IT’S official – Hartlepool taxi driver Stephen Picton is the UK’s number one cabbie.
The 42-year-old charity champion was announced as the winner of the Swinton Taxi Division’s Cabbie of the Year 2013 competition yesterday.
And speaking to the Mail just moments after he was declared champion, Stephen beamed: “I’m absolutely ecstatic, the best in the UK, I can’t believe it.”
After leaving the Private Hire and Taxi Monthly Exhibition at EventCity, in Manchester, on cloud nine, Stephen got behind the wheel and drove straight to Wales to give his trophy to his dad, James, 67, who is in a care home for people with dementia after being diagnosed with the illness last year.
He said: “My dad has always been so proud of me so he’ll be over the moon.”
But then it was back to his beloved Hartlepool where the best taxi driver in the UK is back at work tonight.
Stephen was nominated for the award by his wife, Sandy, in recognition of the thousands he has raised for various charities.
The madcap cabbie, who lives in the Blakelock Road area of Hartlepool, organised a fundraising campaign to send terminal cancer sufferer Jean Steel on her dream trip to Blackpool in 2008.
He also raised £50,000 before his 40th birthday by organising dozens of quirky fundraisers.
But he has continued in his efforts to raise cash and awareness of good causes since then and his version of Thom Pace’s hit, Maybe, which is the theme tune from the Life and Times of Grizzly Adams, has proved to be an internet hit attracting more than 8,000 YouTube views.
Despite his amazing charity efforts, Stephen admitted he was surprised to hear his name read out as the winner.
He followed in the footsteps of fellow Hartlepool cabbie John Osborne, who won the competition in its very first year last year, proof, for Stephen, that taxi drivers in Hartlepool are the very best.
“When I found out the competition was held for the first time last year I thought there was no way they would have a winner from Hartlepool both years,” he said.
“But it just shows the calibre of taxi drivers we have in the town.”
Stephen drove away with £1,000 cash and a year’s free taxi insurance as well as the coveted title.
He added: “At the time when you plan all of the charity fundraisers and events, getting the recognition is the last thing on your mind.
“But it’s lovely to know that people are taking notice and it’s always nice to get a pat on the back.
“I remember once I heard someone say that all taxi drivers are 18 stone, T-shirt wearing tattooed layabouts.
“But we’re not just lazy pie-munchers, we have a heart of gold.”
Stephen said the pressure is on other Hartlepool cabbies to win next year’s award.
He added: “For now I’m just ecstatic I’ve won it, I guess I’ll have to get a sticker to go on my taxi saying I’m the best!”