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Jeremy Clarkson

Bits Still Intact

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Sam Bennett
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I met Jeremy Clarkson at the launch of Mollie’s Motel & Diner, where he agreed to an OX interview, expressing enthusiasm for the survival of print media. It’s where he comes from, “I’ve obviously got a soft spot for it,” he says down the phone a few months on, “I started out as a trainee reporter on the Rotherham Advertiser, and I’ve written for newspapers ever since. You can’t trust anything you read online,” he states shortly after the “spectacular” weather of the Easter weekend (which he spent playing tennis and “laughing at people who were abroad on Instagram”). With newspapers, there are trained writers and editors who have “sat around and discussed what stories are strong, what’s worth including and what isn’t.” What you read on the web could be written by anybody though. “You have absolutely no idea whether it’s true or not, who’s funding it and why they’re funding it. If you read The Guardian you know it’s got a political agenda, so has The Telegraph, but you know what that agenda is when you pick it up and buy it, you accommodate that as you’re reading it – online you can’t.”

He came from the world of print journalism onto our television screens. I want to know what he learnt about his own craft since becoming, for want of a better word, a celebrity. “A lot is written about me that just isn’t true, let’s put it that way.” Things get made up, he says, and become fact. “Then anyone who writes anything in the future just quotes this ‘fact’ that actually originated in the head of a 17-year-old intern at MailOnline.” But they’re not allowed to do that, right? “No, but you’d have to sue them and that’s such a faff, and expensive.” He’s never sued anyone – “You roll your eyes and move on.”

Our May issue is just going to press at the time of talking, containing a feature called ‘Cars as Art’. “The Lamborghini Countach is a remarkable work of art,” says the presenter in relation to history’s most aesthetically pleasing cars, “it works much better as a poster than it does as a car. The E-Type Jag, which Enzo Ferrari said is the best looking car ever made, is also spectacular. So much of it is personal taste, isn’t it? I think the so-called ‘coke bottleCorvette’s a very pretty car.”

I ask if people come up to him in the street taking issue with what he’s opined of a particular vehicle, to hear people would prefer a selfie for social media to a conversation. “I sometimes say no, I’d much rather spend ten minutes chatting to someone than four minutes gurning into their phone whilst someone who doesn’t know how to operate that phone takes a picture of their own nose.” So, selfies are “the scourge of modern life” but people don’t quarrel with him. “Some people in Birmingham are a bit bitter sometimes.” Something he said? “No, but Birmingham people just like to point out that their crappy old car is better than whatever I happen to be testing that week. If I’m in a two-seater they’ll say ‘you can’t get anyone in the back of that.’ Well obviously not, it’s a two-seater. ‘Bet I get more miles per gallon than you do.’ Yeah, you probably do. But that’s just a trait in Birmingham, I don’t know why but Birmingham people are always quite mealy-mouthed and bitter when it comes to exchanging pleasantries.”

The next Grand Tour starts filming this month in Southeast Asia, which he did a two-month recce of earlier this year, making the show “much easier to plan”. They’ll film for “about ten days, something like that, you’re never really sure because all sorts of things can happen that make it longer or shorter.” It’s no more stressful or enjoyable to film than Top Gear because “it’s exactly the same. It’s all the same crew; same researchers, producers, directors, cameramen, soundmen. When I left Top Gear everyone came with me.”

Can he predict the viewer response to an episode? He highlights April’s Mongolia special. “I knew when we were doing it that had to be one of our best, probably our best ever. It was such a good story and Mongolia was such a spectacular place – all the ducks lined up for that one.” The same didn’t go for the India special: “Sometimes you think ‘this is just rubbish. We can polish it but it’s still a turd.’”

On top of Grand Tour, three weekly newspaper columns and running his farm, he’s got Who Wants to be a Millionaire? which returned in 2018 after a four-year hiatus, with him in the host’s chair instead of Chris Tarrant. Whenever someone gets such a job, they say they’ve always wanted it, he states, regardless of whether that’s true or not. “But I love television quiz shows. I love Pointless as well, but Millionaire is king of the hill, the best of the breed. They wanted to bring it back, they asked me if I’d do it, I bit their hand off – I love doing it, it’s fantastic fun.”

Insofar as stopping what he’s doing goes, “I suppose I’ll go senile one day, bits and bobs will drop off, but I still feel hale and hearty so I’ll carry on for a few years yet – as long as people have me.”

The interns can breathe easy then.

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