Frank’s Motoring Editor Phillipa Sage spent more than a decade living in the fast lane as PA to the Top Gear team. Here she shares how writing her book Off Road With Clarkson, Hammond, and May has helped her start a whole new chapter.
Hi Phillipa. Where are you and what are you up to today?
Phillipa Sage: I’m at home at my cottage farm with all the doors and windows open. At last, the summer has arrived! My son Alfie is happy, playing outside amongst the ponies, chickens, ducks, and dogs. To top it off my cockerel has just cock-a-doodle-do’d!!
Congratulations on the new book. Tell us about it?
Phillipa Sage: The book is a personal memoir and a ‘behind the scenes’ look into my adventures as PA to the three Top Gear presenters as we toured the world putting on live motoring theatre. It was a high adrenalin, rock and roll tour fuelled by alcohol and a huge budget. Over 12 years we travelled like rockstars in private jets, super yachts and helicopters in extreme luxury, laughing all the way. We took the show to 18 countries, 31 cities and entertained over 2 million fans.
What lead you to the world of “Petrol Heads”?
Phillipa Sage: I’ve always had an interest in cars and gadgets. In the ‘90s a friend was working as a PR girl for Renault at the London and Birmingham motor show. Her agency needed another girl and she asked me if I fancied it. It sounded fun and so I set off to be trained at Renault’s headquarters. Then I got the job working for Top Gear at some of their original live events.
How did you keep your feet on the ground during those heady days?
Phillipa Sage: I stayed grounded because I had a job to do and I was part of a big team. We would do anything to make sure the shows were a success. One day I could be enjoying private jet travel and seven-star hotels and another time I’d have to clear a garden of dog poo for our celebs to relax in – yes, I actually did that!
What prompted you to write the book?
Phillipa Sage: I took loads of photos in all the beautiful places we visited, the amazing shows, and the crazy antics the boys got up to. In the latter years, I started talking to Jeremy and the tour manager about putting a book together as I knew the fans would love it. Unfortunately, it all came to an end before I could get my project off the ground.
Life was tough after breaking up with Jeremy. I stepped away from that life altogether and had torebuild my life to get to the point where I could look back with gratitude and celebrate the amazing adventure I had been privileged to have.
Rehearsals – Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit – Johannesburg
Fortunately, I was offered a job on a book launch that was touring Europe. The book is called How to do Good – Essays on Building a Better World. The tour and the book were promoting philanthropy and inspiring positive change.
In extreme contrast to travelling with three middle aged buffoons, I was now accompanying the likes of Gavin Esler, former BBC political journalist and author, the Sudanesepoet and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Emi Mahmoud and economist Dr Rouba Mhaissen, founder of SAWA, an organisation that helps Syrian refugees.
It was the perfect antidote to what I had lost. I met someincredible, kind and generous people and was introduced to my publisher John Blake. He’s a huge Clarkson, Hammond and May fan and father to a boy with Fragile X, the same condition my son suffers from. We instantly bonded and my new project began.
What was the writing process like?
Phillipa Sage: I started writing at the start of the first Lockdown in 2020. It helped me stay sane whilst caring for my Mum and Dad. So along with looking after Alfie and going to my parents twice a day for three months, I created a unique routine to suit all.
My writing was true escapism as I recalled all the laughs and wonderful adventures I had. There were tears over what was no more, including my relationship with Jeremy, but I loved the process.
How did Jeremy, Richard and James react when they heard the news of the book?
Jeremy said, “Well done for remembering everything I’ve forgotten”. Richard was very supportive and gave me a quote for the front of the book. James also gave it his blessing.
There was some concern that I would tell tales of what should have stayed on tour, but I assured them I was not dishing any dirt.
Jeremy Clarkson Richard Hammond and James May
How does it feel to be published?
Phillipa Sage: Finishing the bookwas so satisfying and I am really proud of what I’ve achieved, especially during such a strange and challenging time. I’ve faced tougher challenges and I think that played a huge part in my ability to reach the finish line on time.
Do you miss those days of petrol head madness?
Phillipa Sage: I don’t miss living out of a bag at high speed. With hindsight it was exhausting and disruptive to family life. I’m very lucky to have travelled so much but I am now enjoying my garden, animals, home, family and friends at a slower pace.
I have also developed my other “horse-power” passion -by training as an Equine Facilitated Coach helping children affected by autism and other learning disabilities or mental health issues. I work with adults too and love guiding people toshed their fears and limitations.
Moses Mabhida Stadium, Durban – “Car Porn”
I’ve walked my talk and am living a gentler, more fulfilled life.
Have you got the writing bug now?
Phillipa Sage: Definitely – you’ll hear more from me soon! I realised writing has been an unfulfilled passion and I’m constantly thinking of stories to share.
Living the High Life – JC and I aboard a superyacht, Sydney, Australia.
All Picture CREDITS – Phillipa Sage
I have gained so much confidence in this latest chapter of my life. Now it feels like a whole new one is beginning -anything could happen!
Phillipa’s book Off-Road with Clarkson, Hammond & May: Behind The Scenes of Their Rock and Roll World Tour is out now.
To buy this book click here.