Voices: I’ll never get the image of my naked dad in Race Across the World out of my head

Stephen and Viv, the oldest couple in series four of Race Across the World, headed straight for a relaxing onsen bath instead of the finish post  (BBC/Studio Lambert/Pete Dadds)
Stephen and Viv, the oldest couple in series four of Race Across the World, headed straight for a relaxing onsen bath instead of the finish post (BBC/Studio Lambert/Pete Dadds)

There are few things quite as confronting as seeing your father’s bare backside on the BBC. Repeatedly.

Last night, I had the joy of watching my 61-year-old dad, Stephen, and his wife Viv, in the opening episode of the new series of Race Across the World, in which five pairs of intrepid travellers compete to be the first team to trek from Sapporo in Japan to Lombok in Indonesia, but with only limited funds and without their smartphones.

The image of him sat, naked perched atop a stool in an onsen bath will be burnt into my memory for the rest of my life.

When he announced they had applied to the BBC’s hit show, now in its fourth series, I think my siblings and I thought he was winding us up. We didn’t think for a moment they’d actually get picked to take part, and then vanish late last year leaving behind just a cat and a comprehensive document about how to manage their home in Rutland.

Retirees Stephen and Viv are (relatively) normal people. But most of what I know about them is how they have been around me. We aren’t typically conditioned to view our parental figures as anything other than that; I think it takes most of us until adulthood to even really see our parents as rounded human beings.

It’s a rare and surreal gift to get insight into a parent as an adult. I get to really see, completely unfiltered, who he is in a way I’ve never seen before.

We will all have found ourselves in situations after social gatherings where we point at another couple and say: “Oh, I’d love to be a fly on the wall in their cab home…”. Well, now I’m in the cab – with four million viewers.

During the opening episode, when the teams set off from Sapporo on their different routes to the first checkpoint a few thousand miles away, I spent the first half wondering if Dad and Viv had actually abandoned the whole thing, because they weren’t much on screen. Perhaps they’d given up early, or their bags too heavy, and that their absence for several weeks last year was actually some long practical joke.

When they did reappear on screen in the onsen – when they should have been racing to the first checkpoint – I was reminded to be careful what I wish for. I wanted to see more of them, but sometimes wishes are granted in an all too literal sense.

Seeing Dad on TV is surreal. A bizarre mix of pride, joy, and the kind of cringe feeling that makes you want to run out of the room.

My dad is not for everyone. As Viv said, he is an acquired taste. He’s a naturally curious person, and has a directness that can be jarring to those that don’t share the same approach. It comes with no agenda other than to learn, but is easy to misconstrue – and as someone who loves him, I can only hope viewers will take his funny comments in the spirit in which they’re intended.

It’s very likely that he will rub some people up the wrong way – that’s natural. I’m trying to prepare him for the comments he is bound to get on social media. But I’m also bracing myself. My brief trawl of X/Twitter last night confirmed my suspicions, but also brought me so much joy. Seeing him perceived by strangers in a way I know he’d feel was authentic is the best any of us can hope for.

Ultimately, though, everyone’s a critic. Half the fun of watching a reality TV show like Race Across the World is commenting on people, analysing them, judging them – and sharing those views around the digital water cooler of social media. I’m just as guilty of this as the next person. It’s how we consume these programmes now, and I wouldn’t change a thing.

In the episodes to come, I do hope he doesn’t fall on his face with his pants down – but if he does, I will not hesitate to share that content, because it would be hilarious.

Race Across the World is on Wednesdays, 9pm, on BBC One, and BBC iPlayer