For many, the name Perry McCarthy may not ring an immediate bell, but 'The Stig' would.

McCarthy was the original Stig on the hit show Top Gear between 2002-2003, featuring on three seasons of the programme. 

However, he was an F1 driver himself, racing for Andrea Moda back in 1992, before moving onto the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

On behalf of OLBG, I got the chance to interview McCarthy and talk about his role as the Stig, as well as his short stint in Formula 1.

Q. When I think of Top Gear I instantly think of this famous character, but how did you actually become the Stig?

"My career in motor racing had been really up and down so I wrote a book called 'Flat out, Flat broke' and at this big book launch in London, lots of friends in Formula 1 attended, and so did Jeremy Clarkson.

"It was actually there that he said Top Gear had been off air for a long time, we are going to bring it back and we have an idea for you!

"Jeremy said you are going to be silent, anonymous,  and dressed all in black - we want to call you 'the gimp'. 

"I told him no chance! We then settled on "The Stig'. I then chose this Star Wars looking crash helmet and played the role like the Stig didn't understand food, people, lifestyles, anything. Let me sit in a car and go drive!

"It proved so popular! It went to 215 different territories and the question 'who is the Stig?' was in the top 10 questions asked on Google.  Just behind 'Is there a God?' and ' Am I pregnant?'"

Q. How hard was it to keep secret? Were there any close calls where you nearly gave it away?

"No but the thing is people, especially inside motor racing, actually guessed it was me pretty quickly! Probably because of my bandy legs and I always used to stand with my arms folded anyway.

"Also from my height and geographically. Everyone knew it was at Dunsfold, you're not going to be choosing a driver who lives in Scotland or France. 

"After saying France, with the celebrity guests I would often put on a very big French accent to try and disguise myself!"

Q. Jeremy Clarkson was, like you said, the host at the time and he's a very marmite character, what was he like for you to work with?

"I am one of the big Clarkson fans. I think he's a very very bright guy, talented journalist, superb writer and can make things funny and informative.

"These were the sort of mainstays that made Top Gear such a success. Jeremy and I have always got on but I had my own job to do anyway out on the track.

"If something surprised me, in a good way or a bad way, I would tap him on the shoulder and tell him.

"But the relationship between the three of them [Clarkson,  James May and Richard Hammond] was the big thing for the show, my section of the show too, but the interplay between those three made it work.

"It was like making a dish and putting three ingredients together that you aren't sure if it's going to come out good, but it came out as a masterpiece!"

Q. So we'll go back to your F1 career in 1992, how did you get into this and when you finally did, how did it feel?

Perry McCarthy during Spanish Grand Prix qualifying in 1992 - (Photo by Mike Hewitt via Getty Images)
Perry McCarthy during Spanish Grand Prix qualifying in 1992 - (Photo by Mike Hewitt via Getty Images)

"My ambition as soon as I started motor racing was always F1. Whether that was naive or stupid, I always felt I was a Formula 1 driver.

"The biggest hurdle most drivers face is sponsorship. It might even be the most finically dependent sport on the planet.  

"But I am fairly stubborn and confident so it did take a really long time and included working two and a half years on oil rigs just to get the money together. 

"So I started very late and as soon as I did I met Bernie Ecclestone and he said 'Son, you are 21, you have no money, your family have no money, you have no experience, your chances of making it are about a million to one'.

"So I had to wait my turn, by the time I went in I was 31, but then so was Damon Hill! We both went in together and both driving for a rubbish team. 

"But we were too small and too bad. It was slightly heartbreaking because it had taken me 10 years on track to get there.

"But it is nice to look at the pictures of me on an oil rig in freezing conditions, to then seeing me in an F1 car at the Monaco Grand Prix."

Q. I've been told you were quite good friends with Michael Schumacher, what was he like?

"That's not fully correct. I knew Michael, and we met a bunch of times but we weren't in each other company long enough to probably call ourselves friends. 

"I always got on with him and always liked him, and I hope he liked me!  

"There are so many positives to say about him. It's quite well known that he could behave badly on track,  but there is also so many amazing things about the bloke!"