We’re now four days away from your on-screen debut as a Top Gear presenter. How does that feel?
It feels like it’s taken forever to get to this stage because of this massive process. I’ve had to go through from the 30 second audition to the screen test, then there were interviews and lots of decision making behind the scenes at the BBC, then the announcement. We’re still shooting right now but we’re getting closer and closer to D-Day - to TG day! - and it’s hugely exciting. I can’t wait.
You were first confirmed as a Top Gear presenter back in February. When were you first told you’d been successful?
I’m not 100 per cent sure! There were various points in the process where it was kind of confirmed, but not quite confirmed. When I actually signed the contract is when it was done and dusted, and I signed it the day before Chris Evans announced it on the radio. I had to sign the contract before 5.30 in the evening or it would have missed a certain deadline to be processed by the lawyers, and it wouldn’t have been announced.
I had their word that I’d be in the show, but you never want to count your chickens. There were several months of ups and downs, and it was an emotional roller coaster not knowing if I was in or if I was out.
So right up until the end, there were still doubts?
Right up until two weeks before, because nothing was signed and there were a few people within Top Gear land that had left the operation for various reasons - Lisa Clarke, Tom ‘Wookie’ Ford - all people that were instrumental in me being considered for the role, and I heard about them leaving the same way as everyone else - in the newspapers.
Up until the announcement, could you actually tell anyone?
I could tell people very close to me, but I couldn’t really tell anyone else; I didn’t want to look stupid and nothing was confirmed. So I told my girlfriend, but a lot of my close family I didn’t tell because I didn’t want them feeling bad for me if it didn’t work out, or if I turned it down because I didn’t like what they were offering me, so I had to keep it very close to my chest.
Gallo 12 or 24?
Gallo 12 or 24? I’ve seen this on Car Throttle, is this some kind of GT-R reference? This is Fast and Furious isn’t it. Gallo 12? It’s a trick question isn’t it, I can’t win! I am not up on my Fast and Furious. I’m going to be controversial, I don’t like Fast and Furious…
One of the reasons we love your videos so much is the fact you’re able to chuck in some brilliantly outrageous lines, such as likening the F-Type’s switchgear to a porn star’s nipples. Will you still be able to push the boundaries as much at Top Gear?
I won’t be able to go as far as ‘porn star’s nipples’ definitely not, but I’m pulling my way towards the limits of what is permissible at the BBC. And ‘porn star’s nipples’ and ‘prostitute’s stockings’ [another analogy from the F-Type video] is definitely out too! The problem is now it’s a worldwide show, they [the producers] are conscious of how people receive it all over the world, and me maybe talking about porn star’s nipples or dead prostitutes’ stockings might upset certain people. You’ve got to be really careful.
This’ll be a really good judge of how far I’m pushing things - I did do a scene where I had a doctor operating on a patient in a car while I reviewed it. Whether they cut that out or not remains to be seen, but I’m pushing for them to keep it. There’s blood, there’s guts, there’s drama. But it has to go through a whole chain of people. I’m pushing to be as controversial as I can, but the powers that be will ultimately decide.
What are you driving right now?
A BMW i8
Since you’re not able to push things too far on the BBC, describe the interior of the i8 in the most outrageous way possible…
[Laughs] OK! The interior of the BMW i8 reminds me of a casting couch, in that any woman that steps into that interior feels compelled to take her clothes off, and do with you what she will. And I’ll leave it there in case I get into some serious trouble…
Back to Fast and Furious, I’m afraid! The ‘Extra Gear’ spin-off you’ll be presenting with Chris Harris - is that name inspired by Fast and Furious?
[Laughs] it is kind of! Not directly, but it is that whole sense of, you’ve reached the ultimate ratio, but then you dig deeper and there’s another ratio. You think you’re at the limit, and then you dig deep and there’s an extra gear. So Fast and Furious delivers that as a visual metaphor.
It’s no secret you were hounded by the press after first being announced as a Top Gear host. What was the worst thing that happened? Is there anything particularly shocking we won’t have heard about?
The most annoying thing was when a journalist turned up to my father and mother-in-law’s house, asking for gossip on me. Obviously they said: “There’s nothing to say, what gossip?” But the journalist - if you can call him that - said “It doesn’t even have to be true, just give us something juicy and it can remain completely anonymous.” So that’s the kind of lengths they’ll go to get something - anything - out of you just to have a story.
There was another one where a journalist messaged a friend of mine and asked if she had any gossip on me. She said “No”. They said: “Look we know he’s a mate, even if it’s anonymous just give us anything.” And that kind of painted a picture of the press for me, and showed me that although I call myself a journalist, these people call themselves journalists too but our approach in getting and delivering a story is just completely different. Let’s say I didn’t appreciate it much.
How did you react when that picture of you clay pigeon shooting was reproduced, with the papers making out that you were some kind of gangster?
I was really horrified. For my introduction to the world to be this picture of me holding shotguns and smoking something which was described as ‘possibly weed’, my heart sank. I thought to myself ‘how much worse could my introduction to the general public have been?’ I was the fourth most Googled term on Google UK, and to know the first thing people would see was this picture of me being portrayed as a gangster, it was horrible.
Do media reports of all these rumoured Top Gear production disasters and setbacks piss you off?
Do they piss me off? No. Maybe in the very beginning I was slightly annoyed because I knew 99 per cent of it was nonsense, but now I’m used to it. You hear it every day. It seems like there’s a sticker on the wall of all these publications where they have to write about Top Gear every week. The more negative it is, the more response it gets.
Being around the Top Gear cast and crew for the last few months, I realise that everyone in there is just really nice and everyone’s working so hard to deliver something that’s incredible. So the only thing that pisses me off is that people try and belittle their work, but now I just look at it [newspaper rumours] as a joke. It’s all bullshit.
Do you like Phil Collins?
Yeah, I do like Phil Collins. I don’t love Phil Collins but I respect the man and I respect his work.
Favourite Phil Collins song?
In The Air Tonight.
How much of a departure from Top Gear as we knew it will the new show be?
I don’t know yet, I haven’t seen a full episode so I’m as curious as everyone else to see how the show turns out. I’ve seen the individual segments, but part of the experience is seeing it as one package. I’m confident in what they’ve put together. I think a lot of people will be pleasantly surprised. I think my work is another level up from what people have seen from me on YouTube. This is by far my best work ever.
Top Gear’s now gone from three to six presenters - seven if you include The Stig. How will you fit in the mix? Can we expect to see you in every episode, and will you be in the studio?
You won’t see me in every episode. There are six episodes in series 1, and I’ll be in four of those six. There will be episodes I’m not in, and the same goes for everyone else in the team. Chris Harris won’t be in every episode, Sabine Schmitz won’t be in every episode. The only two that will be in every episode are Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc. And the Stig, of course.
I’ll be in every episode of Extra Gear, which is the spin-off show. So I will be in the studio every week preparing for that handover process, where I’ll take over with Extra Gear.
The way that I’ve been drafted in is I’m kind of like a special forces lone assassin. I get parachuted in to review a car or a group of cars by myself, and I deliver a single video package. I haven’t worked directly out in the field with any of my co-presenters for the main Top Gear show. On Extra Gear, we’ll definitely have some bits and pieces where I’ll partner up with the likes of Eddie [Jordan], Sabine, Matt or Monkey [Chris Harris].
Have you ever fisted an exhaust?
I haven’t managed to get my whole fist into an exhaust, I’ve got really big hands but I’ve definitely given a few exhausts the ‘Kit Kat treatment’ - four fingers! They’re like dinner plates man! They’re enormous. It takes a special calibre of exhaust to accept this bear paw of mine.
Our Editor Alex manages to fist lots of exhausts. Can we take that to mean you have manlier hands?
His fists are built for precision, mine are just like big blunt objects of destruction. But if there’s an exhaust he thinks I can fist I’m down for it. Let’s make a video!
It’s clear when you look at YouTube comments and video dislikes that some people just don’t think anyone can follow on from Clarkson, Hammond and May. What do you say to people who hold that view?
As much as you love Clarkson, Hammond and May, they probably don’t love you as much as you love them. By all means hold a candle for them in your hearts, but just realise that they probably couldn’t give two shits about you.
If you love them that much, guess what: they have a programme coming out on Amazon this year which is going to be absolutely brilliant, so you get to watch them. Grow up, move on, wait for the new show to come out. And also on top of that, you might have another car show you end up thinking is brilliant, or mediocre or whatever. But the point is you’re not losing anything, so get on with your life.
How does it feel going up against Clarkson, Hammond and May with their new show, The Grand Tour?
I don’t feel like I’m going up against them at all. I’ve never thought about them while filming; they’ve literally never crossed my mind. The studio doesn’t look like we’re doing the same things. It looks new, it looks fresh, the track is different. Top Gear’s evolved, so there’s almost no legacy for me, other than the expectations, and I don’t feel any pressure to live up to what these guys have done before.
I’m still a huge fan of those guys and I’m looking forward to what they deliver with Amazon, but I don’t let it hang over me. They don’t influence what I do in the slightest.
Do you think Top Gear was due an overhaul before the presenter change happened?
Definitely. I’m not saying it needed a change of presenters, but it would have been interesting for that change to be executed by Clarkson, Hammond and May. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see that on Top Gear, but we’ll get to see it with the Amazon show. And we also get the bonus of Top Gear going through an evolution as well, and hopefully it’s an evolution for the better.
Are you using Top Gear as a springboard to become a Car Throttle presenter in the future?
[Laughs] I love Car Throttle. Every video I’ve made that’s ended up on Car Throttle, I’ve been pumping the air like ‘fuck yeah, I’ve made it on to Car Throttle’. When you guys see it as worthy of gracing your pages, I feel like I’ve done a fabulous job. So the day that you guys decide to hire me and put me in the Car Throttle world, then that’ll be a happy day!
As a Top Gear presenter you’re now a pretty big deal. Do you have a butler to take your bins out?
Unfortunately not, I do it every Thursday! And I haven’t even got anyone to tell me what bin it is, whether it’s recycling or garden waste. So I’m hoping that if I do end up joining Car Throttle, there’ll be a stipulation that I’ll get a butler…