Esther Rantzen CBE
I’ve been driving for nearly 50 years. I learnt to drive in my 20’s. Whilst at university we went everywhere on bikes and so I didn’t need a car.
Who taught you to drive and do you have any particular memories of your driving test?
My driving instructor was a very odd man, but he got everyone through their test. I passed on the 1st attempt and immediately after the test, I got back to my instructor proudly bearing my pass certificate and he looked at me and said “there you are, it’s not only the pretty ones who pass!”
What was your first car?
It was a second-hand, pale blue mini. I have fond memories of this car but reliability was so different in those days, I was never entirely sure it was going to start!
What car do you currently drive and why that particular model?
A black Toyota Prius. I’ve been driving Toyota’s for years as I love their reliability and think they’re outstanding. I‘ve owned this car for 3 years and have to say that at first, I didn’t take to it. When I first stopped at traffic lights and it went completely silent, I thought it had stalled but all it had done was switch to electric. I’m used to it now and adore it and wouldn’t go back. Having said that, I drive into London most days and Boris is contemplating removing my particular model of Hybrid car from exemption to the congestion charge, so I may have to consider an alternative.
An aspect of electric cars which may need to be addressed is their silence. I’ve noticed that when driving through a pedestrianised area of London like Covent Garden and wondered why all these people are just wandering around in front of me, it’s because they can’t hear me!
Do you have a Personalised number plate?
No. I think they’re naff!
Who keeps your car clean?
A really nice car-wash that I go out of my way to use because they are so pleasant.
What would be your dream car?
I don’t really dream about cars. I’m quite practical with regard my approach to cars. I have dream gardens, holidays, clothes and jewellery but my car gets me from A to B. I’d love to explore South America and I’m also contemplating a visit to the Antarctic. I love cruising and I’ve come across a cruise that does both.
What would we find in your glove box?
I haven’t looked in my glove box for ages but probably the service record, a pair of sunglasses and a CD.
What do you like to listen to in the car?
I like classic music and ‘Magic’, which is an easy listening radio station. I enjoy most types of music except heavy-metal.
Can you pick out a memorable car journey and say why it was so?
I’m not a particular fan of touring holidays in a car as I find them I find it quite exhausting and claustrophobic. I came to an agreement with Desmond my late husband that we should limit our travelling to 200 miles day, say till lunchtime and then stop and explore wherever you are.
Some years ago, we drove through the South of France staying in various Chateaus’ which was absolutely glorious.
Who would you most like to have as a passenger on a long journey?
I could quite enjoy chauffeuring Bill Bryson around as I admire his eye for detail and humour.
Who would you least like to have as a passenger?
Jeremy Clarkson as I’m quite sure he would criticise my driving.
How would you describe your driving ability?
Well the Institute of Advanced Motorists thinks I’m am a good driver. I passed their test about a year ago and am now a proud member of their institute.
What things annoy you about other drivers?
I don’t like aggression, tailgating and people using mobile phones.
I’m sorry to say but I am ‘that notorious driver’ who likes to drive in the centre lane of a motorway. I was bought up in the US where they think changing lanes is the most dangerous manoeuvre you can do. In America you pick a lane and stick to it. I take the view that the inside lane is for people who are driving more slowly or exiting the motorway and the outside lane is for overtaking. If I’m doing neither then I stick to the middle lane and stick to the speed limit. Having said that, if I see a car come up behind me and the inside lane is free, I will then move over.
Do you think there is sufficient enforcement of the rules of the road?
On the whole yes. I’m particularly intrigued to see the effectiveness of the average speed camera on motorways. Drivers noticeably slow down when there are obvious cameras around.
I think Traffic Police are a different breed; they’re macho and probably have targets to reach. Having said that, they do vary as I’ve also encountered some terrific traffic police. Some years back I got stopped for failing to notice some pedestrians who had stepped onto a Zebra crossing. It was an honest mistake. The Policeman who stopped me was particularly aggressive which upset me. I elected to appear in court to express my views on his aggressive behaviour. Although I didn’t win, I felt much better afterwards. I feel strongly that it is important for all police to adopt a civil attitude to the public. Aggression will only serve to alienate people against the police.
How clean is your licence?
It’s clean at the moment, but over the years it hasn’t been quite so clean. I’ve accumulated quite a collection of points but mainly for speeding under 40 mph when moving from a 30mph zone into a 40mph zone.
If you were Roads Minister for a day what would you change?
I think there’s too much signage. At times, I think it is quite difficult for motorists to locate those that matter. I’m not too fond of mini roundabouts either as some of them are located in the most ludicrous of places
Could you manage your life if your car were taken away from you?
No. My car takes me everywhere, I use it everyday. My Prius is 3 years old and has done 45,000 miles which I believe is above average.
Do you still enjoy driving?
I’ve never have enjoyed driving ever. I’ve always regarded it as the most dangerous thing I do since I gave up smoking. Having said that, modern cars are so comfortable and have superb sound systems fitted that compared to other methods of travel, driving can be quite enjoyable.
What is your top driving tip?
Keep calm and carry on!
A little bit more about Esther Rantzen OBE
Esther Louise Rantzen CBE (born 22 June 1940) is an English journalist and television presenter who is best known for presenting the BBC television series That’s Life! and for her work for various charitable causes.
She began her television career as a clerk and obtained her first production job working as a researcher on the BBC. Having worked as a researcher on a number of current affairs programmes, she moved to the award-winning BBC 2 documentary series, Man Alive.
Following this, in 1968 Esther co-presented the BBC 1 consumer show, Braden’s Week. In 1972, after Bernard Braden decided to return to his native Canada, the BBC replaced Braden’s Week with That’s Life! with Esther as the main presenter. That’s Life! ran on BBC 1 for 21 years (1973 to 1994) becoming one of the most popular shows on British television, reaching audiences of more than 18 million – even more than Coronation Street.
The show’s various health and safety campaigns resulted in nationwide changes; new laws were even introduced as a result of the show’s campaigns, such as tarmac and concrete playground surfaces around the country being dug up and replaced with safer surfaces. Another campaign led to a change in the law, enforcing the use of seat belts for children sitting in the backs of cars. Alongside the more serious reports, the show still maintained more light-hearted features such as talented pets, including Prince, the talking dog, who said “sausages”, a table-tennis playing cat and a counting horse.
In addition to her television career, as a patron of many charities, she mainly concentrates on working for children or disabled people. Most of her voluntary effort is for ChildLine and as a fund-raiser and spokesperson for children’s rights. For over twenty years she chaired ChildLine’s Board of Trustees, and since ChildLine merged with the NSPCC, she has served as a Trustee of the NSPCC, as well as being President of ChildLine.
In 1991, Rantzen was created an Officer of the Order of the British Empire: (OBE) for services to broadcasting, She was raised to Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) on 17 June 2006 for services to children.
She has received a number of professional awards, including the Lifetime Achievement Award from Women in Film and Television and was the first woman to receive a Dimbleby Award from BAFTA for factual presentation.
She writes regularly for the Daily Mail, the Mail on Sunday, the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Express on social issues. She is the author of several books including an autobiography, “Esther”.
Esther was even honoured in the BBC Comedy series ‘Bottom’ when she had a cocktail named after her. The cocktail consisted of Ouzo, Pernod, marmalade and salt.