'I didn't so much as drive down, as fall while in a car' | Mike Wozniak on driving in Namibia with Ola Labib © UKTV

'I didn't so much as drive down, as fall while in a car'

Mike Wozniak on driving in Namibia with Ola Labib

On the next episode of World’s Most Dangerous Roads, Mike Wozniak and Ola Labib head to one of the wildest places on earth, the Namib desert. Here Wozniak talks about tackling the adventure with someone he’d never met before…

What made you decide to take part in the show?

For starters, I've never been to Africa in my life so it felt crazy to turn down. Then it’s one thing going to a place like Namibia, it's quite another going with a local guide who could give you some hot tips so we could go off the beaten track. 

It's the sort of thing I've only done a handful of times in my life and normally by accident. 

Had you met Ola Labib before?

No. Comedy is a very small world but the first time we met was on the first day of the trip. 

There are people she knows that I know, so there was that connection. I had some trepidation because if I drive long distances, it tends to be on my own to a gig. Sometimes it might be with my family or people I've known for years who've chosen to put up with me, they've had lots of chances to leave, so perhaps they know how to deal with me. 

Whereas this poor person had no clue and I didn't want to be a complete pain in the bum to someone I'd never met before. It's not as if in the middle of the Messum Crater you can say, ‘This guy's getting on my nerves a bit. Can I go home?’ You’re stuck.

And how was it? Did you get on?

Well, I had a lovely time. I hope Ola did too. I think we got on. I'm pretty sure there were some points where I drove her up the wall but that's for her to say. It's a fairly quick route to a friendship being stuck in the middle of the desert and dealing with your personal business in a small hole in the sand. These things will break down barriers.

Wozniak and Ola fist-bump in Namibia

Did you find you had much in common?

Not really. But I think that's quite fun. You don't want to hang out with people who are the same as you all the time. It’d be very boring spending all my time with middle-aged men who like guitars and French gypsy jazz. 

Though we both grew up in Portsmouth, we’ve got very different family backgrounds and interests. But one of the wonderful things about comedy is it attracts people from all walks of life who generally get on. 

That shared love of comedy brings comedians together - that putting your neck on the line in front of people you've never met before saying, ‘I think this is funny, what do you think?’

So you didn't have any arguments or moments where you did want to leave?

Oh, no, the place was too amazing. My impression was that my driving style may have made Ola slightly nervous at the beginning. But by the end, she’d learned to tolerate me. Only last night Ola invited me around to her place for some traditional Sudanese food. So the bridges have not been burned. They've been built in this process.

Were you confident in each other's driving skills?

She was quite handy I have to say. She was the first driver and we got in a spot of bother quite quickly – but we were in a desert for the first time. 

She confessed to me that when she drives in the UK she's a speed freak and a middle-lane hogger, which was something we nearly fell out about. So I think I’d be more comfortable with her driving over a mountain pass in Namibia than on a ring road around Stevenage. Then I’d probably just get the train. I'll take off-road Ola any day.

Did you do an equal share of the driving?

I think we did. Even though she came to tolerate me, I don't think she ever got to tolerate my driving. Some of the hairiest driving was on the last day on these extraordinary, size-of-a-house sand dunes. I maybe gained a smidgen of trust on the penultimate day because I hadn't driven us off a cliff. 

Then on that final day, I didn’t have the level of skill required to drive on the dunes so any trust gained was lost. 

The thing about sand dunes is that they gently rise on one side and fall quite steeply on the other. I don’t think I really drove down the steep side, I made us fall down the steep side while in a car. 

Spoiler alert, we survived. It was very exciting.

You're a big lover of wildlife. How did you feel seeing wild animals?

It was one of the huge attractions. Even leaving Windhoek airport on the way to our first rendezvous we were treated to baboons, warthogs and giraffes just driving up the main road. But then to see desert elephants - that was very special. 

We also visited a seal colony, Cape Cross Seal Reserve, where the water was teeming with around 70,000 seals. I'm particularly fond of seals so I was genuinely moved. That will be in my final slideshow for sure.

What were you most nervous about the trip?

Before I went, I was most nervous about boring a young woman to tears. But that was pure naivety because when they said world's most dangerous roads I thought ‘yeah, whatever. There won't be much asphalt on the road, a long gap between service stations so trickier to get a burger…’

But they did mean it. Some places there were no roads so the thing I should have been nervous about was the route and crashing into a boulder in the middle of the desert. I was actually in very good company.

What was your hairiest moment on the road?

There was a point where we had a very very very sheer drop down our left side near Ugab River Valley when I was driving. 

It was a very narrow road and our car – which was reassuringly wide and bulky going over boulder-riddled tracks – suddenly felt too wide. You wish you were in a nice, trusty, narrow Hyundai i10 when there’s an abyss to your left. 

That and probably getting a puncture when the car was at a 45 degree angle down a slippery bit of scree.

Mike and Ola leaning on their car on a sand dune

Who swore the most?

Ola easily. I don't think I'm particularly potty-mouthed. I may have some family members that disagree with that but I try and behave myself when there's a camera. But young Ola - very potty mouthed indeed in a crisis.

What was the most breathtaking moment?

The seals and then the sunsets, particularly when we were in Messum Crater were amazing. I've never seen anything like the night sky out in the middle of the desert. Not much urban glow or smog.

Did you return a changed man?

I would have loved to have returned a changed man! I don't think I succeeded in that, I just returned a grateful man. Grateful for having been allowed to go on such an amazing trip and for having survived it.

Have you been inspired to do more drives like it?

I absolutely would. But I think it'd be a good idea if I went with a very large entourage, perhaps a fleet of seven or eight rescue vehicles behind me. That might be something I've learned. I’d do it in the POTUS style. 

And if I'm taking my family, then the entourage has got to be absolutely massive. I can't put my family through my driving off-road. I’d love for them to experience these things but not when I'm in charge.

• The World’s Most Dangerous Roads is on Dave at 8pm on Sunday

Published: 5 Mar 2024

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