Some say he’s a scourge of political correctness. Some say he’s a tormentor of Mexicans and cyclists. Some say he’s the worst advert for denim ever created. And now some say he’s a god. Last month, in India, it was reported that Jeremy Clarkson had been mistaken for an incarnation of the divine.
“Yes, and these are the same reports that claim I’ve had Botox,” laughs co-presenter Richard Hammond. “I have to say I can’t possibly look upon Jeremy as a god.”
However, to the British public Clarkson has long given the impression of omniscience, which is one reason why he is loved and loathed in equal measure. But in India, where Clarkson, Hammond and James May ventured to ﬁlm Top Gear’s Christmas special, they were the subject of genuine fan worship.
Top Gear is broadcast into more than 25 million homes on the subcontinent. That’s a lot of viewers… “and most of them turned out to greet us,” laughs Hammond. As ever, the Top Gear trio were up to mischief. “We wanted to do our bit to strengthen trade relations between Britain and India,” Hammond deadpans. “So we took it upon ourselves to demonstrate what a powerful nation Great Britain is by showcasing famous British brands.”
With Clarkson at the wheel of a Jaguar XJS, May driving a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow and Hammond in a Mini Cooper, the most unconventional trade delegation in British economic history took two weeks to drive a thousand miles, visiting some of India’s major cities.
“The people everywhere were incredibly warm, but the roads are unbelievably dangerous,” says Hammond. “It appears you can drive on either side of the road, regardless of what direction you’re going in. It’s absolutely terrifying.”
More dangerous than the roads is the standard of Indian driving. “People in India are extremely knowledgeable about cars. The problem is when they get in them they become lunatic.
"There’s plenty of overtaking, often with two cars overtaking at the same time. But Mumbai was the worst. The traffic jams during the day were crazy. So we couldn’t work out why we were told not to drive at night. But it transpires it’s because nobody bothers to use their lights. So there are lorries hurtling towards you on your side of the road without lights.”
Hammond also reveals that this year’s special contains a new ingredient – emotion. “We experienced some powerful moments,” he says. “At one point we were playing cricket with the locals and were bringing the cars into it. It started off as a joke but then the whole thing became moving because the locals are so endearing. “India gets to you. It’s why we left thinking it was the most bonkers yet wonderful place we’d ever been to.”
Top Gear in India is on BBC2 at 8pm tonight