.
For fans of the man, rather than the show, there are a couple of parts where not being a regular "Top Gear" viewer doesn't matter. Unfortunately, these come quite late in the book and whilst they give a little more of an insight into the man that Hammond is, there's little in comparison to his "Top Gear" musings and even I, as a fan of the show, would have liked more of this kind of thing. I enjoyed the earlier sections, but having watched "Top Gear" avidly for several years, a lot of what he was talking about was familiar, merely presented from a different angle. It wasn't quite new information, it was just old information presented with a slightly different slant and in the case of the Polar Expedition, which took up three chapters, perhaps a little too much about one thing where a wider range of stories may have been more interesting. There were also points I thought he could have elaborated on, as he mentions spending too much money bringing Oliver home from Botswana, but never told the story of how that came to pass, which I thought would have been interesting to know about.
My being a fan of the man and of his main show helped my enjoyment of the book. Despite the lack of anything especially new, his chatty style made this an incredibly readable and fun experience. However, for anyone who doesn't share the interests that I have, I can see that this would be a patchy and less rewarding experience. This may be worthwhile for the fan, but really only for the dedicated "Top Gear" fan.
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