'A part of me is cavalier about survival... I can be a lunatic at times' | Rhod Gilbert and Angela Barnes on tackling one of the world's most dangerous roads © Ricochet Ltd

'A part of me is cavalier about survival... I can be a lunatic at times'

Rhod Gilbert and Angela Barnes on tackling one of the world's most dangerous roads

The World’s Most Dangerous Roads returns to Dave on Sunday, starting with Rhod Gilbert and  Angela Barnes travelling Italy’s most treacherous Alpine roads. It’s Rhod’s first big adventure since being treated for cancer and he’s ready for an adrenaline fuelled ride, while Angela has a different approach to danger, as they reveal in these interviews...

Angela interview

What made you decide to take part in the show, as you're clearly quite risk-averse?

Yeah I’m quite an anxious person - that might come across. I like comfort zones, they’re there for a reason. I like being in mine rather than driving on the side of a mountain.

I drive a lot so it’s not the driving. I'm a stand-up comedian on the road so I drive 30,000 miles a year. I'm not an adrenaline junkie. I always think if you need to get your buzz by throwing yourself off something or doing something dangerous, your life is too easy. You should get all the adrenaline you need from just trying to get through the day.

I still can’t believe I did it.

Had you  and Rhod spent that kind of time together before?

We’re work buddies and I used to guest quite a lot on his podcast and radio show. But we don’t live near each other, we haven't hung out and he started doing comedy quite a bit before I did so we weren't on the circuit together.

But I’ve met him over the years and we've always got on and found each other funny. And then he asked me to do this and then you go from that to spending 15 hours a day together going up the Alps. So by the end of it, we know a lot more about each other.

Did you have many arguments?

We didn’t at all and we didn’t wind each other up. I think we're quite similar. We both have ADHD and there are certain traits we have, like our slight scattiness and general bewilderment with the world.

But then Rhod is so laissez fair - he’ll go "let’s do that and see what happens". He’s the person you want in your tribe, who’ll pick the berries to see if they're poisonous. Whereas I'm the one not taking the risk. So that's where we’re completely different.

Were you confident in each other's driving skills?

No! When you drive on your own a lot in your job, it does make you a terrible backseat driver.

I paid a lot of attention to the briefings about the roads and Rhod would pretend to pay attention but was thinking about other things.

But for poor Rhod, I can drive but I'm nervous about everything…so if you’re being driven by a person who's going ‘we’re going to die!’, the passenger seat is probably not the most comfortable place to be!

Rhod and Angela

How did you feel about driving a 4WD in the Italian Alps?

I've never driven anything big before. I drive a Toyota Yaris which was probably the biggest thing I’ve driven. It was also my first time driving on the right, driving a left-hand drive. And also I've been driving an automatic for a couple of years so suddenly I had to remember to do gears again while driving on the wrong side of the road in a massive car, with the cameras pointing at me - so that was really chill!

The first time you see me driving, I’m pulling out onto this road, and you might think she can barely drive. But what isn’t clear is that was the first time I’d sat in the driving seat of that car. So having an entire camera crew filming me do that is not ideal.

Did you know anything about where you were going?

Not much. As soon as I found out we were going to the Italian Alps, I thought well that's not too remote or far from home so in my ‘worst case scenario’ head I thought that’s not too difficult for me to be airlifted back in a body bag.

Although technically once you’re on a mountain everything's remote. I'd never been to Italy before and the Alps are beautiful so I was excited to tick a new country off the list.

What were you most nervous about?

Being at a height I was freaking out about. We did a little bit of off-roading practice before we went and I loved it - but then there's off-roading on the side of a mountain. The fear of one wrong turn and you go down that mountain. There’s no "we just rolled over and it was fine". It felt like proper jeopardy.

Rhod and Angela's  4x4 on a mountain pass

You’re in a car practically as wide as the road. I’m not somebody who's particularly afraid of heights, but I was when Rhod Gilbert was driving me along a mountain road with no safety net, no harness, no nothing apart from the drop. That was scary."

Did Rhod’s battle with cancer affect both of your attitudes to doing things you wouldn't normally do?

I think so. For Rhod particularly. I think Rhod would say he’s come out the other side of it with a real zest and appreciation for life. It’s infectious, so when I was nervous Rhod would wind me up and go, ‘Well I’ve had cancer so stop whining and get on with it’. I was like yeah OK, fair enough!

It looks like you had quite a transformative time?

I did a bit although I've gone back to my old ways pretty quickly. I said to my agent "if I really don't want to do something they can't force me can they?" It was like, "of course they can’t."

As long as I know that in my head I feel all right doing things. Then every day when I’d find out what we were doing I'd say I don't want to do this and this. But then I’d just go and do it anyway and Rhod and the crew would find it really funny.

They realised it was part of my process. I just have to say out loud all the worst things that can happen and the ways I'm going to die and be told I don’t have to do it, and then I do it anyway.

Who put the most in the swear jar in the end?

Oh my God, watching it I had no idea I was such a potty mouth. I know they made it look like that but Jesus Christ. I was shocked by how much I swear. But I was genuinely frightened so that adrenaline just makes you swear loads.

I don’t think I did well in the end but Rhod definitely contributed to that swear jar quite a lot when I was driving! He’s no angel, trust me.’

Rhod interview

What made you decide to take part in the show?

I’ve done it before with Greg Davies and had a great time. We travelled through Nepal and it was a trip of a lifetime - terrifying, interesting and hilarious in equal measure. Watching Greg run across a landslide is something I will never forget.

That was probably a more dangerous road than the Italian Alps but Angela and my driving were both so bad we made up for it.

Why did you decide to do it with Angela?

We know each other a bit from the comedy circuit and have always got on well and hit if off. You’re in each other’s pockets for a week on this show, driving all day every day, long hours and in often stressful situations, so if you don’t get on it’s a nightmare.

I guessed Angela would be great company, and she knocked it out the park.

What’s your friendship like? Have you spent that kind of time together before?

No, we have spent a few minutes together in green rooms at gigs over the years and had a laugh on a few podcasts. But that doesn’t mean you can attempt the Alps in a battered old Land Rover together. Thankfully, it worked!

Rhod and Angela posing by their 4x4

You have quite a lot in common, how did that affect things?

We are both hard of hearing: Angela has hearing aids and I am having mine fitted at the moment. And we both have ADHD.

I don’t feel it affected our time together that much though. It was far more affected by us both being bad drivers, drama queens and divas.

Are you still friends at the end of it?

It’s a bonding experience a trip like this; you either come away great mates or you never speak to each other again and slag each other off in dinner parties. Luckily we came away great mates.

I don't remember any arguments but that’s one of the benefits of ADHD - my memory is appalling.

Were you confident in each other’s driving skills?

I wasn’t confident in either of our driving; Angela told me she had poor spatial awareness, and once missed a door she was trying to walk through. At the start of the trip, she had a tendency to veer to the right, which with a 1000ft drop on that side was stomach-churning.

What was your 4WD like to drive?

It was a battered old Land Rover Defender, an iconic vehicle with bags of history but for two battered old comedians it was a nightmare. Angela christened it Vera as it veered to the edge of the cliff a lot.

What were you most nervous about?

Italian drivers have a reputation for being…er….'relaxed about danger' shall we say? I was really worried about other drivers running us off the road. Turns out we were the dangerous ones; they were fine.

Did your battle with cancer affect your attitude towards the trip? Has it made you braver?

No, I don't think it has made me braver. I didn’t do much; the doctors did most of the hard work, so thanks to them. And I am not an extreme person at all; I do no extreme sports and don’t really take risks.

If anything, cancer has made me even more cautious; life is precious…don’t fuck it up for the sake of five minutes of excitement!

What was your hairiest moment on the road?

There were a few bits where we didn't know if the car would make it up and round bends in what may once have been a road but was now just rocks. I would not have attempted it but Angela suddenly became possessed. She turned to me in the passenger seat and I will never forget the look in her eyes; it struck fear into my very soul. It was a look I’ve only seen in horror films.

She nailed it, though, with us both screaming at the top of our lungs.

There were a few snow bits we had no idea if we’d make it through. We put our foot to the floor and prayed.

What did you love most about the trip?

Angela was great company, the food was amazing, our Italian hosts were wonderful and the views were amazing. Really we should have just gone on holiday and sacked the danger bit off.

We met a few daredevil adventure types in a campsite, all in 4x4s and on trail motorbikes. People clearly get a kick out of tackling these sorts of extreme roads. I enjoyed it but I am not itching to go through it all again, so I won’t be going on any solo trips.

What did you learn about yourself on your adventure?

I learnt that there is a part of me that is a bit cavalier about survival. Maybe it is connected to ADHD. But I do sometimes appear not to care if I live or die, or at least to take totally unnecessary risks.

Angela pointed that out I think. I hadn’t thought of myself like that, but I do seem to be something of a lunatic at times. I’ll think more on it in the coming months and years and let you know if I work it out.

Rhod and Angela on rope bridge

Angela seemed to have quite a transformative time - did you too?

Angela certainly did seem to go from quite risk averse and anxious about the danger to some kind of souped-up adrenalin freak. She was like a different person by the end of the week. I don’t think I went through such a transformation but I definitely learnt stuff about myself and was inspired by Angela to face your demons and knock them into the middle of next week, or the week after.

You had a swear jar - who put the most in it in the end?

It was close, we are both prolific swearers. But I think Angela started strongly, especially when she was more risk averse and anxious. As the week went on the swearing continued, but it was more in enjoyment and fun.

Have you been inspired to do more drives like it?

No. Between cancer and this, I think I’ve had enough adrenalin for one year.

Rhod and Angela high-fiving after their drive

• The World’s Most Dangerous Roads returns to Dave at 8pm on Sunday.

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Published: 12 Feb 2024

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