It seems only fitting that the mischievous man who will replace a mischievous man as host of Top Gear has spent the last three months causing more mischief by telling anyone who asks that he doesn’t want the job.
Maybe he really has had a last-minute change of heart, or perhaps Mr Evans has played us all for weeks knowing full well that his “dream job” was in the bag? In many ways I’d rather it’s the latter because it is this offbeat and daring approach to media that has made Chris Evans one of the richest and most celebrated broadcasters in the UK… and the perfect Top Gear host.
There is no question that Jeremy Clarkson leaves enormous driving shoes to fill. In the space of little more than a decade, he took Top Gear from a dull regional motoring show to become one of the most loved and valuable television formats on the planet. While doing this, he managed (along with his chums) to ruffle almost every feather on that same planet with a mixture of misunderstood hi-jinx and manufactured mayhem.
At the centre of it all was an unapologetic “tell it like it is” bloke who spoke to middle England whilst having a pint and smoking a cheeky fag out the back of the set. Simply put, Clarkson is loved by so many because he says and does what he likes, and apparently doesn’t give a sh*t. When the papers, environmental groups, foreign governments and just about everyone in between called for his head over the years, old Jez defiantly continued to trade in political incorrectness on the BBC.
Many say that Clarkson is one of a kind and irreplaceable. Maybe they’re right? But if there’s one man in British media who could reinvent and reinvigorate Top Gear for the BBC, it’s Chris Evans. Not because he is the same man, but because he has the same uncompromising spirit.
Pioneer of “zoo radio” on the BBC and anarchic television formats like TFI Friday on Channel 4, collector of very expensive cars, the multi-millionaire Radio 2 Breakfast Show host has a history of bust-ups with the BBC, fierce creativity, rule-breaking and controversy. Ring any bells?
Evans may not be the hotheaded 30-year-old who lived his life in the tabloid newspapers and walked out on Radio 1 any more, but he is still a presenter with daring and edge. You don’t create a media brand that makes you incredibly wealthy and forget what made it special.
He’s graduated from Radio 1 to Radio 2, and from TFI to The One Show – but there’s still an essence of danger and excitement with Chris that is sadly lacking from most other presenters on TV. You never know what’s coming next (just like this latest announcement).
His recent revival of TFI Friday (including a cheeky segment with Jeremy Clarkson) illustrated that he can still be fun and unexpected on the television and reminded us all just how gifted he is as an entertainer.
Top Gear comes with a lot of baggage and a huge weight of expectation from fans and the BBC – but you believe Chris will ignore all that and make it his own.
And that’s what he must do, take his “favourite show ever” and turn it into a Chris Evans production. He shouldn’t try to replicate or mimic what has gone before – he needs to find his own way by channeling his restless creativity, just like he has with every radio show and television format he has been involved with since he was a teenager.
It seems like an impossible task. But if I were to back anyone to reinvent Top Gear, it’s Chris Evans.
Watch this space…