Alexei Sayle: The joy of being a celebrity tester

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Indy Lifestyle Online

I have just taken delivery of a long-term test car, a top-of-the-range Citroën C6 that I hope to be driving for at least the next six months. This era got off to a good start when, on the first day of loanership, I parked outside a Greek restaurant in the Primrose Hill district of London and almost the entire waiting staff came out to admire its distinctive lines, which evoke the great Citroën limousines of the Sixties and Seventies, and to tell me what a beautiful car they thought it was.

This is the sort of thing manufacturers hope will happen when they lend out cars to journalists and celebrities on a long-term basis; that members of the public will see their vehicle in the ownership of someone who either they recognise or who looks like they know about cars, will admire both it and the driver and might in turn be inspired to buy one. Or at the very least the incident will get written about and provide vital column inches.

In the past I have experienced both long-term testership (when I used to have a regular column on a monthly motoring magazine) and celebrity sponsorship, which is when an entertainer or sportsperson is provided with a free car by a manufacturer. My sponsorship deal occurred in the Nineties when I had my own TV show and so was provided with a top-of-the-range Rover 800 Coupé completely free of charge. I was given to understand that all I had to do in return was to swan around in the car and to give the odd speech to Rover dealers at their regional conferences.

Unfortunately, it turned out that the person who was sponsoring me to drive the Rover was, in fact, a Vauxhall dealer who correctly figured that the sight of a fat Marxist erratically driving the 800 would repel their customer base, and that me turning up uninvited at sales conferences, then screaming at them from the stage about lizards, would demoralise the sales staff.

The previous long-term arrangement also did not end well. I was given a £50,000 Lexus LS 430 and all I had to do in return was to give a bland hundred-word report every month in my magazine on the experience of ownership. Unfortunately, I found it impossible to do that simple thing. The usual stuff of these reports is about breakdowns or minor accidents, but since it was a Lexus, the car never went wrong and it was so imposing that nobody ever drove into it.

Occasionally I would crash into a wall to try and get something to write about, but the LS 430 was so tough that the wall never left a mark. More than that, though, I found myself incapable of turning out a bland piece of writing. Try as hard as I might, references to Stalin, ballerinas or lizards would find themselves creeping into my reports.

It became an unwelcome task for the rest of the staff on the magazine to try to make some sense of my piece every month, and they began to generate a fair amount of resentment towards me.

Also Toyota started to wonder why they were providing a £50,000 limousine to someone who, judging from the disjointed incoherence of his monthly accounts, was having a nervous breakdown, so after nine months they took it off me.

motoring@independent.co.uk

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