Vicky Butler-Henderson

Speed and Fifth Gear's Vicki Butler-Henderson seem somewhat impossible to separate.

Speed and Top Gear's Vicki Butler-Henderson seem somewhat impossible to separate. Her dad was a racer, her grandad was a racer, her brother is a racer and there's few things Vicki herself can't do in something with an engine and wheels. We only managed to squeeze our interview in for a few hours on her one day off, before she drove away up North (obviously at 200mph) to test a load of bikes for Top Gear. Yes indeed, having tested every modern car to hell and back, Miss Henderson is now having a crack at motorcycles. Gentlemen, stand by...

Aren't you sick of cars yet?
Not at all. I love cars, absolutely love them. Occasionally on a social night I might get sick of talking about them, but I adore driving. Get me on my own in a car with a fabulous engine and a great chassis and off I go.

Go where? You can't drive above 50mph on any roads in Britain anymore!
You can still go mad on certain roads in the UK if you know where to go. I've got an amazing road near me - but I can't say where exactly because there's so much police heat there as it is.

Not that you would condone speeding, of course?
I agree with speed limits outside schools and in towns. I think that's absolutely fair and proper. However, being done for doing 85mph on a motorway is a little bit silly. But I tell you what, if every person wanted to go on a proper driving course, I would happily take them out and just show them proper observation and driving skills, which are generally diabolical in the average driver. We're a car-loving nation, but we're not by and large the best drivers...

So are you a driver first and a journalist second?
Yes, I suppose so. Passed my car test when I was 17 but I'd been racing on tracks since I was 11 years-old. I was racing 100cc karts every weekend from 11 to 17. I used to be into horses when I was a sprog because my dad's a farmer. But he also used to be in the British karting team and he had an old chassis which he stuck a lawnmower engine in, and I used to toodle up and down the lanes at home. And then I thought, "I've had enough of four legs, give me four wheels."

And now you find yourself at the top of your game in a largely male environment...

It's great being a lone girl in a man's world! I do still get a bit of resentment from guys about me being faster than them. When I was a roadtester on car magazines it took a couple of years for people to realise that I could really drive. And then again when I went into Top Gear, it was like, "what is a bird doing on Top Gear? What does she know about driving?" Until they've seen me sling a car sideways into a corner and then they seem to shut up.

So just how much do you know about motorcycles, then?
Not too much at the moment! But I have always, always had a thing about motorbikes. A big, fat rear tyre and big noise really does it for me. I only passed my bike test a year ago now, but it's my new baby, the new thing in my life. I love it to bits. I was testing a Honda CBR600 and Suzuki SV650 for Top Gear, and normally I'm a rev-monster - I love to scream the engine in a car. But I found it too much on the CBR, it was just so manic, 12,000rpm and counting. I preferred the Suzuki because you can get at the power more easily, so I bought a Ducati 750 Monster.

Any wheelies as yet?
I have pulled a wheelie on my Monster, but it was totally by accident! Tried pulling away too quickly and up came the front. I was so gobsmacked I didn't know what to do. I was all red and flushed after that little incident...

Can we expect to see more bikes on Top Gear now that you're getting involved, then?
That's the plan, for sure. Initially I think you'll just see me crashing a lot, though. I personally think that Top Gear should be seen as an entertainment programme - and me falling off bikes every week would be high entertainment for everyone!

Does a fast bike blow your skirt up more than a fast car now?
They're different. There's nothing like being on a bike. it's so fantastic. Turn the phone off, don't speak to anyone or anything, and all your senses come alive. On a bike, you are so much more aware of the speed because there's nothing protecting you, you're just sat there in the howling wind. I guess that part of the rush is knowing that if you did fall off, you could be in serious trouble. I haven't been very fast yet, about 110mph on my Monster, which was plenty quick enough for me. But I did 160mph once on the back of a YZR500 with Randy Mamola around Jerez circuit in Spain. That was just awesome. Honestly, if he had gone any faster I would have lost grip - I was hanging on with just my fingertips anyway, and my helmet was pushed right up under my chin. Unbelievable, the lean angles in the corners. A fast car is a less insane but more drawn-out pleasure...

Let's talk sex. Which is sexier - a Ducati 996R or a Ferrari 360?
If you offered me a Ducati or a Ferrari, at the moment I'd have to take the Ferrari because I can drive it no problem. I'd cack myself on the bike!

Would you shag a fat, ugly bloke with a posh motor?
No way, Jose! That is just all bollocks, I'm afraid. It's the car, it's not whoever's in it. For me, I don't care what a car looks like if it drives well, and I certainly don't care who's driving it. Just not interested.

Who's the tougher man - a car racer or a bike racer?
Hm. I'd imagine that the levels of fitness between an F1 driver and a WSB rider should be similar, but the bike boys have got a wonderful bad image that they don't train every day, go down the nightclubs pulling birds, etc. And those boys are using everything as they climb all over the bikes. In a car you do just sit there, it's true, although it is bloody hard work in a race. But I love men in leathers, oh God, sooo sexy. The awful thing is, as soon as they take their helmets off, it's generally like 'oh dear, what a shame...'

How are you currently coping with being Britain's most famous road tester?
God, I'm not famous. I'm just me. I went out with Jeremy Clarkson the other day and he was mobbed, I mean mobbed. I'm not frightfully tall so I can get away with it. The one thing that lets me down is my voice. If I wasn't working for Top Gear I'd have a series of my own 0898 numbers! As soon as I open my mouth, people turn around and stare, so I scuttle around town mute. I just nod and shake my head for yes and no!

Come on, bet you love it really. All the fuss and attention...
I was never fussed about being on the telly, honest, it had never crossed my mind. I was a very, very happy girl being a roadtester on a car magazine. I was offered this opportunity and took it and thank God it paid off. Amazing really. It is flattering that people recognise you, at least it means that someone is watching the show! But I always get recognised at service stations at 6am looking rough as arse on the way to a job and I end up apologising for my appearance. And then I think, well what the hell am I supposed to look like? Some glamour puss?

Can you be a real bitch sometimes?
No, I'm never a bitch. Sometimes I can lose my temper when I'm just tired, and when people aren't doing their jobs properly I can get dead stroppy. It's so rare that I lose my rag completely, though.
I would describe my temper as volcanic - one quick eruption, and then that's it.