In a GEAR of his own

James May, the quiet one on Top Gear, is keen to talk about Aus­tralia, writes Paul Gover

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Exclusive Interview -

CAP­TAIN Slow is not re­motely slow when he steps away from the wheel. James May is sharp, fo­cused, in­tel­li­gent and full of dry wit. ‘‘G’day Mate,’’ he says, to be­gin our ex­clu­sive cars­Guide in­ter­view ahead of an Aus­tralian tour with Top Gear Live next month.

It’s a pre­dictable but wel­come greeting from a bloke who de­liv­ers ex­actly what you ex­pect af­ter watch­ing him for years along­side Jeremy Clark­son and Richard Hammond.

He’s not opin­ion­ated or pompous, in­stead coat­ing al­most ev­ery­thing in a smooth layer of hu­mour.

‘‘It’s ex­tremely well de­vel­oped, our sense of hu­mour. Call you Bruce, yeah. It’s worked for the last 50 years,’’ he says.

May ad­mits he is not a stud or su­per­star, just happy with his slightly messy look.

‘‘ I ac­tu­ally spend quite a lot of money on clothes, but I still man­age to get it wrong,’’ he says.

‘‘I like it like that. Much as I ad­mire you Aus­tralians for your rip­pling man­hood, and all that.’’

So what about the outrageous hair­styles of the Top Gear pre­sen­ters?

‘‘Hammond and I were watch­ing some old shows last week and talk­ing about that. I don’t know if you have to have strange hair to be on it, or get strange hair from be­ing on it. Jeremy? He’s just grey pubes,’’ May says.

May may be known best as one of Clark­son’s off­siders, but he says it’s noth­ing like a Bat­man-and-Robin su­per­hero part­ner­ship.

‘‘It’s like be­ing a side­kick to an ap­palling old queen,’’ he says.

‘‘It’s pretty much what you see. Tele­vi­sion is not re­ally real life, it’s a bit ex­ag­ger­ated. Jeremy is ex­tremely ego­tis­ti­cal and makes a lot of noise, and I can’t be both­ered. I’m just quiet, I sup­pose, so it’s broadly true.’’

May has a large col­lec­tion of clas­sic cars and mo­tor­cy­cles, but has ar­rived for our tele­phone hook-up in some­thing com­pletely mod­ern.

‘‘I came in the Porsche. It’s a new 911 Car­rera 2S I’m driv­ing to Devon af­ter­wards. It’s like you go­ing to your next-door neigh­bour’s for a bar­be­cue,’’ he says.

So, why a Porsche and why now when an all-new 911 is com­ing in 2012?

‘‘Peo­ple said to me, ‘ Oh, you’ve bought the old one’, but I don’t want to wait an­other year.’’

May also con­fesses that he paid heav­ily for the Porsche priv­i­lege

‘‘They don’t do us any favours and I work for the BBC any­way so we’re not al­lowed to take any. But I got some tasty ex­tras and did a good deal on the part-ex­change with my old 911. It was ob­vi­ously in im­mac­u­late con­di­tion, like all my cars.’’

Which brings us around to his Lon­don home, which has been de­scribed as a man cave with very lit­tle per­son­al­ity.

‘‘Ev­ery­one likes to pre­tend I’m old­fash­ioned, but I’m not. My house is very clean,’’ May says.

‘‘It’s im­proved a bit in the last few years be­cause Sarah (his girl­friend, a dance critic) has enough bits and pieces ly­ing around. It’s fairly civilised now. She just dances around while I play the piano.’’

May is al­ready pre­par­ing for the world tour, but wor­ries that his new Tri­umph mo­tor­cy­cle will ar­rive the day af­ter he leaves.

‘‘If you go to Aus­tralia, it’s as far as I can be from home with­out go­ing to the moon. I quite like that. I find that ex­cit-

There is a 1960s Fal­con that looks like a big Cortina. I’d love to have a go in one of those. I’d like to cruise the Nullar­bor in one of those.

ing. It is quite nice to go on the tour and have a laugh. Al­though the com­pany is ter­ri­ble,’’ he says.

May says he is not de­mand­ing any­thing outrageous, un­like rock bands and di­vas who ex­pect spe­cial treat­ment when they’re on tour.

‘‘I have my own tin of gin­ger beer and my own chair. I think it’s just be­come a bit of com­pet­i­tive­ness, to see who can have the most ridicu­lous rider. Like mine will be that we must have a Tet­leys tea bag hang­ing in full view at all times,’’ he says.

May knows he will be kept busy in Aus­tralia, but there are a cou­ple of cars he would like to drive.

‘‘I quite like the idea of driv­ing a ute with a stupid big V8. Like the Maloo,’’ he says. ‘‘There is a 1960s Fal­con that looks like a big Cortina. I’d love to have a go in one of those. I’d like to cruise the Nullar­bor in one of those.’’

And he has some other ac­tiv­i­ties on the list: ‘‘I’d quite like to go snorkelling. Pre­sum­ably you have some pretty good snorkelling. I’ve never held a koala. I’m quite soppy about small furry an­i­mals. Wildlife and fish are good.

‘‘I wouldn’t mind do­ing a bit of light avi­a­tion. I’d like to search for the In­land Sea and the bod­ies of Bourke and Wills.’’

May owns an air­craft, a Luscombe 8 mono­plane from the US, and sug­gests check­ing it on Google.

‘‘But if you get to the bit on Google that says I’m de­scended from Ar­me­ni­ans, I don’t know where that came from,’’ he says.

‘‘Ac­tu­ally, I quite like it be­cause it is a bit ex­otic. I seem to be de­scended from West Coun­try (Bri­tish) peas­antry.’’

Turn­ing back to cars, May talks en­thu­si­as­ti­cally about jazz­ing around Lon­don in some­thing small and fun like his Fiat Panda.

‘‘That’s why I’m quite in­ter­ested in small cars. The things that make su­per­car driv­ing so ex­cit­ing you can have around town, es­pe­cially if it’s been rain­ing,’’ he says.

And fi­nally, as our 15 min­utes wind down, May talks a lit­tle about the fu­ture.

‘‘Strictly speak­ing, there are an­other two se­ries of Top Gear af­ter this one. We’re trans­mit­ting 16 at the mo­ment. I was be­ing a lit­tle old-fash­ioned there, not say­ing broad­cast­ing,’’ he says.

‘‘I sup­pose it will go for as long as we can tol­er­ate each other and are still alive.

‘‘And that might not be un­til the end of the con­tract.’’

Tak­ing off: Top Gear pre­sen­ters James May (left) and Jeremy Clark­son

launch the Top Gear Live world tour show that’s com­ing Down Un­der.

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