In a GEAR of his own
James May, the quiet one on Top Gear, is keen to talk about Australia, writes Paul Gover
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.