AFTER a year of work, and about a million air miles, our new motoring show will soon make its debut on Amazon Prime and almost everyone I meet asks the same question: “Why the bloody hell has it taken so long?”
My standard answer is that anything involving James May is bound to take an age. This is a man who takes two hours to have a dump.But the truth is that it took us quite a long time to actually get started in the first place.
For 12 years, Richard Hammond, James and I had worked together at the BBC which is a bit like being children, living at home.
We drove round corners while shouting, producer Andy Wilman edited it all together, and the Beeb did all the boring stuff — insurance, compliance, health and safety, staffing, and watering the plants in the office.But then they shooed us out of the door and we emerged into the real world for the first time, blinking like startled teenagers.
Happily, a friend lent us an office in Marylebone and Richard Hammond immediately appointed himself stationery manager. He bought a ruler, some highlighter pens and a batch of paper.
I sat about in a corner thinking of what we could do with the new Lamborghini and Andy Wilman sat in another corner telling me that before we could do anything at all, we’d need some cameramen, a bank account, some researchers, and all the other stuff that the Beeb used to do.
James meanwhile was on the lavatory, playing Battleships on his iPad.
Occasionally, our paymasters at Amazon would call to ask how we were getting along and Richard would tell them excitedly about the new fax machine that he’d bought — he lives in Wales and therefore hasn’t heard of email — and I’d go on and on about how I wanted to set a Ferrari on fire and crash it into an airliner.
So Andy went on: “I’ve told him to stop being an a**e and get on the next train. He’ll be with you at 11, and he can drive the Maserati with the automatic gearbox.”
Occasionally, our paymasters at Amazon would call to ask how we were getting along... and I’d go on and on about how I wanted to set a Ferrari on fire and crash it into an airliner
And so it began — a nine-month filming blitz that would take us to Barbados, Jordan, Namibia, Italy, Germany, California, Morocco, Tennessee, Dubai, Finland, Holland, South Africa and of course, Whitby.
The fruit of our labours will air on Friday evenings, beginning on November 18 and running for 12 weeks.
It’s been a hugely ambitious project.
And for once, I don’t think that all of it is rubbish.
ON BREAKING LAWONE of the biggest problems we faced with the new show was the law.
I had dreamed up Stig, the cool wall, and the idea of putting a star in a reasonably priced car but legally, all of these things belong to the BBC. And it wasn’t just the obvious stuff either.
According to our lawyers, we’d be in trouble if James said: “Oh cock”. Or if the audience in our giant travelling studio tent was seen in the back of shot, standing up, or if we said Richard Hammond was a bit on the small side.
It got worse. We were told that because, in the past, we would often pull over at a beauty spot and describe the view as lovely, we’d have to stop doing that as well. Seriously. I’d have to get out of my car in the Namib Desert which is one of the most achingly beautiful places on earth and say: “For legal reasons, that view is disgusting.”
ON COCK-UPSAS before, there will be a Christmas special which, as you’d expect, will not be transmitted at Christmas.
We filmed it in Namibia, which meant packing was easy.
This was a desert country, in Africa, in the southern hemisphere’s early autumn. So I took three T-shirts, three pairs of jeans and that’s it.
I wasn’t alone.
Our crews, who usually have a sixth sense about temperatures and weather, had all taken shorts and vests. And . . . it was the coldest place on Earth.
There was a fog so thick, it felt like I was living in a chilled consommé, and to make matters worse we were driving beach buggies which had no windows, no roofs and, worst of all, no heaters.
I think I may have caught consumption.
ON THE BEST BITSWE start the series with a three-car test between the McLaren P1, the Porsche 918 and the LaFerrari.
This is the holy trinity of hypercars and you haven’t seen them together on television before.
However, the highlight of the series for me is the trip we made to a special forces training base in Jordan.
Here, in a disused quarry, super army soldiers from all over the world gather every year to compete in a series of gruelling challenges to see who’s best.
And er, we thought we’d give it a go.
Car chases, fast roping out of helicopters, gun fights. We did the lot. Badly. I managed to shoot myself at one point, James May electrocuted his head and Richard Hammond got into a knife fight with a Jordanian special forces giant. Which was the shortest contest in history.
ON NO SWEARING
It's a family-friendly show, so invite the kids along
ONE of the utter joys of working with Amazon is that we get absolutely no editorial interference at all.
The only dispute we’ve had was about swearing. They say it’s OK. We say that we want a show that’s family friendly.
ON HAVING A LAUGHBIGGEST laugh. Morocco. James May was driving a no-nonsense sports car called the Zenos which came with no doors and a steering wheel that can be removed to make getting in and out a bit easier.
He came out of the hotel one morning and actually set off before he realised the wheel was still on the passenger seat.
ON MONEYYOU may have read that The Grand Tour is the best-funded TV programme in all of history, that each episode cost £4million and that the opening sequence alone cost twice that.
You’ve been told that Matt Damon will be a guest star (he won’t) and that Roger Daltrey and Wilko Johnson wrote the theme music (they didn’t).
And as a result, you are probably expecting this show to make Avengers Assemble look as low-rent as an episode of Cash In The Attic.
I worry about that at night because the truth is: the budget for The Grand Tour is actually not much larger than the budget we had on Top Gear.
When all is said and done, it’s just a car show.
One that’s hosted by three idiots and edited by a genius.
ON LOOKING GOODAS I’m sure you know, James, Richard and I are well known for our crisp fashion sense and well-groomed hair.
But it’s all gone a bit awry on the Grand Tour. We turned up to record the show in Holland with no iron or ironing board. Which meant my jacket looked like a dishcloth.
And the make-up girl we used in South Africa arrived with six gallons of thick orange paint and a trowel.