London ticks like a slightly grubby but ultimately reliable old wristwatch. Something treasured, handed down to you by a relative or trusted family friend, like the one Christopher Walken hid inside his bottom in Pulp Fiction. But, y’know, nicer. All of the pieces fit together; they might not all be pretty, but dammit, it works.
And, to massively misuse an idea from Gilbert Ryle’s Concept of the Mind, there’s a ghost in the machine. Or, more specifically, a Series II Ghost.
Well, OK, there are loads of Ghosts in the machine. I don’t have any data to hand, but I’d imagine that if you were to draw a heat map of UK Rolls-Royce ownership, London would be glowing red. But this particular one, this shimmering vision in black-and-brushed-silver, is the one I’ve got the keys for. (Um, for a bit.) So, where shall we go?
For starters, we’re not going to go and hang around outside Harrods. That’s just what they’d be expecting. Besides, you can’t move for Wraiths, Ghosts and Phantoms in Knightsbridge – what’s the point of driving one of the most sublimely special motor cars ever crafted if every other bugger in the postcode’s bloody got one too, eh?
And no, I won’t be investigating the sort of clichéd high-roller spots that you always find cars like this prowling around. Sorry if the title threw you, but I’m going to try using this car as normally as possible for a week, to see how London copes with it. Because it is, after all, just a car. Right?
Hmm. Alright. It becomes apparent before the commute’s even begun that this is far from ‘just a car’. Having left the Ghost parked on a residential south west London street – outside my flat, which is roughly the same size as a Ghost, but has slightly less comfy chairs – I’m greeted by some excitable school kids as I go to unlock it
There are three of them standing next to the car, alternating between gawping reverentially and hopping from one foot to the other as they wait for their mother to appear and bundle them into the standard Wandsworth-issue Volvo XC90 that everyone in SW18 has. They’re chanting ‘Wow, it’s a Rolls-Royce,’ over and over in a slightly creepy mantra. Are these kids possessed…? Best to act natural, just in case. Maybe they’re ghosts too.
They look distinctly unimpressed as I plip the remote and unleash the Spirit of Ecstasy from her hidden nose-mounted bunker. I am neither rich nor famous. I am wearing a dirty hoodie with a Volkswagen Type 3 on the front. There are holes in my Etnies. I am, in the shadow of the Ghost, far less than nothing at all.
The rest of the journey is equally weird. It’s less than four miles from my home in Wandsworth to my office in West Kensington, but the vagaries of the rush-hour metrop mean that this takes around an hour. (Yes, I could walk it in that time, but… shut up, I’ve got a Rolls-Royce.) And EVERYBODY is looking at me. Most of them are whipping out their phones to take a photo as well. They look decidedly grumpy to find that there is, in fact, no-one of any importance whatsoever behind the wheel.
But sod them. I’m in a Rolls-Royce. It is literally the most comfortable place in London. I’m only vaguely aware at this point that anybody else exists.
I work in advertising. But it’s not as cocaine-and-911-Turbos as you think, the 1980s were ages ago. Parked outside the front door of the office can be found, on a typical day, a shagged-out Fiat Multipla, a Peugeot RCZ that’s had more parking dings than your sister’s had rough trade, an Audi A4 AllRoad that’s never seen anything but smooth urban Tarmac, and a ten year-old Aston Martin V8 Vantage, carefully chosen by the big boss to be a symbol of power without pissing anyone off too much. So you can imagine the hatred and vicious bile that can be incited by parking a brand new Rolls-Royce out there and casually ambling into reception. I enjoyed this very much.
It was mere minutes before said big boss arrived at my desk, eager to be taken for a spin around the block. My macho bravado kicked into overdrive. ‘Oh yes, it’s got a 6.6-litre twin-turbo V12,’ I bragged, hoping to make him feel shifty about his puny little Aston. ‘It’s as powerful as a Lamborghini Gallardo and, despite weighing two-and-a-half tons, it’ll hit 60mph in about four-and-a-half seconds.’ What a show off. It’s not even my car.
‘Go on then,’ he says. ‘Prove it.’ Ah. Well, you’re not allowed to do 60mph on the West Cromwell Road, but he was pretty impressed by its 0-40mph time. So much so that he arrived at my desk a couple of hours later with the rest of the senior management board. They all wanted a go too.
The following week, I learned that two rumours were circulating around the office: one, that I was fabulously wealthy and a little eccentric; two, that I had a second job as a chauffeur. Not sure which I prefer.
Being entrusted with such a fabulously expensive machine is rife with little terrors as much as it is squeals of giddy ecstasy, but the one thing that was really, really troubling me was leaving it parked on the street overnight, every night, for a week. Aside from the possibility of someone smashing my front door down to find the keys – a remote contingency, but not unheard of – it was the thought of petty vandalism that was eating away at me.
Someone keying it, perhaps, or standing on the bonnet while their mates took photos, or trying to prise off one of those intelligent, gyroscopic, self-levelling centre caps with a screwdriver. My little corner of SW18 is nice enough – loads of Range Rovers, 911s sprinkled about the place with casual abandon – but nothing of quite this calibre.
I needn’t have worried. Nothing untoward happened to the car. Probably because I couldn’t sleep for the whole week and kept nipping out to check it was OK. That must have been what was scaring people off. Yeah. Probably.
Oh, this was by far the best part. I’ve been known to half-inch the odd press car here and there, and my wife and daughter enjoy the variety afforded by tearing through the countryside or traipsing across the city in a Renaultsport Megane or a 208 GTI.
Mrs B enjoys fiddling with the stereo that’s always infinitely better than the rubbish factory-fit unit in our old Skoda Octavia, and my 2 year-old particularly likes being strapped into the back of a car with a glass roof – the aforementioned GTI scored big here, as did the Toyota Auris Sport Tourer.
The Ghost’s glazed ceiling was an instant hit. But stone me, this Roller has set a benchmark that I’ll never be able to come close to again. I’ve spoiled them. Everything hereafter can only be a disappointment. My wife is generally eager to sit in the front, but there was no way that this was happening in the Rolls-Royce. She would sit in the back, at full recline, and be chauffeured.
This was amusing enough, as it took me a while to cotton on to the fact that she couldn’t hear anything I was saying – the Ghost is so damned vast (as wide as a Range Rover, quite a lot longer) that my voice somehow got lost en route to her seat – but what was most fun was watching telly. I know having TVs in the back of a car isn’t necessarily the preserve of the wealthy any more, but the tellies in the rear of the Ghost are just part of a package that, combined with the electrically reclining heated seats, the walnut burr picnic tables, the ankle-deep lambswool carpets, and the button you press to close the door – c’mon you can’t be expected to close your own door – coalesced to create a sumptuous fusion of car journey and spa break.
And my daughter loved watching Frozen in the car. Repeatedly. She hates travelling in the Octavia now, there’s no telly in there. Daddy is not as successful as he should be.
Ha! Didn’t even try this one, actually. I really wanted to, but my Octavia struggles to thread itself between the kerbs of the Wandsworth drive-thru, and that’s about half the size – I can’t really imagine many things more embarrassing than being beached at Maccy D’s in someone else’s £250k-odd motor. Imagine it.
My mum was very keen that I try this, just for the funsies of eyebrow-raising. But, as with the McDonald’s idea, I had reservations. Clapham Junction Asda’s car park is perilous enough in a normal-sized car. Frankly, the thought of squishing a massive motor in there that’s worth more than a house gave me the shuddering heebie-jeebies. I did take it to Waitrose though. This wasn’t a statement on class or the relative net worth of their respective clientele. Waitrose just has a bigger car park.
I’d put about 650 miles on the clock by the time I had to return the Ghost, and I really didn’t want to return it to Rolls-Royce dirty. It just felt… inappropriate. That said, I also didn’t want to pay for a proper valeter. On a car that I don’t own, that would be mental. So I took it to the hand-wash-for-a-tenner guys at the local Homebase car park and queued up with the rather surprised owners of a rainbow cornucopia of Corsas and Fiestas.
The lads took it in their stride. This is Wandsworth after all, they’ve seen Rolls-Royces before. They got their little ladder out so that they could reach the roof, they wiped the chocolate smears off the inside of the rear door (thank goodness), and they added the horrible cheap little air freshener to the rear-view mirror. No pretensions. To them, it was just another car. Possibly the first people I encountered who actually felt that way.
So, is the Ghost a good London car? Well, yes, in the sense that it’s phenomenally good at pretty much everything it aims to achieve; sure, you’ll find yourself manically breathing in when you enter a street with bollarded width restrictions, and it’s slightly challenging to parallel park thanks to its ocean liner proportions (although this is very amusing for passers-by, so you’re spreading a little joy there), and it does drink like Oliver Reed on holiday… but if you can afford to buy a Ghost, these won’t be things you’ll trouble yourself with.
There’s an argument that something like an Aygo or a C1 might be preferable for nipping nimbly about the cityscape, but this is frankly missing the point. The thing about the Ghost, you see, is that the Ghost is a Ghost. As such, the answer to any questions along the lines of ‘Is the Ghost any good at [x]?’ will always be ‘Yes, obviously, you fool.’ It doesn’t operate on the same scale as other cars. It is what it is, which is very good indeed.
Although I will concede that if you want to get any sleep, you’d probably better have somewhere safe to park it…