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'You can fly for 13 hours and still land in France... it's astonishing'

As The Grand Tour Presents: A Massive Hunt lands on Amazon Prime, Danielle de Wolfe discovers more from the trio of presenters

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BACK AGAIN: Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May

BACK AGAIN: Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May

BACK AGAIN: Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May

Boulders the size of washing machines and ruts so deep you could fall into them." It is, according to The Grand Tour presenter Jeremy Clarkson, a fitting description of the perils served up by the island of Madagascar. Remotely situated in the Indian Ocean, both Madagascar and Reunion Island, 435 miles to the east, are locations for the forthcoming Amazon Prime special, The Grand Tour Presents: A Massive Hunt.

Following on from the trio's last adventure, which saw them swapping cars for boats in order to explore the South China Sea as part of The Grand Tour Presents: Seamen, the intrepid explorers are set to return, this time opting for the familiar comfort of four wheels and dry land.

Their mission, as always, remains a little unconventional. Embarking on a treasure hunt that has evaded some of the greatest and most creative minds on the planet, including that of James Bond creator Ian Fleming, presenters Jeremy Clarkson (60), James May (57) and Richard Hammond (50) set out in search of glory (and riches).

"I'd never been, so I came up with this idea that we should go to Madagascar," says Clarkson. "Hammond is obsessed with pirates, so he jumped up and down and squeaked a lot when I said it and then, much to my better judgment, we decided it was going to be a pirate-based story."

It's a topic of conversation co-presenter Hammond is quick to enthuse about.

"I love the romance, the idea of a pirate era, because I'm a child," he declares. "Supposedly, a very famous pirate scattered his treasure there and then threw clues to the crowd shortly before he was hung."

"It's bigger than Germany, that's what people don't realise. It's an enormous country and it's absolutely spectacular," notes Clarkson of their Madagascan filming location.

"Half the time you've got quite a sheer drop down to the sea below, albeit the very inviting, warm Indian Ocean, azure blue sea with a nice white beach along it. I think the most beautiful place I've ever been is the Seychelles and, actually, geologically speaking, Madagascar's probably from the same rock formation."

As for the local highlights, Clarkson goes on to note that the nation has the "fascinating ability to put extra syllables in every single word" and that there are "unnecessarily long, long, long names".

"The president's name, last time I looked, must have got 300 letters in it," he asserts. "And then the capital city (Antananarivo) goes 'Ant-ana-ant-ananan-ant-anananarivo' - really long names. It makes the road signs hilarious, because they're all 16ft across when you go into a village."

Each equipped with a sports car of their choosing, the trio first embark on a drag race along Reunion Island's coastal highway, the most expensive stretch of road ever built, at a cost of 1.7bn euros (£1.5bn).

"We were the first people ever to drive on it," remarks Clarkson. "You can fly for 13 hours and then land - still in France. That's astonishing in itself - and then it's astonishing to see the EU at work.

"I was a Remainer and a fervent believer in the EU and what it stands for, but when you see something like that you just think 'Oh, for heaven's sake, no wonder Brexit won when we're spending this much money on a completely unnecessary vanity project on the other side of the world.'"

At this point, things take a turn for the dramatic, as series producer "Mr Wilman" signals for the presenters to embark on their next task: track down the buried treasure.

Taking on one of the world's most treacherous roads as part of their mission, Madagascar's Route Nationale 5, the three sports cars undergo extensive modifications in a bid to make it across the treacherous landscape.

With May opting for a track-day Caterham, Clarkson for a Bentley Continental and Hammond for a Ford Focus RS, the newly modified cars set out to tackle the island's rugged terrain.

"It was a proper car-y adventure, where we pushed things beyond their natural limits and I quite enjoy that sort of thing," remarks May of the challenge. "I've always wanted to do that with one of those Caterhams and I've always had a sort of hunch that it would work. And it did work - better than I could have imagined in my wildest dreams.

"You thought it was just for car nerds who bore you at petrol stations and go on track days, but it turns out it's for explorers - and even Caterham didn't know that." As with most of Hammond's past car modification choices, the presenter adopted the "no half-measures" approach, declaring he "wanted something that was really fun to spank around in".

"When it became clear we would be punishing these things off-road, I realised that essentially a rally car for the road wasn't going to be ideal for proper off-roading. So, in my wisdom, I then put it on tracks."

As for Clarkson's Bentley Continental? "I loved that car so much I arranged to have it shipped back and it's currently living with me on the farm at home, which I've never done with any car," he declares proudly.

With filming for the special taking place prior to Covid-19 and the resulting national lockdown, editing was the only stage notably impacted.

However, given the sheer amount of time the presenters spend in each others' company, how would they survive being locked down in a house together?

"There's two answers there," notes Hammond.

"One, my immediate answer is a sense of utter revulsion and terror at the very prospect - dear God.

"But, actually, do you know what? Probably better than most, because we've been working and living together in a bubble for 20 years, anyway.

"A while ago, I was making my breakfast - spreading some Marmite on toast - and James was standing there and he suddenly erupted. It turns out he hates the way I spread my Marmite to the edge of the toast and just detonated at me. That's when we both stopped and realised we have spent too long together."

The Grand Tour Presents: A Massive Hunt launches on Friday on Amazon Prime Video

Belfast Telegraph


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