Chris Evans: “I didn’t want to be a pawn in a chess game involving three of my friends”

The Radio 2 Breakfast Show host was initially approached about the Top Gear job in the aftermath of Jeremy Clarkson's "fracas" before a follow-up text last Thursday from BBC entertainment boss Mark Linsey

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Following yesterday’s announcement that Chris Evans has signed a three-year deal to host Top Gear, he’s revealed that the BBC opened discussions about the job by text message last Thursday. The corporation turned to the Radio 2 DJ as soon as James May and Richard Hammond decided not to return to the hit car show without disgraced co-presenter Jeremy Clarkson.

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“It took me by surprise as much – more – than anyone else,” Evans said on his Breakfast Show this morning. “I got a text and it was from Mark Linsey who is the head of entertainment for BBC TV, and basically it said: ‘would you be interested at all in having a Top Gear conversation?'”

When Evans called Linsey, he learned that James May and Richard Hammond had finally ruled themselves out of returning to the hit show. The BBC reportedly offered the presenters £1 million to continue, double what they had previously earned.

The corporation initially approached Evans before Jeremy Clarkson was officially dropped by BBC director-general Tony Hall following a “fracas” with a Top Gear producer in March.

“I had one brief text exchange about Top Gear with somebody very high up at the BBC, and it was when what has now become infamous happened,” Evans told his Radio 2 listeners. “And that was very short, very concise, and saying: if anything happened in the future, would you be up for a conversation. So the text that I received on Thursday was pretty similar to the one three months ago or whenever it was.”

The Breakfast Show host also explained why he had repeatedly denied any interest after being tipped for the job following Clarkson’s departure, saying that he had hoped Hammond and May would take up the BBC’s offer. “I wanted Top Gear to carry on – as a fan. And I thought, honestly, as a betting man, I thought that was what was going to happen… And so whenever I said I categorically ruled myself out of running for office, it was because I didn’t want to be a pawn in a chess game involving three, including Jeremy, of my friends.”

Evans even acted as advisor to May when their families spent three days in France together on holiday last month, he revealed. “We talked about what he and Jeremy and Richard might do for most of the three days if I’m honest with you,” Evans told his listeners. 

Following May and Hammond’s decision not to return to Top Gear, Evans had his first meeting with the BBC on Friday after talking it through with his wife and TFI producer Will MacDonald. “It’s the biggest television show in the world. It’s my favourite television show of all time. You know how much of a fan I am of the show. And I love producing TV. And you know the kind of TV that I love to produce. And so I said yes.”

Before the official announcement yesterday evening, Evans texted Clarkson, May, Hammond and ex-Top Gear producer Andy Wilman, and “heard back from all of them”.

“James called me back straightaway, within a minute. We had a chat saying we’re going to meet up today or tomorrow and talk about things and who knows what might happen there. And Jeremy texted me, he said, ‘I knew you would. Best of luck’. And then he gave me a piece of advice, which I’m not going to repeat on the radio to be honest! Then Richard texted me back…’You were designed and built for that job. It was always the BBC’s very best option if you take it up and I certainly don’t blame you for doing so. Good luck, Richard.’”

May also tweeted his approval last night:

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Production on the new series of Top Gear will begin in the next few weeks.

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