12 Aug 2013

How taxis become ‘confessionals’ – and the secrets we reveal

The Norwegian prime minister went undercover as a cab driver to find out what his passengers are really thinking. But what secrets do we reveal to taxi drivers in the UK? Channel 4 News finds out.

Norwegian prime minister undercover as cabbie

Black cab drivers are an intrinsic part of London, witnesses to all manner of emotional outpouring.

And Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg appears to believe the same is true in Oslo (see below). He donned a cab driver’s uniform for one day only, and drove passengers around the capital for a few hours to take the pulse of the nation.

“If there is one place where people say what they really mean about most things, it is in a taxi. Right from the gut,” he told VG, Norway’s daily newspaper.

Cabbies in the UK agree. Speaking to Channel 4 News, Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association Secretary Steve McNamara likened the experience of driving a cab to being in “a mobile confessional box”.

‘Whatever’s on their mind’

He said: “You would be amazed at what people tell you.

“I think people feel they can say whatever’s on their minds as they know they will never see you again. Sometimes they just want confirmation on relationship decisions – it can range from one extreme to another.”

Other cabbies have done their best to capture the musings and grievances from passengers. Notable examples include Danny the cabbie, an avid Twitter user, and Mark Solomon, a driver who encourages his passengers to note down their own words of wisdom in a book he keeps on the passenger seat. He has already published one version under the title Black Cab Wisdom”.

According to Mr McNamara, the top five topics of conversation recently have been: Gibraltar, unemployment, the cost of living, the latest iPhone – and acid attacks.

“I still remember when I had Lord Parkinson in my cab around the time of the Falklands war and he was talking about the difficult decisions he had had to make when he had people’s lives in his hands,” Mr McNamara added.

“There are some people that are so interesting that you want to turn off the metre and sit there and listen to them all day, and others that you want to turf out at the traffic lights – like I said, one extreme to the other.”

WAGs to OAPs

Cabbie Graham from Liverpool reiterated the comment and told Channel 4 News how he had a wide range of passengers in the back of his car.

He said: “You get told absolutely eveything under the sun. Sometimes I’ve had the wives of famous footballers in the back and it’s only when I get home my partner tells me who they are.

“For some people you’re a sounding board, others forget you’re there and talk away on their phones. And it can be quite sad in a way, but for some of the elderly you’re the only social interaction they’ll have all day – so of course you make the extra effort.”

Candid camera moments reveal when the passengers realise the man behind the wheel is Jens Stoltenberg

What you tell your cabbie