Ben Collins has responded to the criticism he has received since 'outing' himself as The Stig with the forthcoming publication of his memoirs 'The Man in the White Suit' - explaining that the BBC in actual fact made it common knowledge a couple of years ago, paid him a pittance for his enforced anonymity whilst Top Gear made millions out of him and tried to 'bully' him into cancelling the book.

The Stig has achieved fame - although palpably not fortune - through teaching celebrities how to attack Top Gear's test track for the 'Star in a Reasonably-Priced Car' section of the programme. Collins took up the role of the mysterious white helmet and overalls-clad character back in 2003, after the original Black Stig - ex-grand prix ace Perry McCarthy - left the position. McCarthy then went on to detail his time as the mysterious figure in his own popular autobiography 'Flat-Out, Flat Broke'.

One of the key features of The Stig's unique aura has always been that nobody truly knew who was behind the visor - except of course, many in the automotive world had more than a solid hunch even before former British F3 and current sportscar star Collins blew the whistle last month.

In an interview with British tabloid The Sun, the 35-year-old - who performed as a stunt double for Daniel Craig in the most recent James Bond movie, Quantum of Solace - has reflected on his time spent alongside Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May on Top Gear, and the acrimonious High Court battle that followed and which he won after the BBC was refused the injunction it had sought.

The ex-soldier also recalls the moment when he began writing his book out of fear that he was about to be ditched due to too many people having discovered his secret, and the resistance and 'hostile' front he met within the Beeb when he informed the corporation of his project - with the cult motoring show's executive producer Andy Wilman warning him he 'stood to lose everything'. He goes on to accuse his erstwhile employer of hypocrisy, and counters Clarkson's angry portrayal of him as a 'greedy tw*t' [see separate story - click here].

"It was November, 2008 when a builder slapped a copy of the Radio Times on the breakfast table in front of me," he recollected. "'Sign this for me, will you?' he said. I looked at the cover. The headline was, 'Who Is The Stig?' On the front there was a big picture of The Stig, the character I had played for five years. The man posing in the suit wasn't me - I hadn't even known it was coming out. 'But I'm not the Stig,' I said. 'Sure you are - you're inside,' the builder said.

"I turned the page and there, alongside one unlikely candidate, was a picture of me. I was astonished. I was being outed by the very people I worked for - yet I knew nothing about it. Across the motoring world, many people already knew who I was - but coming without warning, this was a snowball that couldn't stop rolling. Now, because the BBC had done it, suddenly newspapers thought it was okay to write about me too. It was the same on the internet. On one search engine, 'Who is the Stig' was asked more frequently than 'What is the meaning of life?'

"News spread rapidly - and it was increasingly impossible to keep it secret. Pals sworn to secrecy until then, now thought it was okay to speak. It seemed like the beginning of the end. From the start of my time on Top Gear, I'd gone to every possible effort to ensure I wasn't discovered. I'd wear a balaclava to work and had learned to hide my car. I was even kept away from the crew who filmed the show. It was pretty intense. Between filming, I'd stay in the suit, walking around the set dressed like a storm-trooper! When it came to food, I ate in a hut by myself.

"Slowly but surely, people in the crew picked up on who I was. They began to play little tricks, saying, 'Ben, can you do this?' when my helmet was on and calling out 'Stig!' when I appeared on the show as myself. I gave it my all - even changing post offices after some bloke busted me by shouting, 'You're The Stig' in front of 25 people - but the Radio Times issue really made the difference. It caused a huge question over whether I was viable any more. Within the Top Gear team at the BBC, there seemed a change in attitude over how I'd be used.

"There was one key project when it became clear where my future lay. It was a chance to race as The Stig in the Le Mans 24 Hours. It was one of my dreams but, even as I began to talk about it, it was spelled out to me that I was expendable. I spoke to Top Gear's executive producer Andy Wilman. I felt I deserved a shot at it, but he told me that, if I didn't have a sponsor, another driver would drive as The Stig. I'd been The Stig for seven years and felt loyalty should pull in both directions, but perhaps I was na?ve.

"I'd given the show my all. The money per episode was a tenth of what people suggested, and my contract was often just for two or three months at a time. I'd have to pay for my own insurance and didn't even have a pension - yet the BBC were making millions from merchandising. I was feeling taken for granted. People seemed to have got used to me doing a stunt or a slide brilliantly. If you do it right they look easy, but they're not. Andy has since said I was the same as a Dalek or the Blue Peter dog. With respect to Dalek operators, I don't think it's quite the same thing and I thought I could leave with more respect than that.

"Over time, the show was getting so much bigger and there was no way I could do all the 'Stigging'. Without my knowledge, another driver was hired for a series of live Top Gear shows. It was becoming clear that it was either jump or be pushed. Last Christmas, I began writing my book.

"In July, I told Andy I'd written my memoirs. He was immediately concerned about what was to be in it, but I said it was a glowing reference to my time on the show. I wanted them to engage, but it got hostile. A meeting was held with Andy and BBC Worldwide. They said they didn't want it to happen and I stood to lose everything. It was stressful; I felt I was close to losing it all, but I believed what I was doing was right. I wanted freedom of speech and to continue my career without being hounded.

"From the start, it seemed ridiculous of the BBC to take it to court, yet it was easier to go after me for something virtually in the public eye. They just wanted to bully me out of contention. It is a travesty that a state-funded broadcaster gagged my free speech. It was hypocritical to suggest I'd done more to reveal myself than they had.

"A pal texted me the court verdict on the train. I punched the air. I got a feeling of a sea of doubt and worry washing off my shoulders. Now I feel they resented me for putting my head over the parapet - they wanted me to know my place, but for me loyalty always has to work both ways. My advice to whoever is the next Stig, is to watch what happened to me and make your choices."


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