Top Gear Festival: From a Paying Customer’s View

Many reviews are incredibly skewed by the media due to the vastly different experience the public has in comparison. Take for example last year’s Johannesburg International Motorshow which I attended on both the media day and as a paying member of the public. On the media day with very few people around, it made seeing what you wanted very easy. In addition with so few people at the event it meant you could chat to anyone very easily and because they knew each person was there to report, the helpfulness was ramped up. As the paying public though, fighting the crowds and clamouring for attention gave a very different experience.

So what about the Top Gear Festival? Well this year was very different to last, and I was there just as all of you, a paying member of the public, with no fancy press conference interviews, being whisked from event to event, clouding the real experience that any hard working ticket payer would have had.

Walking into the festival you could feel the electric buzz around you as everyone was brimming with excitement and enthusiasm. Each year those crazy boys from BBC’s Top Gear have brought new and innovative editions to the traditional Top Gear formula, which has kept the live show fresh and original. I for one couldn’t wait to see what was in store for us this year. Strolling along the promenade with a throng of festival goers, the first thing that hit me was the unmistakeable sound of a V8 supercar being thrashed around Durban’s street circuit, last seen in action at the A1 Grand Prix. Brilliant stuff, this is going to be driving nirvana. Making a beeline towards the a joining bridge separating us from the action, only to be told it’s for gold grandstand ticketholders – which was a bit of a slap to the face.

Bummer, foiled. Never mind though, there’ll be plenty of other places to check out the action. We’ll just find thegrandstand for us regular plebs. Unfortunately there was only one problem. Well two actually if you count being arrested by the Axe promo girls, although to be honest I’m not entirely sure that can be called a problem as such. No in fact one quick wander round the woefully signposted grounds, being denied entry to multiple grandstands and one officious message over the intercom later, the horrible truth dawned on people. You simply could not get a seat on and grandstand whatsoever.

The feeling of despondency written across most festival goer’s faces was exactly the same as my own. The only way to describe it is this. Imagine that once again you are five and a half years old (this of course being particularly easy to myself as that is in fact my actual age – I’ve just had a couple of early growth spurts). Now imagine that your parents take you to the world’s greatest candy store where you are allowed to run riot – a whole day of sweeties. And now imagine that all the sweeties are placed on top of incredibly high shelves where you can only get the most fleeting of glances. Congratulations you now know what it felt like to be a bronze ticket holder at the Top Gear Festival – and certainly it’s a less than ideal a position to be in.

So how did you get to see the metaphorical sweeties I hear you ask? Well first off you had to have bought a minimum of Gold or Silver class tickets for the show. Don’t get all excited thinking that got you in though. All that did was qualify you to buy grandstand tickets. Then to make matters worse there were gold, silver and bronze levels of those too.

Oh and did you want to get in to see the actual world record attempt? Think that by buying a gold show and gold grandstand ticket you’d get in to that did you? Fat chance sunshine, if you want to see that we’ll require one more swipe of that credit card please.

So I’m sorry (actually I’m not), but with all this not being advertised particularly well right from the start and requiring people to buy ticket after ticket to see each little segment of the show, it just feels like a complete con. In fact it almost feels like I’ve been signed up for one of those religions requiring you to pay more money to become more enlightened. This is made especially worse as last year’s show at Kyalami was one ticket and no matter what ticket you bought everything was available in some way shape or form. I really don’t have a problem cordoning off the best view points or areas for a VIP section, but not the entire ground.

The kicker to all of this is that the one spot we found to actually view the magnificence of the current Mercedes-Benz W03 F1 car screaming its way around Durban, rather than just hearing it, was outside the grounds at a corner where anyone regardless of paying for a ticket could go watch.

Now don’t get me wrong there were many many highlights, the people at the Shell stand for example were all genuinely friendly and good fun. Seeing some of the Top Gear creations from over the seasons up close and personal was brilliant, especially as you could get to sit in all of them no questions asked. Indeed the show itself was completely top notch and certainly the best one to date. Those crazy Britt’s just keep getting better and better, with flame throwers, bike stuntmen and seeing Richard Hammond bowled along in a shopping cart by an Aston Martin DBS could not be missed.

Just don’t treat the South African public like a cash cow. We don’t like it.

Nick Hodgson

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