Top Gear presenters Paddy McGuiness and Freddie Flintoff have been in search of some rare cars in the jungles of Brunei - with the help of a garrison of Gurkhas.
Comedian Paddy and former international cricketer Andrew “Freddie” Flintoff have been filming in the jungle for the latest episode of the hit TV car show but they could not have found their way through the tough Brunei environment without the support of a Gurkha unit who are used to negotiating the rivers and dense forests of Southeast Asia.
Paddy and Freddie took over to head up the hit TV series following Matt LeBlanc’s decision to step down from the show after series 26, and the pair join racing driver Chris Harris in the new line-up.
The comedian and cricketer have been filming in Brunei and Borneo in the latest challenge of the fast-paced and stunt-filled motor show.
Just surviving in the region’s dense jungle environment - where temperatures can soar to the mid-thirties and humidity reaches 90 per cent - can be a challenge for anyone. The Gurkhas, however, are well used to training in such conditions and the whole Garrison stepped in to help the Top Gear team on location during the filming. The boats were driven by the Queen's Gurkha Engineers, with transport by QOGLR (Queen’s Own Gurkha Logistics Regiment) and jungle advice from 2nd Battalion the Royal Gurkha Rifles.
The British Army has had a contingent of Gurkhas in Brunei since 1962, with about 2,000 personnel based in the country – so there was no better support for the Top Gear crew than the regiment’s skilled and experienced boat unit.
When it comes to surviving, the Top Gear crew were in search of some of the last surviving examples of rare cars, with a mission to hunt them down in the depths of the jungle.
They were testing out whether super-rare, super-cheap classics are ever a good idea and to find out, Paddy got himself a Matra Bagheera, France’s forgotten Seventies sports car, while Freddie went truly exotic with … a British Austin Allegro estate.
The pair then go on to challenge themselves in the jungle in a pair of knackered old cars.
In this latest of challenges in the series, Paddy discovers he is no fan of eating still-squirming sago worms, and also finds out if the Gurkhas are fans of the British powdered dessert Angel Delight.
Listen to Paddy and Freddie in interviews with Rosie Da Costa in the audio above
Paddy, best known for his roles in comedy shows The Comedy Lab and That Peter Kay Thing on Channel 4, speaking in an interview with BFBS presenter Rosie Da Costa, said: “Today we’ve been on the river with the Gurkhas, and we’ve been doing a hard landing, I think that’s what they call it, on the side, and we’ve been getting out, and we’ve been getting out and going into the jungle – trying to locate two cars, which is a Matra Bagheera, which is a very rare French car and an Austin Allegro, which is a not-so-very-rare British car.
“We’ve not found them yet, but we’re here for another couple of days so fingers crossed we’ll locate them but it’s been fantastic so far and what we’ve found in Brunei and Borneo is that the people are so friendly and willing to help – it’s been a pleasure."
Speaking of working with the Gurkhas, he said it had been “amazing,” adding: “They are so professional but they are so nice.
“They are so nice that you forget they are Gurkhas, you forget that they are soldiers.
“You’re sort of ‘hey, how’s the family?', and the next minute they are hacking down trees and stuff in the jungle and getting all soldiery on us."
Asked if he has experienced any trip like this before, he said: “I’m from Bolton, no never, this is the first time.
“For me, this is my first big foreign trip ever, so I’m seeing and doing things that I never thought I would in my lifetime.”
Cpl Nirajan Budhathoki, of the QGE (Queen’s Gurkha Engineers), said: “I was a boat operator for Paddy’s boat. Our role was to take him to the location that they wanted dropping off.
“They went on from there to get a car.
“I think he was one of the most funny guys I’ve ever met.
“He’s quite chilled out. He was a good guy.”
Sportsman Freddie, who was part of the England cricket team that won the Ashes against Australia in 2005, said: “I used to be a cricketer but now I’m one of the hosts of Top Gear - it’s been unbelievable.
“I started off, as I say, as a cricketer and if you’d told me ten years ago when I retired that I’d end up doing this show, I wouldn’t have believed you.
“But of all the jobs you could choose in TV, this is the one that everyone wants to do and I can’t believe I’m doing it.”
He said, 'like everyone,' he watched Top Gear and was “into cars” – saying how throughout his career he had bought different cars and ‘had a few in his garage’.
“When the call came in, it was like, I could describe it like that feeling as being picked for England again.
“It was right up there with anything I’ve done before.
“These trips, coming to Borneo and Brunei, it just gets better and better.
“What an amazing way to see the world and meet different people like the Gurkhas today.
“I’ve spent a little bit of time with them in the past – we went on tour and they used to look after us in places like India, especially when we went into the far north, and they are amazing.
“Obviously immensely capable as soldiers but just so nice as people.
“Today we’ve been on a boat up and down the river and then we did a hard landing on the bank and went into the jungle and even though, obviously, we’re not in a war situation, it feels very real.
“But you know, exactly, that these lads have got your back and they’re looking after us so well.
“I’ve got my camo on. However, I’m quite big, and I stand out a little bit, and I’ve got the lads next to me, the Gurkhas, and they’re a lot smaller and one of them was saying before that he’d use me as a sandbag – he’d put me out the front like a sandbag.
“And he’d just hide behind me. It’s been great.”
SSgt Rojan Rai, of the QGE in Brunei, said he gave the Top Gear team a safety briefing before they got into the boat.
“Then we took them into their objective locations, and they carried out their tasks.”
He said he had never done anything like this before and this was his first time working with a TV film crew and supervising civilians.
“Obviously, it’s a television show, it’s a proud moment.”
The Top Gear episode can be seen on Sunday on BBC Two at 8pm and on BBC iPlayer.