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.
Hammond says 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.”
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. But Doncaster-born Clarkson, whose career started out as a reporter at The Rotherham Advertiser, has also been dealing with his own health issues.
In August, he ended up in hospital for six days with double pneumonia in both lungs. He has had to give up smoking as a result and when we meet, there’s a pile of nicotine gum in front of him - 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. “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 at The Simonstone Hall Hotel near Hawes, North Yorkshire, 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.
The on-screen chemistry between Clarkson, Hammond and May led to Amazon commissioning The Grand Tour, and their famously caustic banter is in evidence just as much away from the cameras.
When asked about Hammond’s recent accident involving an all-electric supercar, which viewers will see in the first episode of the new series, Clarkson has little sympathy now it is clear his friend is better. “Cars have brake pedals and those of us with an IQ bigger than our shoe size, i.e.: everyone other than Hammond, can just think, ‘Right that was the finishing line, now I’ll brake’.”
May also jumps at the chance to have a affectionate snipe at one of his co-hosts when asked about Clarkson’s recent illness. “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.”
As Hammond says when asked whether their recent difficulties have resulted in bonding time between him, May and Clarkson - think again.
“Bickering is what happens. We don’t have to try to find one another irritating, or to irritate one another. That happens organically.”
The Grand Tour returns to Amazon Prime Video on Friday, December 8