A tour de force of ex­haus­tion, damp clothes and army food

Sunday Express - - COMMENT -

WHAT’S your re­tire­ment plan when you’re one of the three most fa­mous car show pre­sen­ters on tele­vi­sion? Nice place in the sun, surely, and a whack­ing pen­sion? Maybe not, ac­cord­ing to The Grand Tour’s James May, 55. “We’re age­ing, yes, there’s no deny­ing it,” he ac­knowl­edges, but adds that he’s “not yet ac­tively think­ing” about re­tire­ment.

Hasn’t he made enough money? “I haven’t worked that out yet,” he says.

“I’m not that care­ful with money re­ally. It de­pends what level you want to re­tire at. I think I’d be quite happy liv­ing in a shed with some an­i­mals though I haven’t tried it. But a cat, a dog and goat... that sort of thing.

“I’m very low main­te­nance. I would have the shed in my own garden. Me and Sarah [his part­ner] have a lit­tle cot­tage down in Wilt­shire, sort of hilly with trees and we could add a crofter’s shed.”

Would he carry on do­ing the show un­til say, 92, the age of TV leg­end Sir David At­ten­bor­ough?

“Well, I don’t know. I’d be sur­prised if we lasted that long. But it de­pends what the al­ter­na­tive is. If it’s be­ing dropped into a dump­ster, yes! It would de­pend on Amazon, too. But they have also talked about do­ing non-car shows with me.”

In the mean­time, May re­mains gain­fully em­ployed, with the third se­ries of the very global The Grand Tour start­ing this week. The first episode takes us off to the motor city of Detroit where, along with co-stars Jeremy Clark­son and Richard Ham­mond, he in­dulges in some street racing in large V8s.

It’s busi­ness as usual ex­cept, re­veals Clark­son, that “episodes have pre­vi­ously run for too long”. He tells me: “Some­thing had to go so we’ve lost the celebrity in­ter­view.” Past in­ter­vie­wees in­cluded Hugh Bon­neville, Kiefer Suther­land and Do­minic Cooper.

“The thing about Amazon is that you can see when some­one isn’t watch­ing a par­tic­u­lar part of the show and this wasn’t work­ing. But the good news is that we are the most watched show on Amazon.”

Is it frus­trat­ing not know­ing the rat­ings? “Not re­ally,” he says. “It is what it is.”

May agrees with ditch­ing the celebri­ties in the tent. “It’s quite nice, we’ve done it for a bit, but we know now they like watch­ing the big films with us in. They also like su­per­cars go­ing around the track or Ab­bie [the new Stig] post­ing a lap time. There’s no point deny­ing it. That’s what they want so we will give it to them.”

It’s a far cry from the days of BBC Two’s Top Gear when it reg­u­larly out-rated shows broad­cast on BBC One at the same time. Of course, it wasn’t enough to save the team, who walked away from the Beeb after Clark­son as­saulted his pro­ducer for fail­ing to pro­vide a hot meal.

They went to Amazon with a three-year deal that was not only re­puted to be worth £132mil­lion but also al­lowed them “to have all the free­dom”, says Clark­son. Not that any of them claims to be rich and

Clark­son in­sists “we’re all paid the same, to the near­est cent”.

Mean­while, Top Gear goes on with an­other new set of pre­sen­ters, in­clud­ing co­me­dian and ac­tor Paddy McGuin­ness and crick­eter Fred­die Flintoff. Will this be the magic solution after the valiant ef­forts of Matt Le Blanc and Chris Evans? How would Clark­son fix Top Gear?

There’s a long pause. “Well, what

I would say is that a for­mer crick­eter [Im­ran Khan] has be­come the leader of Pak­istan, so they can do any­thing.” Ouch! Does it lack a for­mat? “I don’t think we re­ally had one ei­ther. You just need a lot of good ideas, that’s all.”

There ap­pears to be no short­age of those in The Grand Tour, many from the in­ven­tive mind of pro­ducer Andy Wil­man, who co-cre­ated Top Gear as we know it with Clark­son and quit at the same time.

One of the more try­ing chal­lenges is a trip to Mon­go­lia, a six-day camp­ing jaunt across this land-locked coun­try be­tween Rus­sia and China. Clark­son, who says he only has six coun­tries left to visit, says it was a “six-day orgy of ex­haus­tion, an­i­mal lava­tory fa­cil­i­ties, dis­com­fort, dirty fin­ger­nails, damp camp­ing-trip clothes, army food and James May’s spin­naker­sized si­nuses”.

It left a last­ing im­pres­sion on May, too. “I won’t deny that Mon­go­lia was quite ar­du­ous,” he says. “The weather was aw­ful although we were told it would be quite warm, but it was chuck­ing it down and we were cold.”

He adds: “I never get blasé about it

[the trips]. At that point you would be morally obliged to stop do­ing it.

You can’t do it and moan about it be­cause most other jobs are prob­a­bly not as ex­cit­ing.

“But I wouldn’t have gone there oth­er­wise. In my life, I would never go to Mon­go­lia and ef­fec­tively get lost in the mid­dle of it so you can’t com­plain about it. It would be #first­world­prob­lems to do that.

“But on the trip we had to take all our food, army ra­tions and fuel for both our cars, which were quite thirsty, and the cam­era car. And we started to run out of ra­tions. I cer­tainly wasn’t fat when I got back... Jeremy was still fat!”

No drink ei­ther? They’re in­fa­mous for en­joy­ing a tip­ple. Says May: “We’re not al­co­hol de­pen­dent, just wine en­thu­si­asts.”

THAT IS prob­a­bly not the ad­jec­tive to be used for May’s pro­posed new cook­ing show, com­ing to a chan­nel near you soon. Maybe Amazon. It’s “one-pot garage cook­ing”. It’s ba­si­cally what you can cook on a sin­gle ring in your own garage. Those with­out a garage should look to other cook­ing shows.

His last solo ef­fort, The Re­assem­bler, he re­veals, was “very pop­u­lar with ston­ers... I’m told by a group of stu­dents that they would come home from the pub or club at two or three in the morn­ing, spark one up and watch me put a lawn­mower to­gether!”

But what about the cook­ing show? “There’s very lit­tle to ad­dress peo­ple who can’t cook. I would buy tins of beans with those lit­tle sausages. I’ve tried adding mush­rooms, then sprouts for veg­e­tar­i­ans, then also a few spices that will go with sprouts.

“The real skill to cook­ing is not know­ing recipes but know­ing the ba­sic rules that, for ex­am­ple, fen­nel goes with fatty meat, that basil goes with starchy things. That’s why it goes with pasta pesto. If you know those, then you can learn how to en­liven dishes, and what to squirt brown sauce on, or Lea & Per­rins. But so far, cook­ing these up is largely a pri­vate thing.”

Which you couldn’t say for Clark­son’s views on cur­rent af­fairs. He has been very vo­cal on Brexit. Has he vis­ited a coun­try with a bet­ter po­lit­i­cal sys­tem than ours? “All of them! Even Azer­bai­jan is bet­ter than ours.” That’s West­min­ster told.

But how long can this part­ner­ship last? May, who calls it “magic chem­istry”, pro­vides the se­cret to its longevity. “We don’t ac­tu­ally catch up with each other be­tween film­ing the se­ries,” he says. “We in­sult each other on Twit­ter but that’s part of the TV ma­chine nowa­days. We do see enough of each other through work.

“First and fore­most we are work col­leagues. I don’t think be­ing mates is es­sen­tial. I don’t think More­cambe and Wise were good mates. Rock bands all fa­mously hate each other but play to­gether. So maybe that’s why it works.”

The Grand Tour is re­leased by Amazon Prime on Fri­day

‘We’re not al­co­hol de­pen­dent, just wine en­thu­si­asts’

THREE KINGS OF THE DESERT: Liv­ing the sim­ple life in Mon­go­lia

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