An Interview with Leon Poultney, Founder of Flat Out Magazine
Journalist, content creator, videographer, adventurer - whatever label you assign Leon Poultney there’s one theme running, or driving, through his stories. So much so he has termed himself a ‘vehicular adventurer’. Leon has a job that most petrol heads dream of. The founder of Flat Out Magazine and Flat Out Media spends his days testing, driving and reviewing the newest and the greatest in cars and motorbikes with an Elliot Brown watch strapped to his wrist at all times.
Leon’s love for vehicular adventures sees him in Namibia where he’s putting the new Land Rover Defender (and a selection of Elliot Brown watches) through its paces. Five days, off grid, driving 70 per cent of the time off-road discovering the Skeleton Coast. We’ll catch him on his return and share his experiences but here’s some insight into Leon and what makes him tick (pardon the pun).
So how do you get into something like this?
“I did a media and journalism degree at university 13 years ago and it was a case of doing what any budding writer does – a lot of working for free! I started out in men’s lifestyle magazines and bounced around a few titles including Maxim and Shortlist and then got a job at the Sunday Times for the driving section of their website. I went freelance six years ago driving cars and writing about them for anyone who would pay!”
How did you manage to specialise in your love?
“Cars have always been in my blood. Although it started off with motorcycles because we’re a biking family. I’ve grown up around engines. I was sat in an editorial meeting for Maxim in that first job and the editor stood up and asked whether anyone knew anything about cars! I was a young staffer and I put my hand up and he said fine, we’ll give you a go!
“No one else in the office cared about cars or bikes, in fact I was one of only a few with a driving licence. I just fell into it that way.”
After you turned freelance what made you set up Flat Out?
“We wanted to focus on getting away from reviewing cars and being quite formulaic about it. We wanted to take cars or bikes on epic trips. That was the plan. Anything where we could go somewhere interesting and exotic.”
What’s the definition of a vehicular adventure?
“It’s when you go somewhere you’re not familiar with and you haven’t done a lot of planning. You’re not just driving randomly though, but essentially trying to get to a goal but you don’t know how you’re going to get there. For us, that works. One day we decided we wanted to try surfing in the north of Norway. It was a case of finding our destination, getting in the car and getting there! It ended up taking four days and 16 ferries!”
What’s changed over the six years you’ve been doing this?
“Everything is becoming more and more accessible. Everything is mapped now. You can get a good idea before you go because of Street View and Google Maps. Car tech has come on so much as well – they’re so much more capable than previously. The worry about breaking down has disappeared. But there are still challenges like language barriers and not being comfortable with where you are.”
Does that result in you trying to be more and more extreme?
“What it’s doing is ensuring we’re not just thinking about destinations but also events that many people are still not aware of. Things that are a little more underground and places that people wouldn’t necessarily think of trying themselves. We can also provide interactive maps – road trips where people can see on a map where we have driven – if you want to try it yourself.”
How are you trying to cut your carbon emissions and consider the environment more in what you do?
“We are most definitely, really ramping up our use of electric cars. We have spent a lot of time on new car launches with new tech coming along every day. It’s on the horizon. We have plans for a Norway trip which we want to recreate in an electric car. Norway actually has one of the most advanced charging networks. You can go a lot further and really adventure before you have to plug in again.”
What do you most enjoy about your work?
“All of it really! My first love is writing. I do enjoy doing that. But it’s often difficult to take a whole camera crew on trips so I am doing more wild trips by myself and a big part of this will be keeping a video blog, so I will be making a lot of short films for that. People want to see that sort of content on the website.”
Do you rival Top Gear in what you’re trying to achieve?
“Not really. They obviously go off and do cool things but I think we are different in so much that we do the less obvious. We attend a lot of weird and wacky events, which once they become mainstream – we ditch them and move on to the next thing. We want to be ahead of the curve. Last year’s Malay Mile was an example. People were invited to the gardens of the stately home to bring their own bikes which they’ve built and experience two days of festivities and racing. It’s very underground without the levels of health and safety you get at other events. We live and breathe this stuff and really enjoy doing it on a daily basis”
Obvious question – what do you drive?!
If you had asked me six months ago I would have said a vintage 70s Chevrolet pick-up which was really cool, and classic. But it was costing me so much that I wasn’t driving it. So, I now have a VW Transporter – which can carry six people and all our camera gear. I also have a collection of motorcycles at home – that’s what I spend my money on nowadays.”
Have you ever got yourself into a bit of a pickle whilst driving?
“A few times really! Epic adventure-wise we were travelling through South America in plug in hybrid Minis. The cars didn’t break down – and we were driving for 14 hours straight. But all of a sudden there was a landslide and we were stuck. It took six hours and a tractor to dig our way out. We were in Columbia – with some of the maddest driving, quite scary! A lot of money changing hands through check points!”
What’s on your bucket list?
“There’s a lot to tick off. There’s still much of the USA which I haven’t explored. I would love to spend more time in Death Valley and more time in Argentina and Patagonia. I was lucky enough to visit Japan recently. Not so challenging from a driving perspective but a very cool place.
“And I am off to Thailand in March – essentially riding from Bangkok to the Thai leg of the Moto GP. We will have a good old time on the way up there. And when we get closer we’ll hire scooters and tuk-tuks and do it the local way!”
Which Elliot Brown watch is your favourite?
“I have a few of them! At the moment my favourite, and the one I have been wearing for the last six months, is the Holton Professional. It’s bullet proof. It’s more compact than other models. Elliot Brown gave me one of the new webbing straps to try and it’s pretty cool. It just doesn’t seem to mind being pummelled around!”