Mystery Monday: Vicki Butler-Henderson – I can't cook, but I can sling a car sideways!

28th August 2016
Goodwood Road and Racing

I can’t cook, my ironing is dodgy and I’m a pretty shoddy wife, but I’ve managed to get by thanks to the single talent of being able to sling a car sideways. And it’s something I wish everyone could do because it’s So. Much. Fun.


My embryonic gift was nurtured by my father, Guy, who was a teenage member of the British Karting Team. He is also a farmer, and it’s upon his knee where my passion for power started, in a tractor when I was barely old enough to talk.

Thrill-seeking was is in my blood. My grandfather, Lionel B-H, raced a Frazer Nash (British sports car) at places like Brooklands in Surrey, and although I never met him I am in awe of his mettle to blast round that banked track, in an era where cutting edge in safety was a small piece of leather strapped to your head. He would have thought HANS meant was man with a Luger.

To test my level of interest in speed, my father dusted down one of his old kart chassis and stuck a lawn mower engine on it. I drove it up and down the farm lane until it ran out of petrol. And then Dad put some more in. I was instantly hooked and off we went to my nearest kart track, Rye House in Hertfordshire, to get stuck in with a new 100cc, 80mph kart.


My first race came when I was 12 years old and was memorable for one reason – I was lapped by David Coulthard. He went on to become one the country’s top points scorers in Formula 1 whilst I went on to work for Channel 5…

After six years racing karts at club level in a time when multi-IndyCar Champion Dario Franchitti MBE was shining, and F1 Champion Jenson Button was starting out, I moved up to race cars in the Formula First single-seater series (it sat just below Formula Ford on the motorsport ladder).

I learned too soon and too hard that if your stars don’t align early on, you won’t make it into F1. And at the tender age of 18, I didn’t have that magic mix of luck and money to make it to the top. Few ever do. The odds aren’t great.

So I got a proper job. Well, I became a journalist on various car magazines, culminating in being Road Tester for both Auto Express and What Car?


And then in the late 1990s, I heard Top Gear TV was looking for ‘a bird who could drive’, so I went for an audition and once they’d scraped the bottom of the bucket, there I was. And until a few months ago I was the most recent female presenter of the show.

Filming with Jeremy Clarkson, Tiff Needell and Quentin Willson was a hoot from start to finish. Larking around in cars on disused airfields, smoking tyres (Tiff and I), Marlbough Reds (the others) – well, it was the best job in the world.

It came to an end when the BBC cancelled the show soon after the millennium, but then Channel 5 launched Fifth Gear and my best job in the world continued. As it does today. We can’t all be domestic goddesses. Thank goodness.

Images courtesy of Vicki Butler-Henderson

  • Vicki Butler-Henderson

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