Magical Mystery Tours and Minibus Madness

Minibus - it's not the bus that counts, but who's inside.

You wouldn’t normally find a whole article dedicated to the modern workhorse – the minibus – unless it was a review, but I’m going to take you on a journey through my life and some of the many experiences I’ve had being a passenger and driver in minibuses.

When we think of minibuses, I bet most people picture the Ford Transit-based design, white, and probably with a few dents in it. This is probably indented into us from school trips, but things have moved on in the world of minibuses. They’re big business, and most car manufacturers have a minibus in their range. Over the last ten years, I have gone from driving the main two makes available, Ford and LDV, to Renault, Mercedes and more.

My first recollection of a minibus journey was aged ten, travelling to Wales to play football against a team in Treharris. My team was coached by Mel Hopkins, an ex-professional footballer who was born in Treharris. This led to annual matches between the boys’ clubs from each town. I can still remember being packed into an old blue Ford which had bench seats. I think we crammed fifteen of us into a ten-seater. It was cosy but no one minded as we were off on an adventure. I also remember that trip because I scored the only goal of the match.

Skipping a few years, I was on a college trip to London. This went a bit south, so to speak, and literally. On our return journey, we ended up in Dover. The lecturer got her bearings mixed up coming out of London. Once on the correct motorway, we ran out of fuel. She ignored the low fuel indicator, and also thought by driving faster she could get us to our destination before the fuel ran out. We spent a very cold night sleeping in the minibus, as her logic was flawed.

A funny incident I had with a minibus was when I hired a van from my local Dial a ride scheme. When I collected the bus early on Saturday morning it was bright yellow with disability stickers in all the windows. I didn’t really pay any attention to this at the time, but when we arrived in Milton Keynes to attend the outdoor concert the stickers proved very handy. Stuck in a huge traffic jam, a Police motorcyclist came up alongside me. He looked in the bus and then gestured to me to follow him. He put his blue lights on and I pulled out to follow him. We flew past the waiting vehicles and the Policeman escorted us into the car park assigned to Disabled badge holders. Not only was this time saving, but this car park was free. The guys in the back were laughing so hard, I think the Policeman thought he was just making us all very happy.

Coming up to date, a couple of incidents have happened while working on film and TV productions and had been asked to drive minibuses. I had to hire a minibus from a local supplier and was told to keep the budget as low as possible. This meant I was handed the keys to a Ford which must have been fifteen years old. The brief stated I was only to be moving around film crew, so the van’s condition would not be a concern. I arrived at Goodwood motor racing circuit and spent most of the morning sticking to the brief. Then I was called on the radio to drive someone back to the base unit for lunch. I arrived in the pit area where millions of pounds worth of rare Jaguar racing cars were lined up. The door opened, and in gets David Beckham, with his bodyguard, stylist and dresser.

I was to take them to David’s RV for lunch, but when I arrived at base, he was happy to have lunch with all the crew. I stood in the queue with him and we both got chicken curry, then sat on the dining bus together.

I will leave you with my most enduring minibus memory madness, which happened in the London Dungeons. On another production, this time for Agent Provocateur, I was driving a luxury Mercedes Sprinter, which was the business. It was to be used for moving the models and their entourage around several locations in London. I was parked up outside the Dungeons and needed the loo. The production security guards directed me down some stairs leading into part of the Dungeons, so I entered a very blacked out corridor which was also filled with smoke. This was to create atmosphere for the advert. I walked a little way turned a corner and was met by a model completely naked, getting ready for the shoot.

It is a ‘minibus memory’ of sorts… That’s why it sticks in my mind.