'Amazon make us all feel very special,' says Clarkson
As Jeremy Clarkson returns to our screens, he tells Jeananne Craig about life after Top Gear, and why he doesn't really hate the BBC
Jeremy Clarkson is holding court in the upstairs room of a pub, waxing lyrical on everything from Bake Off to One Direction. But ask him about his infamous exit from Top Gear last year - in which he was sacked after attacking a producer in an apparent row over catering - and the presenter is uncharacteristically quiet.
"I wouldn't even dream of going there. That was a long time ago," he says, in reference to the March 2015 bust-up, and subsequent furore.
Clarkson admits he watched the first two episodes of the rebooted Top Gear, which aired earlier this year hosted by Chris Evans (who's since quit) and Matt LeBlanc, who's returning for a second run.
Was he secretly pleased with its disappointing ratings?
"I honestly don't even know what they were..." he says and then pauses for effect before admitting he's lying in a wry aside. As if there was ever any doubt he'd keep a close eye on such matters.
Clarkson, who has teamed up with his former Top Gear co-presenters Richard Hammond and James May for new Amazon Prime car show The Grand Tour, adds: "It was sad, because I did used to think that show was my baby. It was. I worked and chivvied away at it for 12 years. But we've got a better show now."
He's full of praise for his new bosses at Amazon - who are "just so up for it" - and quick to slate former director of BBC Television Danny Cohen, who was reportedly instrumental in his sacking.
"I never, ever got that (enthusiasm) from the BBC, ever, not in 27 years. No one in management ever said, 'That was good', in case it turned out to have a problem in it."
Cohen was "a nightmare... the only real sticking point" at the BBC, the presenter claims. "If you don't have to work with Danny Cohen looking over your shoulder all the time, it's amazing how relaxed you become."
Clarkson is more positive about the rest of the Beeb, however, stating he can still go back ("I can do Have I Got News For You and QI,") and adding, "Everything I know about making television I learnt from the BBC. It's a brilliant organisation for letting you grow.
"That being said, they're absolutely rubbish at talent management. It's an area where they've got to buck their ideas up. That's why they keep losing shows."
Referring to The Great British Bake Off's move to Channel 4 (for a reported £25m a year), he adds: "If I'd have been running it, I would have said, 'OK, we'll pay'. It's a really popular show. How many people watched the final? 14.8 million? That's an astronomical viewing figure, so it's the BBC's duty to bring that show, irrespective of its cost really. I mean, they don't say, 'Oh God, the Queen's decided to go down the river. We're not filming that, it's too expensive'. They go and do it."
The Grand Tour is a global jaunt and described by its makers as "a show about adventure, excitement and friendship... as long as you accept that the people you call friends are also the ones you find extremely annoying."
Episode one sees the trio in the California desert with hundreds of cars, thousands of people and a squadron of jets. We'll also be introduced to the 'holy trinity' of hybrid hypercars (the McLaren P1, the Porsche 918 Spyder and the Ferrari LaFerrari).
And as you'd expect from stars known for causing offence to Mexicans, Argentinians, Indians and many more during their Top Gear tenure, there'll be plenty of ribbing with the different nationalities they encounter.
But Clarkson insists they're laughing with - not at - the locals. "It's not like you're sitting in England talking about the Dutch, which always got people very irritated. But when you're in front of a Dutch audience or an American audience or a Finnish audience or a German audience, it's much more good-natured."
He adds: "It's not just the view out of the tent windows that changes every week, it's the audience. In Holland last week everybody was 6' 8". They're so tall there. Richard Hammond was utterly miserable."
Four-letter words will be absent, however. "We made a policy not to swear, same as before," Clarkson says. "Top Gear was a big family show and this one should be as well."
He admits to some nerves about the reaction to The Grand Tour - but says age has helped quell them.
"You can all say, 'This is a terrible programme and Amazon's wasted its money', and I'll go, 'Yeah, but I'll be dead before anybody notices'. Whereas when I was 40, it mattered because you think, 'I've got a whole life to earn some money'. But now I'm falling to pieces - I can hardly get up a flight of stairs."
And Amazon certainly seem to be pleased with the output so far. "They are loving it! It's so nice to have your paymasters being really enthusiastic about the show. They make us feel ever so special."
Jeremy Clarkson, needy? Who'd have thought it?
- The Grand Tour begins on Amazon Prime Video on Friday, November 18