Perry McCarthy might be a typical East End boy but he owes his driving career to the North Sea oil rigs.
For that’s where he earned the cash to compete in the high octane world of Formula One racing.
Unfortunately for Perry, it wasn’t to be as he ended up driving for Andrea Moda in 1992, the most unsuccessful, independent Formula One team of all time.
However, true to Perry’s own motto – whatever it takes – he didn’t give up and wrote a book about his experiences.
Flat Out, Flat Broke proved to be a catalyst to a new career for him – as the original black Stig in BBC’s Top Gear show.
People who attend the aptly-titled A Night at the Wacky Races with the original Stig at Thainstone House Hotel in Inverurie on Saturday, March 25, will discover just how entertaining Perry is.
The event will raise funds for the north east charity Funding Neuro to help find treatments for all conditions which affect the brain and spinal column.
But we caught up with him this week to get a wee taste of what people can expect on the night – and you will certainly be entertained!
For Perry is just as open about his failures as he is his success stories.
And it all started thanks to his dad blagging his way onto the oil rigs!
“Dad was a painter and decorator by trade and a bit of a charmer too,” said Perry. “We met these oil rig maintenance guys on holiday and dad convinced them that he could handle corrosion control on the rigs.
“When we got back, dad got together this rag bag group of folk and we spent two years on the rigs.
“It was a chance for me to save up enough money to get my start in the racing world.
“Well, it paid for about six races, truth be told!”
It wasn’t just a pipe dream for Perry though. A couple years earlier, the then chief executive of Brands Hatch, Les Ager, had taken him to the circuit to try it out.
Perry took up the story: “I remember it like it was yesterday. He got me in the car but he drove. He was nearly 60 at the time and I was a jack the lad so I thought he’d lost his mind a wee bit. But he was brilliant! He showed me what true precision was all about.
“Then it was my turn to show him what I could do. I didn’t make too much of an idiot of myself – he said I was the best he’d seen in 20 years.”
That spurred Perry on to go for his dream of Formula One and spending two years on the rigs to achieve that goal.
He worked his way through the junior categories of motor sport in Europe, including Formula Ford, Formula 3 and eventually F3000, as well as touring and sports car races in the US.
And in 1992 he thought he’d secured his big break with the Andrea Moda team.
Sadly, the dream turned into a nightmare.
“I never liked the idea of mediocrity – it became the worst team in grand prix history! It was a disaster.
“It’s 25 years this year since that debut in Formula One but it still has that label.
“It had taken 10 years to get there and to get saddled with that team was a cruel joke.”
Out of ten races, he didn’t get on the track for five of them, at the French Grand Prix the team didn’t turn up and for the Brazil event they didn’t finish the car in time for qualifying.
“It was a catalogue of disasters,” said Perry, “but my career had given me enough material to write a book.
“And Flat Out, Flat Broke went on to be one of the most successful racing car books of all time.”
At the book launch in the West End of London in 2002, Perry also bumped into long-standing friend Jeremy Clarkson – who hit him with another proposal.
He recalled: “He told me they were bringing Top Gear back and they had this idea for a silent racing driver who would be dressed all in black known as the Gimp.
“I said there was no way I would be doing it if they called me that!”
However, they finally settled on the Stig and Perry appeared as the original black Stig in two seasons of the show. He was sworn to secrecy – but those who knew him weren’t long in cottoning on.
Perry joked: “When I’m grumpy, I’ve got a habit of crossing my arms and I’ve got bandy legs so a couple people knew right away it was me.
“But I got two seasons out of it before they jettisoned me off an aircraft carrier at 105mph into the sea!
Luckily, Perry lived on to tell his incredible story!
Night will help Funding Neuro
A Night at the Wacky Races with the Original Stig, Perry McCarthy, will be held at Thainstone House Hotel, Inverurie, on Saturday, March 25, with tickets on sale now, priced £100.
You can enjoy a unique insight into his television career, rise to Formula One, some misadventures at 200 miles per hour and comic sketches on Michael Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton, Kimi Raikkonen, Nigel Mansell, Murray Walker and, of course, Jeremy Clarkson.
There will also be dancing to the Silver City Soul Revue band, great food and great company.
So place your bets for a night to remember. It will be a truly fabulous event.
And what’s more, it will be raising vital funds for Funding Neuro so you can help save and change lives while enjoying yourself too.
In 2007, at the age of 36, Bryn Williams was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, a progressive condition affecting the part of the brain which controls movement.
The condition can cause difficulties which include tremor, stiffness and slowness of movement.
Bryn knew nothing of Parkinson’s Disease when he was diagnosed. But when he embarked on a voyage of discovery, he found that the internet was full of uninspiring and unhelpful websites.
So he founded Funding Neuro, a registered charity able to accept donations and to channel them into research that will make a difference. Since its inception it has focused on reliable methods of delivering drugs and therapeutic devices through the blood brain barrier to where they will do most good.
Ticket sales from A Night at the Wacky Races will help this north east charity. They are on sale now at www.georgewalkerevents.co.uk.