The ‘Magnificent 7’ was a three day extravaganza in aid of UK charity Children in Need. Organised by Radio 2 DJ Chris Evans The ‘7’ were the seven couples that bid to win two days of driving Ferraris and a third day with the ‘Dine & Disco’.
Every year I listen to the auction and marvel about what a fantastic event it would be. In 2012, we decided it was our turn and bid for our place in the 7.
In late June 2012, as one of the 7 successful bidders, we rocked up to Chris Evans house outside London. Bleary-eyed after a 5 am pick up; we arrived to watch Chris present the Breakfast Show while getting to know our fellow drivers and the beautiful cars.
The order of the first day was to start at Chris’s place then drive to Laverstoke Park, home of F1 legend Jody Scheckter before heading over to the garage of Nick Mason. Nick, of course, is almost as famous for his collection of classic cars than he is for bring the drummer of Pink Floyd. After that, it was a quick dash down to Longleat before finishing up with a gala dinner at Chewton Glen. All of our journeys would be in classic Ferrari. With an initial batch of 7 to drive, we would pick a number and start with the corresponding car. Then at every stop, we’d change to the next one. Over the course of two days, we would have driven at least 7 different classic cars.
To be honest, when bidding for the auction we knew there would be some time in the Ferraris, but we did not expect the amount of freedom on offer. In essence, we were given a map, handed the keys and told, “see you later…” That was it.
On arrival at Chris’s place, we were brought round to the car ‘area’ where there was an excellent selection of classics – some waiting for us to drive, others for show and some tucked away for us to drool over.
Typical Brits, it took us all a little while to mingle and get to know our fellow drivers. Chris was walking around, headphones on and Microphone at the ready. I walked up to him and said, “Hi Chris, I am excited to be here” (or something similar) only for him to mouth, “I’m on the radio” – OK I felt stupid.
A breakfast briefing, with fresh sausages from Laverstoke Park, gave us the necessary information for the coming days. A booklet had the details of each car and some operating instructions where we needed them (like, leave it running for a minute before turning it off, don’t hit the sports mode…) and a simple rule – if you break something just tell us. Considering the cheapest car we’d be driving was in the hundreds of thousands, that was a pretty relaxed atmosphere.
We had the White One – a beautiful Ferrari whose model I forget. When some of the on-hand experts heard this, they all said – don’t break on the corners, don’t do this… As I’d never driven a Ferrari, I was petrified I was going to plant it in the first tree I came across!
Lining up and ready to go, we were to start our engines and rev the engines live on air. Chris would come to us; we’d fire up the car and rev the motor. My spine tingles hearing it on the radio, and I finally had the chance to play my part. Chris came, I started the engine and pressed the …. Brake. FFS. No revving for me as Chris moved onto the next car!
As we proceeded out of the drive, we met our first group of well-wishers. Best not crash it just yet… before the Police waved out into the traffic and we were off. I suspect the other drivers had more experience than me as we saw them head off into the sunset. The first few bridges were packed with supporters after which it was just us and the open road attempting to read a map.
Rocking up to Laverstoke Park were yet again met by the police who waved us in. The cars backed up before taking on a straight track to the house and an opportunity to floor it. As this was my last chance in this car, I gave it some welly before parking up neatly.
At Laverstoke we were in for a double treat – a tasting of their famous ice cream and a personal tour of Jody’s formula one cars.
He showed us each one and explained where and when he raced them. (Pretty cool yeah?) A charming host, we didn’t say long before we were off to our next location.
A new car this time and we were off to somewhere in the West Country. In a nondescript location, we were brought in to see Nick Mason’s classic collection. Nick was the host who took us through some of his classics and allowed us the obligatory fanboy photo. As a huge Pink Floyd fan, I had brought along a record for Nick to sign. I was so terrified of asking him to sign it, that Katherine had to ask. Of course, he signed it and I am now a happy boy!
Another car swap and off to Longleat for a photo opportunity. As the sun shone, we thundered down the drive to park up right in front of the house. The hosts at Longleat (no sign of the loins) welcomed us with refreshments and a chance for a photo opp that would be in tomorrow’s newspaper.
One final change before the last leg to Chewton Glen.
By this time we were behind schedule (we’d already done 300 odd miles that day) so we put our foot down and headed for the South Coast. The car we were driving for this leg was a classic. So classic it didn’t have much leg room, no seatbelt and no wing mirror. Remember this was a car built for small Italians when things like safety were trifle inconveniences. I struggled with the driving position, so Katherine took over the driving. I will never forget driving past a White Horse (one of the chalk ones) in this wonderful car. I was too slow to get said horse in the shot, but still, love this picture I took.
As the last arrival at Chewton Glen, we almost missed the turning if it weren’t for a group of guests, dressed to the nines were waiting for us at the entrance. A screech of the brakes and we made the turning. We hadn’t realised that the hotel was not only hosting our dinner but they were also offering a gala dinner for another large party who expectantly watched the Ferraris roll in and park neatly on the grass. We couldn’t do neat so bailed out into our luxurious home for the night and let Chris park up.
A quick spruce up and it was gala dinner time where Chris had brought some pals. I recognised some of them including Alex Jones from the One Show (very popular BBC show) and others whose names escape me.
The highlight of the evening was the chance to meet Father Brian Darcey.
Every morning on the Radio 2 Breakfast show there is a pause for thought where a church representative (Priest, Rabbi, etc.) take 4 minutes to give us a ‘pause for thought’. Father Brian Darcey’s thoughts were always thoughtful and told with Irish charm and more than a little dose of humour. I don’t claim to be a religious man, but I love his thoughts, and it was an honour to meet him.
No booze tonight, we needed to be sober for tomorrow. What I remember of the food was superb. A quick fireworks show heralded us off to bed for the next day.