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
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