Grand Tour comes crashing back

JEREMY Clarkson usually manages to steal the thunder from his co-stars.

JEREMY Clarkson usually manages to steal the thunder from his co-stars.

But there’s arguably been a shift in the power

dynamic while filming The Grand Tour this year.

Richard Hammond has been the focus of a lot of headlines after he escaped from a potentially life-threatening car crash in Switzerland just moments before it all went up in flames.

His fellow presenting

musketeers — Clarkson and James May — were left

fearing he had been killed.

It’s not the first time the trio have had brushes with danger.

They presented Top Gear on the BBC for many years, during which time Hammond also suffered life-threatening head injuries when a stunt went wrong.

Luckily, today, all three remain in one piece.

When we meet, there’s a pile of nicotine gum in front of Jeremy Clarkson — so exactly how grumpy will he be now, on a scale of one to 10?

The answer is roughly 10, obviously.

“I haven’t had a cigarette in three months, not since August. Life has no meaning or purpose anymore,” he grumbles.

Admittedly, giving up smoking wasn’t 57-year-old Clarkson’s choice. It came after he was hospitalised for double pneumonia in both lungs in August.

“I was mended in six days; rumours of my death were wildly exaggerated,” he

insists deadpan.

“I was just cross — I only get two weeks’ holiday a year and I had to spend six days in hospital, which is irritating. And then my bossy daughter came out to make sure I didn’t drink or smoke.”

The truth is, nicotine or not, we know all too well that Clarkson is renowned for being — how shall we put this? — difficult.

He famously punched a former Top Gear producer in March 2015, after reportedly flying into a rage when told he couldn’t order a sirloin steak after a day of filming.

The BBC dropped Clarkson, and May and Hammond also left. The popular motoring show was then rebooted with Matt LeBlanc and Chris Evans taking over presenting duties.

Clarkson claims he never watched the new version of the show so it’s hard to tell whether he’s having a sideways dig at Evans — who left after fronting Top Gear for one series — when asked his thoughts on the revamp.

“I’m sure they’re doing

the best they can,” he says pointedly. “You have to learn to work 27 hours a day, seven days a week. You can’t have another job. It’s bloody hard work.”

His less than flowery disposition aside, if there’s another thing you learn about Clarkson, it’s that he’s a master of not giving much away.

Try and delve any deeper with him and you end up with rants about his pet peeves.

“All you get on Twitter now is Gary Lineker,” he moans, searching on his phone for tweets from the


And don’t get him started on cycling. “If you’re lazy and you don’t work very hard, just have a bicycle.”

he says.

And then there’s the suggestion that Oxford might ban cars. “Oxford is a weird city, full of artisan cafes selling bread with mud in it,” he says dryly.

Surely he’ll reveal a softer side when asked about Hammond’s recent crash? Nope.

“Cars have brake pedals,” he says, “and those of us with an IQ bigger than our shoe size, ie, everyone other than Hammond, can just think, ‘Right that was the finishing line, now I’ll brake’.”

On the issue of brakes, you’d never guess Richard Hammond had a very near brush with death just five months ago. There’s not a scrape or scratch on him and he comes bounding in, oozing enthusiasm.

But the 47-year-old, nicknamed the Hamster, is starkly aware he’s had a run of bad luck.

“It was pretty unpleasant,” he says of the accident in Switzerland, which viewers will see in the first episode.

It happened as he was driving an all-electric Croatian supercar called the Rimac Concept One in a hillclimb battle.

And there’s no bravado here; Hammond admits it was a “scary moment”.

“I remember going off and thinking, ‘Oh, I’ve lost this’. And then hitting the ground a couple of times, during one of which I broke my leg, then was upside down in the air for a long time.

“I do remember thinking, ‘The longer I’m in the air, that suggests the harder the landing is going to be’. And it really was.”

Talking about watching the accident, he says: “I want to reach into the television set and say, ‘Stop! You silly little sod. It’s gonna go wrong!’”

The crash means he will “need a new knee eventually”, but he insists he’s never thought about quitting.

And if you thought going through such a terrifying experience might have resulted in bonding time between him, May and Clarkson — think again.

“Bickering is what happens,” he says. “We don’t have to try to find one another irritating, or to irritate one another. That happens organically.”

Hammond has had a car crash, Clarkson was hospitalised... so by now James May must be treading on egg shells. “People have said stuff happens in threes,” he quips. “But so far, I’m OK.

“Obviously I’m a lot more capable than the others,” he adds, with a shrug of his shoulders.

Ah, there it is — our first sign of May’s sarcastic tone that fans have come to know and love so well.

The only thing different about the 54-year-old is his hair.

Gone is his shoulder-length do and in its place is a very short new trim.

Other than that, he’s just as you imagine in person — and you’ll be pleased to know he jumps at the chance to have a snipe at Clarkson when asked about his co-host’s hospital stint.

“There was a moment when I thought, ‘Is he actually going to make it out of this?’

“But I’m very sad to have to report that pneumonia has lost its long battle with

Jeremy Clarkson and he’s still with us,” he says.

May talks a lot about the cars on the show and gives away a format change, which will apparently involve a new use for the track.

But soon he’s back to having digs at Clarkson and Hammond.

“It’s difficult to pick out a particular bad habit because they’re so appalling in every single way. Their very existence is like a bad habit.”

Of course, it’s this loving banter that makes the show so entertaining, and you can tell it’s all in jest.

“They do get on my nerves,” he jokingly insists, adding: “That’s why it works.”

Admittedly, the one time he looks notably more serious is when discussing Hammond’s crash.

“It does make you think, ‘We have to be careful’. We’re making a television show, we’re not trying to break any records or anything like that. So I suppose yes, it is a bit of a wake-up call.”

But his compassion doesn’t last long.

“Because I’m quite

cautious (when filming), I’m not nervous. I would be if I was his (Hammond’s) bloody passenger.”

The Grand Tour returns to Amazon Prime Video on Friday, December 8

More in this section


The best food, health, entertainment and lifestyle content from the Irish Examiner, direct to your inbox.

Sign up