A Day In The Life Of A Stunt-Driving Rookie Cop (PHOTOS)
J-Turns and 180-spins weren’t "skills" I’d heard of before last week.
And high-speed hand-brake turns certainly never cropped-up during driving lessons with my frail 71-year-old instructor.
In fact, I failed my second test for driving over a speed bump too fast and his anxious voice has since permeated my every wheel turn.
“Better to be safe than sorry,” he would reason, dampening any chance of me re-enacting a scene from The Italian Job along Bucks’ winding country roads by my home.
So when Universal challenged me to a day of stunt driving to mark the release of Canadian cop drama Rookie Blue series two you can imagine my intrigue.
Someone was finally going to let me loose in a fast car? No speed limits or bumps and my passenger would be raring me on instead of slowing me down. Fantastic!
At least that’s what I thought...
Stunt driving does, of course, involve safety and the usual mechanical problems.
First up was a flat-tyre on our cop car. The blue lights were flashing, the engine revving, but the discovery of some less than perky rubber gave me a good hour to let the nerves build up.
Surely this never happened in the Hollywood movies where I’d got my brazen car chase ideas from? Even the more "gritty" UK cop drama The Bill never featured police cars going to Kwik Fit before they set off on a chase.
However, mistakes can be forgiven, as this day is in honour of Rookie Blue, a show where things not going to plan is par for the course.
The drama, billed as the police version of Grey's Anatomy, sees five very good looking rookies, fresh out of police academy, struggle to learn the ins and outs of what it takes to be a cop in the big city.
Here I was in a glorified car park at Shepperton Studios in Surrey (the place where they film Dancing On Ice) with Stuart Baggs ‘The Brand’ from The Apprentice (he’s now working as a reporter for the Radio Times!) and Gavin Ramjaun from ITV’s morning breakfast show Daybreak – hardly a crack team of rookie cops.
Still, with bountiful amounts of enthusiasm, we were determined to act out high-speed car chases that 007 would be proud of.
As I sank into the plush leather driving seat of the getaway car, a silver Alfa Romeo and the most expensive vehicle I’ve ever driven, I chuckled at how foolish someone could be to hand me the keys.
Precision driver Terry Smith, a former motor-racer who now works with all manner of car-related stunts in TV and film, was in my passenger seat. What a brave man, I thought.
He asked me if I’d ever done any stunt driving before, I replied “no” with a giggle and I could see the anxiety building on his face.
I wondered if I was actually stepping into the shoes of an actor or if I was taking on a role that only stunt drivers can do?
“Actors very rarely do their own driving, it’s all about safety and no one can afford for them to get injured,” explained Terry.
Are there any A-list Hollywood actresses I can model my driving skills on?
“Not really, but Tamzin Outhwaite took a rally course, she does all her own high-speed driving.”
So with the thought that “if Tamzin Outhwaite can do it I can do it” lodged in my mind, I turned on the engine, not a key turn in this case but a push of a big round button.
Terry talked through the three steps to a dramatic hand-brake turn, with the main emphasis on going straight forward and turning away from the PRs, cameramen and representatives from Universal television watching on from the sideline.
That’s a shame, I thought, surely it would be more interesting to spin the car right in front of them.
It was OK. I still got my adrenaline rush and I didn’t crash into anything or anyone. Win.
At this point I had little idea that I would come away from the day with the title of "life saver".
Yes, just as the PRs and organisers thought they were safe and I was away from the wheel, danger struck as we all climbed into the police car for what can only be described as a joy-ride.
Speeding around the dirt track, screaming as we were flung in 360-degree spins and crashing over unidentified bumps, it’s fair to say we were enjoying ourselves, if not slightly petrified.
As we raced through a wall (made of cardboard boxes) I turned round from the front seat to see the faces of our three passengers, and instead spotted a completely shattered rear window.
“The window's smashed,” I cried and they laughed, thinking I was making some sort of automotive-related joke.
As the car carried on lurching around the track one of the back-seaters decided to look at the window, “Oh my God the window IS smashed!”
Our stunt driver stopped the engine and we all climbed out, I then spent the rest of the journey home being applauded for “saving their lives”.
And although I think it’s very unlikely they would actually have died from some shattered glass, I came away from the day with the same feeling as I like to imagine Andy McNally gets at the end of a Rookie Blue shift. Plus the ability to do a cracking hand-brake turn - 17-year-old boys everywhere, read this and weep.
SLIDESHOW: See the professional stunt drivers in action and our cop car take over:
Photos by Maria Slough www.mariasloughphotography.com
The second series of Rookie Blue stars this Sunday, 25th September at 9pm, on the Universal Channel.