Top Gear gets emotional in India

When Jeremy Clarkson and the boys took the show to India, they were touched by the affection of their fans

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Top Gear gets emotional in India
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Graham Wray

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

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