Jeremy Clarkson dropped his broadest hint yet of a return to television as he teamed up with his former Top Gear presenters during a live show.
He entered to the theme of boxing anthem Eye Of The Tiger as he made his first public appearance with Richard Hammond and James May since he was dropped by the BBC in March following a “fracas” with a producer at a North Yorkshire hotel.
The show, which kicks off a global super car tour, opened with footage of him throwing a hefty left hand, then the man himself arrived in a hovercraft to the music which once accompanied Irish boxer Barry McGuigan into the ring.
Clarkson said they were not in America - yet. “We have had a lot of interest from all around the world in our TV programme and who knows what may happen,” he said.
The performance in Northern Ireland was laced with irony, with repeated swipes at paperwork and lawyers. It was also predictably politically incorrect, with jokes about the French and disability, swooning at a scantily clad runner and lots of fast cars.
Clarkson told of his liking for the Alfa Romeo, with an engine he compared to somebody screaming in your ear, which he demonstrated on Hammond.
“All of us have friends who have got flaws, they turn up late, they have smelly armpits,” he said.
“To err is human, that is the great thing about the car, it has faults like we all do, that is the great thing about that car, it has faults like we all do, me in particular.”
One of the cast supporting Clarkson, Hammond and May was injured earlier in the day and taken to hospital. But the trio survived during a performance packed with ribald jokes.
They have not appeared on the same stage since Clarkson left the BBC following a “fracas” with a producer in March but reunited to front the live stadium spin-off of the hit BBC2 motoring show.
The motoring stars said they opted to start the tour in “Bel-Fast” because “it is a long way from the Daily Mail offices”.
May said: “We have bad news, it turns out that the orangutan is not quite as gone as we hoped.”
Clarkson made several references to his former career as a TV presenter.
“This TV lark is much harder, you have to remember your lines, remember where to stand, you cannot be rude about your colleagues, you cannot swear.”
They raced three-wheeled Reliant Robins around the track, inevitably all ending up on their sides, and 55-year-old Clarkson squeezed delicately from his.
“Can I have a Caesarean?” he asked.
He said he once rolled one into a canal but for legal reasons could not televise that.
He told his co-stars: “Why don’t you drive like a bat out of hell, you will be killed but I don’t care - there will be a lot of paperwork.”
A giant “salad shaker” globe contained motorcyclists, and May was invited to stand in it.
He asked about a helmet but was told it would not protect him although “it would make his head easier to find”.
Clarkson said: “Don’t worry if it goes wrong, they are only French.”
The BBC stripped its branding from the show after Clarkson’s departure.
He said: “It is cost effective now we are doing this show in association with nobody else at all, we have to save money.”
The six-month global tour of the rebranded Clarkson, Hammond and May Live team will end in London in November.
Top Gear Live had run for a number of years but organisers removed the branding following Clarkson’s departure from the BBC.
Clarkson was suspended, then dropped, by the BBC in March following the “fracas” at a hotel.
Producer Oisin Tymon suffered swelling and a split lip in the assault on March 4 and visited a hospital A&E department due to his injuries.
Following an internal investigation, the BBC announced on March 25 that Clarkson’s contract on Top Gear would not be renewed.
Quirky races and flaming Porsches were predictable staples during the live show.
Hammond raced fleet-footed 2010 Commonwealth gold heptathlon winner Louise Hazel, losing by a nose or a fender.
Clarkson said: “Beaten by a pedestrian.”
The show also featured a “football match” between red and green cars representing England and Northern Ireland and a giant white ball.
Northern Ireland convincingly took the lead and won in the end but there were a few complaints about hand brakes from Clarkson and colleagues.
Around 5,500 spectators packed the Odyssey Arena to see the show.
The tour heads to Sheffield, then Johannesburg, South Africa, and Stavanger in Norway in June. Then it goes to Australia for shows in Perth and Sydney in July, followed by Warsaw in October and ending at London’s O2 for two nights in November.