It used to be said of Jeremy Clarkson that he expressed what other people were only thinking—giving a voice to the voiceless who were supposedly not allowed to make politically incorrect jokes about foreigners or anything that killjoy liberals decided was out of bounds.
That was in the Britain before the Brexit vote.
In the 1990s and early 2000s, governments in London tried to promote multiculturalism and immigration instead of trying to slash them whatever the cost. Since then, the idea that conservative-leaning Brits—mainly white men—are somehow a picked-upon silent majority has become even more laughable.
But the former Top Gear host—the man who’s made so many jokes about foreigners that you could get into double figures of Google result pages before you found a duplicate controversy—is defensive when asked by The Daily Beast if he feels at all responsible for the outpouring of anti-immigrant feeling in the country, which has poisoned its recent politics.
“I don’t know how I’ve done that, I’ve described myself as pro-European for about 30 years,” said Clarkson. “I feel European, when I go to America and people ask where I from I say I’m from Europe. So I’m not sure how I contributed to a few coffin-dodgers in Barnsley deciding that they don’t want to live next to a Syrian.”
Clarkson, whose Amazon Prime series The Grand Tour relaunches on Jan. 18, strongly supports the European Union and clearly wishes the referendum never happened. Britain is due to leave the European Union at the end of March and Clarkson, whom thousands once backed to become prime minister, has no idea how he would sort out the mess if given the chance.
“I would have just thrown my hands up and just gone, ‘oh for fuck's sake I can’t be bothered with all of this,’” he admitted. “I don’t think there’s supercomputer on earth that could [work it out]. Europe has to punish us—they can’t allow us to leave without being damaged because then everyone will want to go. We don’t want to go if we’re going to be damaged.
“We can’t stay, we’ve got Ireland, we’ve got the customs union, and I’m still not certain what that means. This is why I said I wanted to stay—I feel European. It’s just bloody sad, that’s what it is, and Christ knows how it’s going to be resolved in my lifetime.”
Asked who has it worse between Donald Trump’s America and Brexit Britain, he replied clearly: “Britain. Without a shadow of doubt. I’m not saying I’m a Trump fan, I’m just saying, it’s bad in America, but it’s a thousand times worse in Britain.”
Clarkson said part of the reason he feels so European is the travel he’s done both for work and for recreation—since the Top Gear reboot in 2002, he’s traveled to countless countries and offended countless locals.
The third season of The Grand Tour will see him and his loyal cohorts—James May and Richard Hammond—in countries they’ve never filmed in before, with his favorites being Colombia (where they made a vow to be the “first TV show in history to go there and not mention cocaine,”) and Mongolia.
“That was probably the best location,” said Clarkson of Mongolia. “We went to a bit that people don’t go to at the Russian border and drove, following nothing but a compass, for six days and didn’t see a telegraph pole, a wall, a farm, a farm animal, a jet contrail, or a person.”
He added: “It was like going from London to Rome and there being no evidence that man ever existed. You can see why Genghis Khan went on his walkabouts, just for someone to talk to.”
There are few places left that the three haven’t been to, he said, but added that—now they’re free from the financial and political shackles of the BBC, which, as a national broadcaster funded by taxpayers, restricted travel to some places—they would be permitted to go to Zimbabwe and Iran, which he’d like to do in Season 4 or 5.
“I don’t have many places left in the world that I haven’t been to personally, but I would quite like to complete the set before I croak, and that’s the great thing about this show because I just say I want to go here and we muster a team, come up with a story, and off we go,” he said.
The main difference in this season will be that, for benefit of a global audience, there will be no guests on the show. With the help of digital analytics, Amazon found that international viewers fast-forwarded through the guest segments, which were often aimed at a British audience.
“It will come as a relief to large chunks of the world, such as America, Italy, France—they didn’t know who the guests were half of the time,” he said, adding the rest of the show will follow the old formula of “us three falling over, catching fire, driving around corners too quickly, James taking too long to say anything—the usual recipe that seems to work rather well.”
The three have been hosting together for 15 years now, since May joined the trio in 2003, and they have no plans of stopping yet. “I’ve given up smoking so I might do 15 more,” said Clarkson.
“It was popular in its previous incarnation and it’s popular now,” he added. “It is idiotic to break something that’s working perfectly alright. Everyone really likes it and feels comfortable with me being bombastic, and James being pedantic, and Hammond being thick.
“And we don’t have to act—I am bombastic, James is pedantic, and Hammond… well he’s not thick, but he comes across that way sometimes. It just works, and then you put the cars in and places that people haven’t been to and I think that’s a unique mixture.”
He’s right—The Grand Tour has proved a worthwhile investment to Amazon as the show is believed to have been more successful at encouraging sign-ups than any other original series. While costing a reported $78 million to make, the show pulled in more than 1.5 million “first streams,” meaning people signed up in their droves to watch the show.
As long as the unique formula continues to work and the three find parts of the world they’ve not been to, cars they’ve not driven, and outlandish challenges to complete, the future of The Grand Tour seems assured.
The future of Britain after March? Well, that remains to be seen.