Clark­son, May and Ham­mond on driv­ing each other mad

Back with se­ries three of barn­storm­ing mo­tor show The Grand Tour, Clark­son and co tell Jenny John­ston they can’t wait to see the back of each other when it’s over

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Can you think of any­thing worse than be­ing stuck in a car in Mon­go­lia with Jeremy Clark­son? James May can’t. The most laid-back of The Grand Tour trio is com­plain­ing he was sold a dud when film­ing the new se­ries. ‘I won’t deny Mon­go­lia was ar­du­ous,’ he says. ‘The weather was ter­ri­ble. We were told it’d be warm, but it was chuck­ing it down and cold. Our car had no roof or doors, and we all had to sit in the same car, which we don’t like – we got on each other’s nerves.’

Still, let’s look on the bright side. If James, Jeremy and third mus­ke­teer Richard Ham­mond didn’t an­noy each other, there wouldn’t be a Grand Tour. ‘That’s why it works,’ says James, in trade­mark Eey­ore fash­ion.

It is odd. With most TV shows, the stars fall over them­selves when pub­li­cis­ing a new se­ries to talk about how they’re one big happy fam­ily. These three openly bicker and ad­mit they can’t wait to see the back of each other when they re­turn from their big-bud­get film­ing jaunts. The speed with which James May re­sponds to, ‘Do you have a break from each other after each trip?’ is hi­lar­i­ous. ‘Yes!’ he says, al­most be­fore the ques­tion is fin­ished. Do you text each other? ‘No!’ Visit each other’s houses? ‘No, we see enough of each other at work.’

Are the other two like his real friends? ‘Christ no. My friends are high-minded in­tel­lec­tu­als who know about art or sci­ence, and write po­etry and that sort of thing.’

Clark­son gives as good as he gets, do­ing a very in­sult­ing ( but funny) im­per­son­ation of May in one of his in­fre­quent melt­downs. ‘The num­ber of proper fallings-out we’ve had is very low, but there is a good one in Colom­bia in the new se­ries with James los­ing his tem­per,’ he smirks. ‘It was caught on six cam­eras. It’s hi­lar­i­ous.’ He can’t re­mem­ber what the row was about, but the out­come was un­for­get­table. ‘It’s like the blue whale los­ing its tem­per,’ says Clark­son, flap­ping his arms and turn­ing puce. ‘It’s not equipped to demon­strate a lot ter­ri­bly well, it’s just got its flip­pers and its mouth and its blow­hole.’

They can’t agree on any­thing. May, 55, an­swers a ques­tion about whether the in­ces­sant trav­el­ling gets bor­ing by say­ing he still gets ex­cited go­ing to air­ports. Clark­son, 58, ob­jects. ‘You look so un­happy every time.’

‘That’s be­cause gen­er­ally I go with you two, but the ac­tual air­port it­self I still find ex­cit­ing,’ comes the re­ply.

There’s a se­ri­ous point to be made. Do they work so well to­gether be­cause they don’t get on, and view­ers would rather see ban­ter than three blokes be­ing nice? ‘Be­ing mates isn’t es­sen­tial,’ ad­mits May. ‘I don’t know if More­cambe and Wise were good mates in pri­vate. Rock bands fa­mously all hate each other but play to­gether very well, so maybe that’s why it works, I don’t know.’ Of course, we’re all start­ing to talk about how long The Grand Tour can con­tinue, in much the same way we dis­cuss what a mir­a­cle it is that The Rolling Stones can shuf­fle, never mind rock’n’roll. It looked as though this par­tic­u­lar band of brothers-who- al­most- hate- each- other would split circa 2015, when Clark­son was fired from Top Gear for punch­ing pro­ducer Oisin Ty­mon in a row over a hot din­ner. What hap­pened next was ex­tra­or­di­nary. Much as they pro­fess to de­test each other, the trio, per­haps mind­ful of other key re­la­tion­ships (with their bank man­agers, maybe), showed to­geth­er­ness.

Clark­son’s co-pre­sen­ters quit the BBC show – and all three were promptly signed up by Ama­zon to make an eye-wa­ter­ingly ex­pen­sive ver­sion of Top Gear. The stakes were high. The Ama­zon ver­sion, avail­able to sub­scribers, was com­mis­sioned in a three-se­ries deal, with each show ru­moured to be cost­ing a stag­ger­ing £4.5 mil­lion. With se­ries three in the bag, there’s talk of what’s next. How long can they keep do­ing what is, ac­tu­ally, a very high-oc­tane show?

‘Well, we do won­der that be­cause we’re age­ing,’ ad­mits May. ‘ There’s no deny­ing it. But David At­ten­bor­ough is still do­ing pro­grammes about wildlife and he’s 92. Could we do shows about cars at that age? I don’t think we’ll last that long.’ Would he still want to be mak­ing shows at that age, par­tic­u­larly if it meant be­ing cooped up in a car with Clark­son? ‘It de­pends. If the al­ter­na­tive is liv­ing in a dump­ster, then yes.’

Ham­mond, the baby of the out­fit, turns 50 this year. He’s con­cerned that he has no plans for his mid-life cri­sis. ‘I can’t ex­actly get a sports car, can I? Maybe I’ll get a tat­too.’ A pic­ture of Jeremy on your arm, maybe? ‘Do you know, I prob­a­bly won’t.’

They may not be the ones to make the call about what they do next. The ques­tion has al­ways been whether Ama­zon will con­tinue to bankroll the show, given that the ini­tial in­vest­ment was about get­ting new sub­scrib-

ers. As we go to press, it looks as if the show’s fu­ture is se­cure – with some tweaks. There’ll be more Grand Tours, but with a fo­cus on show­stop­per ‘spe­cials’, sug­gest­ing the trio will need their pass­ports for some time.

So what’s in store with se­ries three? Well, the pre­view sug­gests they’ve spent every penny they could. Mon­go­lia and Colom­bia are the big des­ti­na­tions. They all fell in love with Mon­go­lia, once they’d got over the rain and the fact the pro­duc­ers didn’t pack any al­co­hol. ‘It’s a fas­ci­nat­ing coun­try,’ says Clark­son. ‘We drove for six days us­ing only a com­pass and we did not see a sin­gle per­son, jet trail, wall, vil­lage, tele­graph pole or any ev­i­dence that man ever ex­isted.’ They also went to China, to the vast mu­nic­i­pal­ity of Chongqing. ‘It’s the big­gest city in the world and we hadn’t heard of it. You fly through Hel­sinki to get there,’ says Clark­son.

Then it was on to Colom­bia, where they were on a mis­sion to pho­to­graph wildlife or, as May puts it, ‘try to get from one side of the coun­try to the other with­out be­ing eaten by an­i­mals.’ They nearly didn’t suc­ceed. ‘The clos­est we got was when a bear at­tacked your car,’ he says to Clark- son. They also fired guns, ‘which was in­cred­i­bly good fun,’ says Clark­son.

This se­ries, the ‘celeb’ slot is gone. Clark­son ex­plains the show was com­ing in at over an hour long, so ‘some­thing had to give’. He sounds chirpy that the ‘some­thing’ was celebs who were, after all, often less fa­mous than the pre­sen­ters. ‘It def­i­nitely makes my Wed­nes­days eas­ier,’ he jokes. ‘“So you were a run­ner-up on The X Fac­tor? My good­ness!”’

Any ac­ci­dents this time? Any cars writ­ten off? We al­most ex­pect this now, given Richard Ham­mond has had more crashes than Clark­son has had fisticuffs. ‘Well, “writ­ten off” is a bandied-about phrase,’ says Ham­mond. ‘There have been a few crashes – the usual mix of new cars go­ing too quickly around cor­ners while we all shouted, and old cars crash­ing into each other.’ Your in­sur­ance bro­kers must love you. ‘Health and safety hate us. In­sur­ers don’t like us. The doc­u­ments are thick, but I’ve never read them.’

There is much rib­bing of Ham­mond about his ca­pac­ity to crash a car. He talks of driv­ing a car worth £1.5 mil­lion in this se­ries. ‘And you didn’t crash it. Amaz­ing!’ says May, who wins the prize for the most ex­pen­sive dr ive. ‘ I’ve driven the Porsche 917, worth £15 mil­lion. I’ve also driven a new Porsche which is still a con­cept pro­to­type, so it’s the only one they’ve got. Tech­ni­cally, it’s worth £2 bil­lion, which is why I drove it, not Richard.’

On a more se­ri­ous note, the more this show con­tin­ues the less it seems to be about the ac­tual cars. Ham­mond ar­gues there’s a gap for a se­ri­ous car pro­gramme – rather sug­gest­ing even he wouldn’t put The Grand Tour in this bracket. ‘There’s room for more than one car show. The sub­ject is un­der­go­ing fun­da­men­tal change, in terms of own­er­ship, use of driv­ing. It’s an ever-in­ten­si­fy­ing po­lit­i­cal foot­ball. There’s thou­sands of jobs at stake glob­ally, so it’s a big sub­ject. It’s surely worth a few min­utes of TV time. We goof about, but there’s room for a se­ri­ous car show.’

Is that show Top Gear, the BBC out­fit they left? It’s had stalls of its own, part­ing with pre­sen­ters Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc. The new front­man is crick­eter An­drew ‘Fred­die’ Flintoff, which raises a few eye­brows. Clark­son shrugs. ‘A for­mer crick­eter is the Prime Min­is­ter of Pak­istan, so for­mer crick­eters are ob­vi­ously able to do any­thing. I don’t know who comes up with their ideas. That’s what they need. If you’ve got a good ideas guy, you’re there.’

In this trio, Clark­son says he is the ideas guy – and the oth­ers don’t dis­agree. He comes up with the des­ti­na­tions, and he moans about be­ing the only one to fret about the for­mat and edit­ing when they’re on the road. ‘Oh God, I was in a flat spin all the way through China. It was 48ºC and 90 per cent hu­mid­ity and I was up all night slav­ing over a hot lap­top lis­ten­ing to May fall asleep over an­other bot­tle of red. I wanted to kill him.’

If he’s the ideas man, is he paid more? ‘No, we’re paid ex­actly the same – within the cent. The most suc­cess­ful bands go wrong when some­one gets more. End of band.’

But, to say they will be to­gether for­ever is too far. A sug­gest ion from their new Ama­zon deal is the three will in­di­vid­u­ally pur­sue new projects. May seems par­tic­u­larly keen. ‘If I’m lucky, I may end up do­ing some­thing not car-re­lated.’ Such as? ‘I’ve sug­gested in the past ev­ery­thing from war po­etry to cook­ing to wood­work.’

Is James May pitch­ing to be the new Mary Berry? Well, he gets more an­i­mated talk­ing about TV cook­ing than any­thing else. ‘There’s a lot of cook­ing go­ing on and very lit­tle of it ad­dresses peo­ple who can’t cook at all. We drive around in su­per­cars, but a lot of peo­ple just spend a few thou­sand pounds on a sec­ond-hand car, so we’ll do some­thing on re­ally old cars that are fall­ing apart too. It’d be good if the cook­ing mi­lieu ad­dressed the idea that some peo­ple want to make sim­ple ro­bust things, but well.’

He has an idea for a show based on ‘garage cook­ing’, that only needs one ring to cook. It might in­volve baked beans – his hobby is pimp­ing a hum­ble tin of beans, adding veg­eta­bles and herbs. ‘I do a ver­sion with sprouts too,’ he says. No won­der the oth­ers never go to his for din­ner. The Grand Tour is avail­able weekly on Ama­zon from Fri­day.

‘A bear at­tacked Clark­son’s car in Colom­bia, it was close’ JAMES MAY ‘I’m up all night slav­ing away while May sleeps’ JEREMY CLARK­SON

James with a Porsche 917

Ham­mond, May and Clark­son are off on an­other epic tour. Right: the trio have a mishap with a home-made truck in Mon­go­lia

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