Disc jockey Tony Blackburn may insist that his online rant against the road closures associated with last weekend’s RideLondon, which brought tens of thousands of cyclists out onto the capital’s streets, was nothing more than a joke – but he’s not the first celebrity to use their status to criticise closed roads events.
Dig deeper into their social media posts, and you’ll find that it’s not just the once-a-year road closures that get their goat –schemes aimed at making Britain’s streets safe for everyone, whether that be through providing safe space for people cycling or walking, or reducing speed limits to try and minimise the consequences of crashes, are also in the firing line of stars in their cars.
This idea of a car day in London was meant to be a joke but people didn’t seem to get that I was joking. Obviously a Car day in London would bring everything to a halt. https://t.co/BsWWWnsP0r
— Tony Blackburn (@tonyblackburn) May 29, 2023
Blackburn’s own Twitter biography contains the disclaimer that “These are my tweets and in no way are the views of people I work for,” which is useful to know given that the BBC, where he hosts a weekly show on Radio 2, is the host broadcaster for the event.
Indeed, many of us who took part in the RideLondon FreeCycle on Sunday on an 8-mile closed road circuit in the heart of the capital were greeted by a cheery wave from Clare Balding, who was hosting the TV coverage, as we passed the finish line on the Mall.
But for all the protestations that his tweet was a joke and not to be taken seriously – something we’ve seen before, for example when Sunday Times columnist Rod Liddle wrote that he was tempted to stretch wire to target cyclists riding on roads near his home in the Kent countryside, and it needs to be said that the ‘othering’ or dehumanisation of people who ride bikes, whether for transport, sport or leisure, does have real-life consequences.
It would be nice to think that people in the public eye would think twice about taking to social media to air their views, or at least make themselves fully informed of the issues before doing so.
But as we’ve seen all too often, that seldom happens, with many celebrities unaware of what the Highway Code says and what the law is, or urging that cyclists be made to pay for using the roads, ignorant of the fact that public highways are funded from general taxation and that so-called “road tax” has not existed since 1937 (and currently, the owners of the least polluting motor vehicles are exempt from paying Vehicle Excise Duty altogether).
Four years ago, on the last occasion that RideLondon was held in its former late July/early August slot, it was singer Elaine Paige who had an online meltdown at the event, describing it as “an annual disruptive bike ride across the capital” in a subsequently deleted tweet in which she spoke of an “autocation” with an event marshal and called on cyclists to – you guessed it – pay “road tax.”
As Twitter user BicycleBen, who saved a screenshot of Paige’s deleted tweet pointed out, “Bad enough when ‘ordinary’ people show themselves up with their utter ignorance of what are very basic matters. I find it worse somehow when a celebrity or person of influence does it, spreading misinformation that will be trusted by way of a blue tick. Disappointing.”
— BicycleBen (@BicycleBenUK) August 5, 2019
More recently, the musical theatre star who, like Blackburn, also has a show on BBC Radio 2, Elaine Paige on Sunday, told her 40,000-plus followers on Twitter that a cycle lane installed on London’s Park Lane in 2020 was to blame for her sitting in gridlocked traffic in one of the three lanes there that remain for motor vehicles.
She wrote: “Sat in horrendous traffic on Park Lane trying to get from Sth London to Nth London whilst staring at a wide empty cycle lane while there's another empty cycle lane adjacent in Hyde Park! @SadiqKhan despite a dubious appeal hearing” – a reference to Transport of London’s successful appeal earlier that week that the city’s StreetSpace initiative was legal – “you are killing this great city of ours!”
Back to Blackburn, and as with Paige, it isn’t just closed roads that provoke the DJ’s ire, either.
In April, he was metaphorically shaking his fist on Twitter over 20mph speed limits, breaking off from plugging his radio show and sharing dad jokes with his 11,000 followers: “Great news, more money for potholes. Now how about less money for this ridiculous obsession with 20mph speed limits everywhere? Who is it that decides that we motorists now are overtaken by cyclists?”
It was a theme he returned to ahead of driving into the West End from his home in Hertfordshire into London for his show on Sunday (a journey, by the way, that would not have taken him as far as the closed roads on the RideLondon route – BBC Radio 2 is based a few hundred yards north of Oxford Circus, nearly a mile from the nearest part of the route at Piccadilly Circus).
It’s a beautiful sunny morning here in the home of happiness, Hertfordshire, I hope it’s the same where you are. I’ll be with you at 7pm this evening for The Golden Hour @BBCRadio2 as long as I can navigate round the potholes on the way into London, the numerous roadworks and… pic.twitter.com/qDPJP1Nnwv
— Tony Blackburn (@tonyblackburn) May 28, 2023
One curious aspect of the anger directed at some towards the closed roads that accompany RideLondon is that the same is seldom directed at the longer-established event run by the same organisers, London Marathon Events, with the 26.2-mile festival of running seeing widespread road closures along its route from Greenwich to Tower Bridge, into Docklands and back into the heart of the capital.
Perhaps that’s due to the fact that the event has now been held for more than four decades and is a perennial feature of London in springtime these days, perhaps it’s because locals are used to it taking place and make alternative plans for the day or stick around and enjoy the carnival atmosphere, or perhaps it’s because – whisper it – no bikes are involved?
Certainly, though for the 25,000-plus riders who tackled one of the RideLondon sportive routes last Sunday, or for the tens of thousands more, including families with young children and tourists jumping on hire bikes, who took to the traffic-free streets, as well as those who stuck around for the finale of the Classique Women's WorldTour race, a fun and festive time was had.
For one day a year, it’s not too much to ask for without someone in the public eye taking a pop, is it?
Oh, and in the meantime, that closed road event for motorists that Blackburn was apparently joking about? Well, we could always send him to Coventry … in the literal, not figurative sense.
From 7.45pm today until the end of service on Sunday 4th June, there will be various road closures around Coventry to allow for the Motofest event to take place. For more information, visit https://t.co/FlTW9Q4olB pic.twitter.com/WFA7HdT0VZ
— NX Coventry (@nxcoventry) June 1, 2023
Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.