THE Grand Tour has taken James May to Cambodia, Madagascar and many other exotic locations.
But thanks to Covid-19, the furthest the show will be going in the near future is Scotland — and he says having a break from his co-hosts in the meantime has been a godsend.
James, 57, who has been presenting for almost 17 years with Jeremy Clarkson, 60, and Richard Hammond, 50, says: “It’s by far the longest we’ve gone without seeing each other.
“Three glorious months — it was just amazing. I think that’s why I’m so fit and healthy at the moment, not having the stress of having to deal with them.
“We had a socially distanced meeting last month with face masks, planning possible future trips.
“We had to have a quick half hour in person because it was getting quite difficult on Zoom. We’re all getting tired of Zoom.
“It was quite shocking having to look at them in person after all that time.”
Having spent so long apart, and with Jeremy planning a solo show on Amazon called I Bought A Farm, you would think James would have plenty to ask about when he met up with his telly pals.
But he jokes: “How are they? I didn’t ask, to be honest. I don’t care.
“Hammond’s been working on something with his production company, Jeremy’s still trying to work on his farming show but that’s been frustrating, so a lot of it he’s had to do himself.
“I suppose he may have to film some of it by himself with a GoPro. The rest of the crew will be very relieved about that.”
The timing of lockdown couldn’t have been worse for the trio, who were planning an epic trip to Russia for the latest big-money special of the Amazon Prime Video series.
Now James explains why they could be staying in Britain.
He says: “If we’d gone, we would have been quarantined or not been allowed home.
“The effects of lockdown on making TV shows is that we have to retract our ambitions for travel.
“It’s not just, ‘Can we get on an aeroplane and go somewhere?’ but, ‘Are we going to be able to do anything when we get there?’
“We need to talk to people and it’s an enormous crew with all our kit plus ten or 15 vans. It’s very difficult and we don’t want to compromise it. It limits the places we can go.
“I think Amazon would say the same thing. We would rather wait a bit longer rather than rushing it for the sake of it and coming out with something half-arsed.
How are they? I didn’t ask, to be honest. I don’t care.
“We may have to accept that if you’re in Britain or America, us being in Cambodia or Africa is exotic, but for our viewers in those places us being in Ireland would be exotic.
“So maybe we have to start thinking a bit more like that.
“You’d struggle to go to a part of the world that’s better looking than Scotland and it’s on our doorstep, along with Cornwall and Dorset and Wales and the Ring of Kerry in Ireland.
“There are all sorts of lovely places without having to go too far. Everything is postponed, it’s not cancelled.
“It’s almost impossible to plan and we don’t know by how long. We just have to be Cub Scout-ishly constantly prepared.
“It’s exciting to go to exotic places but I’ve been to an awful lot of them.
“Whenever we make the Grand Tour, and it was the same on Top Gear, it’s about the subject first and the story, then we make it fit somewhere.
“We didn’t think, ‘We must go to India. What shall we do when we get there?’, because that doesn’t work.
“You have to stay focused on cars — except when it’s boats.”
When the trio became seafarers to cross the Mekong Delta from Cambodia to Vietnam in series four, not all viewers were pleased they left the cars in the garage.
James even reckons that for pure automobile action, you should tune in to their old show Top Gear — which he joined pre-Clarkson in 1999 — now fronted by Freddie Flintoff, Paddy McGuinness and Chris Harris.
He says: “You always get some people who complain about not doing cars, but on the whole people were very positive about it.
I’m afraid we have become a rather tragic sitcom
“It’s been received well. We’ve been doing this a long time and people want to see us three together.
“The petrolheads want to see cars but there are lots of places you can see cars, on Top Gear apart from anywhere else, which is pretty good these days.
“But people who are fans of us want to see us doing something, whether that be cars, or boats, or standing on our heads.
“I don’t think what we do matters that much to about 75 per cent of the audience.
“I’m afraid we have become a rather tragic sitcom. Look how decrepit we are.”
Before the world of telly came to a juddering halt, the trio did manage to wrap filming at the end of 2019 on a trip to Madagascar, off the coast of East Africa, in a special due to appear later this year.
And if travel to exotic places does become a thing of the past for The Grand Tour, then at least they have gone out on a high.
James says of their last adventure: “It wasn’t as hairy as the boat one, which was stupid, on reflection.
“But Madagascar was arduous, sweaty and we got covered in lots of crap as usual. It’s a fascinating place. I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere as beautiful.
“The only thing that spoiled it was the presence of my two co-hosts.
“It’s a good film, very upbeat and positive. And it’s got cars in it.”
Instead of twiddling his thumbs in lockdown, James — famously the more careful of the three Grand Tour drivers — has been putting the finishing touches on a new app.
My Theory Test By James May is aimed at the UK’s 1.8million learner drivers who must get past the first hurdle introduced in 1996.
James, said: “Driving theory is a bit dry, if we’re very honest. I never did the test because I’m far too old.
“The pass rate has been going down quite dramatically for a decade.
“There are a number of apps which are pretty good and thorough but they’re boring.
“So some friends asked me to do one and make it a bit more human.
“We are embracing the boring and having a bit of fun with it.”
And despite being integral to the app and having decades of driving experience, he hasn’t got full marks.
James says: “I’ve been doing it constantly and I’ve never quite got 100 per cent, but you don’t have to get 100.
“A lot of the questions are very obvious, to do with whether you should wear a seat belt or speed up at a train crossing, so it’s a bit of a concern that people are failing them in such high numbers.
“You have to think, ‘Not what I would do in real life?’, but ‘What would your examiner in his beige trousers do as the safest thing?’”
When it comes to safe driving, learners will certainly be in safe hands with Captain Slow.
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