Stig was bullied and threatened

Ben, 35, spent seven years as the crash-helmeted Top Gear driver – an icon for legions of fans who were never told his real identity.

He finally decided to write a book about his experiences on the BBC’s hit motoring show, fearing he was about to be dumped because too many people had discovered his secret.

Ben says that after he told bosses of his plan he was “bullied” and “threatened” – with chiefs warning him he could “lose everything” if he talked.

Earlier this month the BBC lost a High Court fight to stop publication of his autobiography The Man In The White Suit, which revealed his Stig role.

Amazingly, sports car star Ben, from Bristol, insists the BBC had already helped “out” him in one of their OWN magazines.

Ben, who found fame coaching celebrity drivers around a track in Top Gear’s “reasonably-priced car”, recalled: “It was November 2008 when a builder slapped a copy of the Radio Times on the breakfast table in front of me.

“‘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’.”

Married ex-soldier Ben, a dad of three who appeared on Top Gear with presenters Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May, went on:

“News spread rapidly – and it was increasingly impossible to keep it secret. Pals sworn to secrecy till 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 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 stormtrooper. 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.

But there was one key project when it became clear where my future lay. It was a chance to race as The Stig at Le Mans 24-hour race. 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.

With respect to the 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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