Top Gear loves nothing more than a pointless, over-ambitious competition, and there has been no competition more ambitious than RadioTimes.com’s Best Top Gear Presenter Ever poll. With 33 competitors drawn from the show’s 42 year old history, almost 5,000 votes were cast to crown the winner.
“I’m overwhelmed,” said Jeremy Clarkson, overcome with emotion. “This is literally the 27th thing I’ve won, and it’s always special, but this is a particularly special moment.”
Top Gear began in 1977 and has seen everyone from Angela Rippon to Julia Bradbury get behind the wheel. Clarkson himself joined in 1988 and was responsible for relaunching the show with an entirely new format in 2002.
“I fear I may have won it by one vote, and that one vote was mine,” admits Clarkson, who had campaigned on social media for the title. He knew he was up against stiff competition.
“Presumably Frank Page was second? I thought he would win it, frankly, that’s why I voted for myself, because I was worried about Frank. Him or Chris Goffey…or Angela Rippon…or Noel Edmonds…”
Clarkson needn’t have worried as, out of almost 5,000 responses, he won almost three quarters of the vote. James May came in second with 9% (“well he’s used to that”) with fellow Grand Tour co-host Richard Hammond trailing in third with 5%.
Andy Wilman, Clarkson’s longtime collaborator and producer of both Top Gear and the Grand Tour, received a single vote for his work presenting on ‘Old Top Gear’.
“He did two very funny items on Top Gear,” remembers Clarkson, “one where he appeared naked!”
That’s not to say that the ‘Clarkson, Hammond and May’ era dominated utterly. Chris Harris – the lone survivor from the otherwise disastrous Chris Evans reboot – placed fifth, while racing legend Tiff Needell (now of Fifth Gear) came in sixth.
New boys Matt LeBlanc, Paddy McGuiness and Andrew Flintoff also placed in the top 10, as did classic Top Gear stars Vicki-Butler-Henderson and Quentin Wilson. The wide range of talent is a testament to the motoring show’s enduring legacy, as Clarkson remembers:
“My first year on Top Gear I earned £180. It clearly wasn’t the money I was getting into it for, it was the kudos of being in the upper echelons of motor journalism. All I thought was rather than being told I could get the new Mercedes in February, I would be able to get it next week. Fantastic!”
And although he has now left Top Gear for the Grand Tour on Amazon, does he see his old show having a bright future?
“Well let’s wait and see. After 26 series you can judge whether it’s been a success or not. It was reborn in 2002 and just became about three clowns in cars driving along and laughing at each other. I’m not sure whether that’s a format that can be copied, but time will tell.”
For now, he is just happy with his title of RadioTimes.com Best Top Gear Presenter Ever, surely the peak of a glittering career.
“I’m absolutely thrilled and delighted – all of the things Djokovic said at Wimbledon is broadly speaking how I feel now, that same level of emotion and achievement, all of that combined for this incredible clickbait award. I have absolutely no idea [why people like me], it’s just marvellous to be such incredible clickbait for RadioTimes.com.”
“You should run ‘Best Grand Tour Presenter’ next and see who gets that.”
RadioTimes.com Best Top Gear Presenter Ever – Top 10:
Jeremy Clarkson (1988-15) – 74%
James May (1999, 2003-15) – 9%
Richard Hammond (2002-15) – 5%
Chris Harris (2016-present) – 3%
Tiff Needell (1987-01) – 2%
Matt LeBlanc (2016-19) – 1%
Paddy McGuinness (2019-present) – 1%
Andrew Flintoff (2019-present) – 1%
Vicki Butler-Henderson (1997-01) – 1%
Quentin Wilson (1991-01) – 1%