Is the new show a chance to ditch your old Top Gear TV personas?
No, that would be a massive mistake and also bloody difficult. Television caricatures you and we did encourage it. I might fight that occasionally because, let’s be honest, if you’re going to make a caricature, you’re not going to bring out your nicest and best qualities, are you? But I own the copyright to me, it’s mine. I can’t suddenly be somebody else, and neither can the other two.
So, the same format as before?
Yes, there would be no point if I’d said, “Right, let’s all stay together, but I want to be the one in charge on screen.” That’s not going to work, is it? So there’s a big, loud bossy one in charge, a short one who doesn’t like foreign food and a long-haired one who gets lost.
Is it a relief to be out of the Top Gear scandal loop?
You know, I hadn’t thought of that until now but yes, it is. There was a sense of baggage that wasn’t ours dragged along behind us. I think we got a bit mired in it. The sense that whatever we did would be open to misinterpretation, which often created the trouble around us. It was never intended.
Do you miss the BBC?
I haven’t burned bridges, and I haven’t closed any doors. The Grand Tour is all-consuming. We own and run the company; it’s rather different now. I feel immensely grown-up.
How long can you keep this up?
Not forever — eventually, we’ll just be too old and too unsavoury to look at, but we’re not at the end yet.
I’m 53 now and your 50s, I’ve discovered, is the cruel decade. It’s where it all sort of falls apart. And it’s difficult to have a modern healthy lifestyle and do this job.
The hours are irregular and you end up eating a lot of crisps.
Then why do it?
Our fans want us to and we are where we are because of them. I genuinely feel that I have a duty. How would I feel about myself if I didn’t do it when I knew I still could? We’re obliged to stay together, obliged to keep doing it.
Have you escaped the shadow of Top Gear?
I think we moved on a long time ago. There’ll be parts of the press and certain people on social media who’ll want to have a pop at us, and that’s fair enough — we’re not going to be popular with everybody. But I don’t get the impression that people are looking to knock us down and I’m really happy about that.
How do you really get on with Jeremy?
There are disagreements. There are very few things in real life on which I agree with Jeremy Clarkson, surprisingly few for people who have to make a TV show together. But that’s part of what makes it work. If we had the same prejudices and conceits, at least one of us would be redundant.