Soap star Tony Hirst is now ready to fulfil his childhood dream and become a fully-fledged racing driver. Known to millions of Coronation Street viewers as fireman Paul Kershaw, Hirst has just passed his official ARDS racing driver test and is now gearing up to make his track debut in a special Celebrity Challenge race at this summer’s Silverstone Classic powered by the AA (20-22 July).
“I know this might sound silly but this is really quite a significant moment in my life,” admitted the 45-year-old actor who has also appeared in a host of other television programmes including Hollyoaks and Holby City. He added: “I know I’m a grown up responsible parent and all that, but this is something I’ve always wanted to do. I don’t know why I haven’t done it sooner.”
“I’ve always been a complete petrol head,” he continued. “I was brought to Silverstone as a baby by my mum and dad. Then, as a teenager, I hid and slept under a Portaloo just to watch Nigel Mansell win the British Grand Prix.”
Though clearly a Mansell fan, Hirst actually has even stronger ties to another of Britain’s former F1 World Champions. “My parents are both huge motor racing fans, so the sport was a big part of my life when I was growing up,” he explained. “My dad was a Jim Clark fan but my mum always followed Graham Hill. He had his son Damon at the same time as I was born, so I’m actually named after him – Damon is my second name! When he won the World Championship it was obviously a fantastic moment for British motor sport but I actually felt in some weird perverse kind of way that I was sharing a bit of his glory.”
Despite naming her son after a world champ, Hirst’s mum would rather see Tony propping up the bar in the Rover’s Return than revving it up on the race track. “My mum is now petrified about me racing,” commented the man known to millions as ‘Fireman Paul’. “She’ll probably come along to the event but I don’t think she’s actually going to be able to watch me out on track. She’s too worried that I’m going to put it in the wall.”
Having now passed his racing driver test and secured his MSA competition licence, Hirst is hoping to put his mother’s understandable concerns to rest. “You realise when you’re getting the instruction that it’s actually very safe out there,” he said. “To get that level of advice all tailored for you and for your driving style is such a fantastic opportunity. I’m actually a lot more worried about getting back on the M6 now than I was when I was tearing round the track.”
The Corrie star will line up on the starting grid alongside a host of personalities from showbiz, sport, TV and music all racing around the famous Silverstone Grand Prix circuit in lightweight, competition prepared Morgan sportscars capable of topping 130mph. Those taking part include award-winning chef Heston Blumenthal, Hollywood actor Sir Patrick Stewart, lifestyle guru Jo Wood, ‘Comedy Dave’ Vitty from Radio 1, Sky Sports presenter Vicky Gomersall, legendary rocker Brian Johnson from AC/DC, Strictly Come Dancing’s Brendan Cole plus fellow soap stars Kelvin Fletcher from Emmerdale and Nicola Stapleton from EastEnders.
Having waited so long to go racing, the experience now can’t come too soon for Hirst. “I can’t tell you how exhilarated and excited I am,” he enthused. “I’m buzzing like a silly little kid right now! I can’t wait to get out there and get racing.”
The Celebrity Challenge takes place on Saturday 21 July and will raise funds for the Birmingham Children’s Hospital, the Bobby Moore Fund for Cancer Research UK and the RPJ Crohn’s Foundation.
Adult tickets for 2012’s Silverstone Classic powered by the AA (20-22 July) cost from as little as £35 (plus booking fee) and special two- and three-day weekend tickets are also available with savings of up to 20 per cent if purchased in advance.