Learner from Hell sees her life flash before her eyes

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The Independent Online
Maureen Rees, the woman whose televised driving lessons captivated the nation, saw her life flash before her eyes yesterday.

But it was not because of another close shave in her beloved Lada, called Betsy. Instead, her new-found celebrity status had earned the attention of Michael Aspel, the host of the television programme This Is Your Life, and the big red book in which he tells the life stories of his hapless victims.

Mrs Rees, 55, from Grangetown, Cardiff, and her husband, David, were driving in west London and stopped at a car-wash

Mr Aspel intervened as they were heading for the exit. "Oh no, oh my God, you swines," was Mrs Rees's reaction to the news that she was being whisked to a TV studio for another dose of media attention. A BBC spokesman said: "She was gobsmacked. She didn't want to drive to the studios - she left that to David."

Mrs Rees, a cleaner and grandmother, became an overnight star when the BBC documentary The Driving School showed her desperate attempts to pass her test.

Dubbed the "learner driver from Hell," her adventures gripped viewers and sent the series to number four in the television ratings charts, with a weekly audience of more than 12 million.

The programme showed her flirting with death and disaster - including nearly running over her husband. The nation divided over whether Mr Rees was a saint for tolerating her appalling driving or an unfair bully for the way he hectored her, at times grabbing the steering wheel from her hands.

She eventually passed her test at the seventh try, after spending pounds 5,000 on lessons.

Like Eddie the Eagle and his ill-fated skiing exploits, Mrs Rees's grand display of ineptitude has proved a launch pad to national fame.

The car maker Lada was so delighted with the publicity generated by her efforts in her old car that they presented her with a new model. And she has been snapped up to be a television presenter herself for a new daytime show, the Really Useful Show, in which she will be learning car maintenance.

Yet Mrs Rees maintains a down-to-earth attitude to this turn in events. "I am just a regular housewife with a face like the back of a bus. I'm just an ordinary housewife but I've got personality and that's what people want to see."