Vicki Butler-Henderson and the Ferrari 458 Spider
Vicki Butler-Henderson and the Ferrari 458 Spider

This week I’m delighted to share my interview with the legendary Vicki Butler-Henderson! A motoring journalist, racing driver and broadcaster for over 20 years, Vicki continues to be a reliable and entertaining face of motoring on TV with credits including hit shows like Top Gear and Fifth Gear. She has also been a road tester for Auto Express and What Car? magazines, and written for more titles including The Sunday Times and The Daily Telegraph.

When I was growing up, there weren’t many women writing about cars in the magazines or reviewing them on TV. But there was Vicki Butler-Henderson. Vicki was my childhood hero. I remember seeing her on the cover of Top Gear magazine behind the wheel of the then very new Honda S2000. I think it was 1999. That image was very powerful for me. Role models do matter.

So when Vicki accepted my invitation request, it really made my day! In this interview, Vicki shares a special moment on set in Italy with the Ferrari 458 Spider. I watched the clip and I can see why. I’ve included the YouTube clip of this segment from Fifth Gear. Watch it. I think it really shows why Vicki is a star.

Vicki, for many fans in the UK and Ireland you have been the First Lady of automotive in print and TV for over 20 years. How does it feel to look back on this career?

VBH: I feel incredibly lucky to have a career I love. Racing karts from the age of 12, and my love of writing, enabled me to become a motoring journalist – and that was something that was never an option at a University when I left school! I have learned everything I know by being ‘on the job’ and I am so grateful to my father who opened the motorsport door to me when I was young. It also helps to be blessed with a little bit of driving talent, too. I am so happy to do what I do!

Vicki and the Honda S2000
Vicki and the Honda S2000

You bring energy to the screen that’s very authentic and inspiring. What’s the secret to communicating cars on screen?

VBH: Passion! Driving cars is what I totally love, and I have tested thousands of cars over the years so it is relatively easy for me to have the knowledge to rate a new car against its rivals. When I drive a car on TV, I tune in to the car’s characteristics and abilities and just put that into words. It also helps if I’m sliding around a race track because that always makes me smile!

We know you also like to race cars. What are your top driving tips?

VBH: I have three simple things that you can start doing as soon as you next get into your car.

  1. Keep your hands in the ‘quarter to three’ position on the steering wheel almost all of the time. Glue them there! It will mean that you always know which way the wheels are pointing (useful on black ice if you skid, for example), and in time this will also help you to be better connected to the tyres and understand what the tyres are telling you through your hands – the road’s surface, its undulations, camber etc.
  2. Lift your eyes! Look much further down the road than you are doing now to get more information about any upcoming hazards. This will give you a bit more time to react and to keep yourself safe – which is very important!
  3. Coming up to roundabouts, or country bends, do all your braking in as straight a line as possible. Change down the gears whilst you are braking, as well. This will then leave your hands free to turn the wheel to get round the roundabout/corner, and your feet free to start accelerating as you reach your exit point.

Just keep practising these 3 things as they are the foundations to becoming a better driver!

You became the owner of one of the last limited edition Ford Focus RS Heritage Edition models. The Focus RS is one of my personal favourites too! Can you explain why you chose it?

VBH: You have great taste! I adore any Ford with a RS badge because it represents the sportiest version of its type. The Focus is a great car for me because its handling is so much fun, and also it is a great family car with its rear doors and decent cabin space. The Heritage is rare, so its exclusivity is an added bonus, but the best thing about it is the noise – it pops and bangs! Perfect for the school run…

You must have had many great experiences behind the wheel, testing cars. Which cars and experiences really stand out for you?

VBH: Two highlights were when I was a presenter for Top Gear.

One was when I was testing a Formula One car for Top Gear – albeit a F1 car that was a few years old by the time I got behind the wheel.

The other is going skywards in a Jaguar jet fighter plane – a tenuous link to a car (Jaguar!) when we needed something to test against Aston Martin’s latest car.

I have had many more wonderful adventures as well with Fifth Gear, particularly when I was almost brought to tears (of joy!) testing a Ferrari 458 Spider on the roads above Ferrari’s HQ in Italy (on You Tube if you fancy a watch).

How do you feel about electric cars?

VBH: They are coming! The absolutely best thing about them is their instant torque – put your foot on the throttle and they pull away from a standstill with gusto! I just wish that the recharging infrastructure in the UK was brilliant. Charging stations need to be as frequent as petrol stations, or more so, and we need to be able to charge batteries as quickly as it currently takes to fill a tank of petrol, at the very least. Waiting at a petrol pump is a pretty dull experience as it is.

What advice would you give to anyone trying to start and progress in a career in motoring journalism?

VBH: Start by writing about cars – motorsport, classic cars, anything that you are passionate about – for your local parish paper or newspaper. Anything to get printed on paper or online! Then offer yourself as a work experience bod for a car magazine and make yourself indispensable!

When can we next see you on TV?

VBH: All the time on catch-up! ITV4 is also often running ’The Car Years’ which is a lovely 6-part show about the best two cars from six different years. Also, a new Fifth Gear should be on air in its annual autumn slot on Quest/Discovery.

Vicki and the Maserati Quattroporte
Vicki and the Maserati Quattroporte

Thanks to Vicki for taking part in this interview!

By Caroline Kidd