DJ Chris Evans has been revealed as the new host of Top Gear, following months of rumours over who would replace ousted favourite Jeremy Clarkson.
Speculation has now shifted to who will co-host alongside Evans, after the BBC also confirmed for the first time that Richard Hammond and James May would not be returning to the hit show.
The favourites to appear on-screen with Evans are model-turned TV presenter Jodie Kidd and television and radio presenter Dermot O’Leary, according to bookmaker Ladbrokes.
The BBC said last night television and radio presenter Evans has signed a three-year deal to lead an all-new line-up for the popular BBC Two show.
Evans has previously insisted he would never take on the role, after being tipped as a favourite to take over from Clarkson who was sacked following a “fracas” with the show’s producer earlier this year.
But after agreeing the deal, he said: “I’m thrilled, Top Gear is my favourite programme of all time. Created by a host of brilliant minds who love cars and understand how to make the massively complicated come across as fun, devil-may-care and effortless. When in fact of course, it’s anything but and that’s the genius of Top Gear’s global success.
“I promise I will do everything I possibly can to respect what has gone on before and take the show forward.”
Evans will face pressure to win over die-hard Top Gear fans, with one million of them calling for Clarkson to be reinstated after his contracted was ended.
Outgoing host May tweeted his cautious support for the new appointment, saying: “Well: best of luck to @achrisevans and the future of Top Gear (b. 1977). That’s a ballsy call, frankly, and to be admired.”
For the first time the BBC confirmed that co-hosts Hammond and May will not return to the show.
A BBC spokeswoman said the presenters who are to host alongside Evans will be announced “in due course”, with production of the new series starting in the next few weeks.
Tweeting after the news was announced, Evans confirmed he would continue to present BBC Radio 2’s breakfast show and praised his Top Gear predecessors.
He said: “First tweet as new Top Gear host. I would like to say Jeremy, Richard & James are the greatest. And NO I’m not leaving the R2 Breakfast Show.”
It represents a sharp U-turn for Evans, who in March dismissed rumours he would take over the show, tweeting: “I can categorically say I am not and will NEVER be running for office. Pls discount my candidacy.”
Ladbrokes said Evans remained the favourite to take the job up until betting was suspended on Monday night.
Jessica Bridge, of Ladbrokes, said “Evans won’t be the first or last celebrity to say one thing and do another. He was the favourite from day one and patient punters are now quids in.
“As far as the odds are concerned the new look Top Gear looks set to break new territory with a female co-host in Jodie Kidd. It’s certainly a move in the right direction if Beeb bosses want to get away from the dinosaur-like views Clarkson often held.”
Model-turned TV presenter Kidd and television and radio presenter Dermot O’Leary are the most-back celebrities to co-host at odds of 5/4 and 2/1 respectively, followed by actor Philip Glenister, biker Guy Martin, broadcaster Johnny Vaughan and TV presenter Sue Perkins.
Kim Shillinglaw, controller of BBC Two, said Evans is the “perfect choice” to take the show forward.
“I am so delighted that Chris will be presenting the next series of Top Gear. His knowledge of and passion for cars are well-known and combined with his sheer inventiveness and cheeky unpredictability, he is the perfect choice to take our much-loved show into the future,” she said.
Fans of the show will have one last chance to see the original line-up together in a farewell episode later this month.
The previously unseen footage, which was put on hold after Clarkson hit the headlines for his row with producer Oisin Tymon, will feature in a one-off 75-minute show on Sunday June 28.
Viewers will see Clarkson, Hammond and May behind the wheel of classic cars and beaten-up 4x4s in their final challenges as a trio.
Andy Wilman, Top Gear’s former executive producer and an old school friend of Clarkson, has also left the show, sparking rumours he was joining up with the trio to make an alternative programme, with Netflix and ITV among the broadcasters said to be in the running to screen it.
Evans celebrated his new job by playing famous driving songs on his BBC Radio 2 show this morning.
The red-haired star invited his listeners to call in to give him some tips on what he should do with the show.
Evans said: “If you were in charge of a really well-known successful car programme, what might you do with it in the future? Let’s start work here and now, people.”
When one listener suggested he invite Clarkson to take part in the popular segment ‘star in a reasonably priced car’, Evans eagerly agreed.
He added: “That’s a good idea. What about all three of them in the reasonably priced car? They go up against each other and they start a brand new leaderboard.”
Evans dedicated his morning’s radio programme “to all Top Gear fans” and revealed he is having his first meeting to discuss his plans for the show later today.
He said: “We realise there is a lot of work to do and serious focusing to be done.”