Top Gear’s James May has a passion and it isn’t cars, writes Colin Vickery
ASK James May who he’d rather work with — Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond or Oz and James’s Big Wine Adventures’ Oz Clarke — and it’s clear Clarke wins by a large glass of red.
May replaced Jason Dawe on the UK car series in 2003 and recently signed a multi-million pound contract with the BBC to continue for another three years.
During the past couple of years he has branched out into areas other than motoring with James May’s 20th Century, James May’s Big Ideas, James May’s Top Toys, My Sister’s Top Toys and Wine Adventures.
Top Gear remains his priority, but it’s clear he enjoys the other projects, particularly Wine Adventures, which have been set in the wine regions of France and California.
‘‘ Top Gear has become a very complicated machine,’’ May says.
‘‘The ideas have become complicated, there are three presenters, there’s a lot of staff, you have to get the cars right and so on.
‘‘It’s quite competitive, too, with the races. We all have our own subject area, but we’re just unpleasant to each other because we really don’t like each other.
‘‘We’re just about to start working on the new series (of Top Gear). At this point we’ve got absolutely no idea what we’re going to put in it but by the end of next month we’ll have thought of something.’’
May films Wine Adventures each August with Clarke, a renowned UK food and wine critic.
Each series features a road trip through a wine region with Clarke trying to convince beer-guzzling May that wine is a subject worth investigating.
The pair bicker just as much as the Top Gear team, but May insists there are differences.
‘‘ Wine Adventures is based on a very simple premise — we set off, drink some wine and argue about it,’’ he says.
‘‘It’s more relaxed (than Top Gear) and there’s only a small crew, but it’s also gruelling because the days are long, we only have two days off the entire month, there’s a lot of travelling involved and we’re always hung-over.
‘‘With Oz, there’s this relationship where he’s the teacher and the master and I’m the student.’’
ALL that time in the company of Clarke has changed May’s attitude towards wine and he says that he now has a sizeable collection at home.
‘‘He’s turned me into a ponce,’’ he says with a laugh.
‘‘I have quite a large wine rack full of interesting things. Oz’s mates in the wine business have also started sending me lists and I think ‘I’ll try a case of that’.’’
May has just finished a third series of Wine Adventures which covers Britain and takes in beer and spirits. He and Clarke are tossing around ideas for a fourth series, with Australia a possible destination.
‘‘Aussie and Kiwi wine is extremely popular in Britain and then we’ve also thought about doing the Middle East and doing the history of distilling,’’ he says.
‘‘We’ve also thought of doing something on blokes’ food. Then we’ve also thought of not bothering and just going to the pub.’’
May insists there has never been any plan to his career, which takes in a weekly column for the UK’s Daily Telegraph, articles for Top Gear magazine, and books including May on Motoring as well as tie-ins for Wine Adventures and 20th Century.
‘‘With 20th Century, the BBC science department said ‘we want to do something on the 20th century and you’re quite into a lot of the stuff we’d be talking about — transport, aeroplanes, space and so on’,’’ May says.
‘‘ Big Ideas started with me thinking we should do an energy program. They (the BBC) liked the idea but wanted to do a series of three shows so we came up with two other topics. It all sort of happens in a pub, really.’’