Stars and Their Cars – Valerie Singleton OBE
Valerie Singleton, OBE is best known as a presenter of the popular children’s series, Blue Peter. She joined the BBC in 1961 as a continuity announcer and in 1962 joined Blue Peter where she stayed until 1972. Since then, Valerie has appeared in many other programmes including the BBC’s Nationwide and the late night news programme, Tonight. She’s also hosted a variety of other programmes, notably a ten year stint on Radio 4’s PM and BBC 2’s, The Money Programme.
In 1994, she was awarded the OBE for services to children’s television
She is now a travel writer and actively involved in Simplicity Computers, who offer custom made software designed to make computing more accessible, especially older users who’ve never used a computer before.
1. How long have you been driving and who taught you to drive?
I started driving in my late teens and had lessons from good old ‘British School of Motoring’. I was working at the time and wasn’t able to learn in one go. I tended to have lessons in short bursts. It must have worked because I went on to pass my test at the first attempt!
2. What was your first car?
I’ve always been a fan of convertibles and my first car was a beige, soft-top Morris Minor. It was one of the older models with a split windscreen and I loved it!
I then succumbed to a white MGB which I also became rather attached to. It was the 1970’s and I was hosting a consumer feature on Nationwide. It was around the time British Leyland were going through a bad patch on reliability and quality issues. On one episode, we were doing an item on complaints surrounding British Leyland and I happened to mention that I had owned an MGB for several years and that despite the bad press, I was very happy with it. The next morning I received a phone call from the press office of British Leyland to say that they were rather interested in my comments about the MGB and would I like to replace it with a new one!!
3. What car do you currently drive and why that particular model?
I was going shopping one day and spotted this little green sports car in a local garage. I stopped to have a look and couldn’t resist buying it and am now the proud owner of a BMW Z3.
Well I washed it myself this morning when I knew you were coming to visit! Normally though, living here in the country, there’s not much point in trying to keep a car clean. The roads are filthy most of the time. A while back, I did discover a local man who offers a home valet service and does a really thorough job. During the summer months I tend to treat myself, or should I say the car, to a spring clean and hope it doesn’t rain afterwards!
5. What would be your dream car?
Probably the Chrysler Sebring, an American sports car. I hired one in Florida once and thought it was wonderful. They are very rare in this country and I’ve only ever seen a couple here since.
6. What would we find in your glove box?
Not very much as there’s not a lot of space!
7. Can you pick out a memorable car journey and say why it was so?
I love driving and several journeys spring to mind. One of the earliest memories was in my Morris Minor. A friend and I drove to initially to Paris then Venice, down to Yugoslavia, through Greece and Italy then home again. We mostly camped along the way and one of the things I remember most were the hairpin bends on the mountains. It was quite an adventure.
I also never tire of driving along the A303, especially past Stonehenge where there are beautiful views in the background. There’s a road in Yorkshire that sticks in my memory, the one that links Kendal with Haworth. I also love driving in Scotland. I was in Oban once, on the west coast and remember driving back across to the east and then south along the A9. It was wonderful!
8. What do you like to listen to in the car?
I have a wide mix of musical tastes and have recently bought a Lady Gaga album. I love putting the roof down and playing my music very loudly. I’m also a big fan of Radio 4 and 5 live.
9. Who would you most like to have as a passenger on a long journey?
I think the Empress Josephine would be an interesting lady to chat to. She was a true survivor in that she was born in to the aristocracy, spent time in prison where she very nearly got beheaded and ended up married to Napoleon Bonaparte!
I’ve interviewed lots of lovely people over the years and if I could choose someone from more recent times it would probably be someone like Oliver Reed or Audrey Hepburn.
10. Who would you least like to have as a passenger?
That’s an easy one, Sir Alan Sugar. I interviewed him once and found him a rather unpleasant and unfriendly fellow. It was not just me either, when he left the studio, we all just looked at each other in disbelief!
11. Would you describe yourself as a good passenger?
Yes, I love being a passenger. When I get driven around I get to appreciate the scenery more and notice things like beautiful houses I didn’t know were there.
12. Have you ever experienced a car breakdown away from home?
I was on a trip to Finland some years ago and found myself as a passenger on a snowmobile. We’d been out all day on the frozen wastelands and were heading back to our base. We reached the top of a hill when all of a sudden I found myself being tossed off my seat and tumbling along in the snow. Thankfully neither of us were hurt!
I think I’m a good driver although I’m loathed to say that (tapping the wooden table) in case something awful happens! Only a few days ago, I was driving into town and a man on a bicycle suddenly pulled out in front of me. I braked immediately and managed to avoid colliding into him. I was so pleased with the speed of my reaction and thought to myself, ‘not bad for a woman in her 70’s!’
14. What things annoy you about other drivers?
Tractor drivers who don’t slow down. There have been many occasions when I’ve been forced to almost drive up the side of a hedge to avoid a head-on collision. I don’t mind backing up to let them pass but it’s when they’re speeding along the narrow country lanes and just keep going that makes me so angry!
15. If you were Roads Minister for a day what would you change?
Although the use of hand held mobile phones is illegal in cars, I fail to see why looking at Sat Nav screens whilst driving is any safer. Reading a map is much more fun, although not whilst driving along of course!
Some signage is rather bizarre too. There’s a stretch of road near to where I live where a 30mph zone ends and a derestricted stretch begins. Within a few yards past the derestricted sign there’s a sharp bend and beyond that a narrow bridge. It’s so dangerous, I don’t see why the derestricted zone cannot be moved to just past the bridge!!
16. How could you manage your life if your car were taken away from you?
It would be extremely difficult, if not horrendous. I don’t know what I’d do. Living here in deepest rural Dorset, owning car is essential. If I couldn’t drive, I’d definitely have to move.
17. How clean is your licence?
I’m pleased to say it’s completely clean although I’m not too keen on answering questions like that as its tempting fate!
Valerie’s chosen charity is The Back-up Trust which was founded in 1986 by the former British and European Freestyle Champion and James Bond stunt double, Mike Nemesvary, who’s life was devastated when he broke his neck during a training session
Today the Trust helps and inspires people with a spinal cord injury to realise their full potential.