Right, you’ve got 30 seconds they said. You want to be a Top Gear presenter? Give it everything they said. Here you go, have a video. But it’s not enough I said. 43 years of preparation should be enough. It turns out it isn’t.
Anyone that knows me, or reads this blog regularly, knows I don’t do things by halves. I’ve co-presented with Apptain America (and even died at the point of his light saber in front of a live audience), had 4-way conversations with a bunch of mobile devices and recently revealed virtual reality Star Wars, inadvertently creating Vader porn.
Given 30 seconds to explain why I was the best man for the Top Gear job, there were undoubtedly some questions left unanswered so who better to ask them than… me.
So, straight to the point… do you think you can do better?
It’s not about doing a better job. If that’s your starting point then you’ve lost the audience already. On the other hand, this isn’t about keeping Jeremy, Captain Slow and the Hamster alive so I hope Chris and his production team aren’t just looking for impersonators and ‘natural successors’.
If you’re not the same, what are you?
Obviously, I’m a car nut – that’s a prerequisite. I’m also a presenter, so I guess that helps. I can talk passionately about this stuff, but not just about the fact it exists. I’ve spent years immersed in the automotive industry, working from the inside but loving it from the outside. My creative and technology backgrounds also mean I can talk with some degree of knowledge about why something looks like it does and where it’ll be in the future. What I’m NOT is a racing driver (although I’ll drive anything) or an engineer (so if it breaks down I can probably find the dipstick. Probably). I also haven’t had my photo taken next to any drivers or TV motor show presenters, so that probably counts me out already, although I once painted Tiff Needell’s portrait and Jeremy parked in a disabled space outside my house in Chipping Norton.
Why do you want this? Don’t you like your job?
I already have one of the best jobs in the world. The things we do at Brandwidth help change the shape of the automotive world. Giant holographic cars, showroom interaction and the Porsche Apple Watch app have all been industry ‘firsts’ for us.
This isn’t about running from something, it has everything to do with driving towards an extraordinary start line. This may never happen, in fact it probably won’t, but you’ll never know if you never try. Regret is an awful thing that burns far more energy than rising to a challenge.
Classic cars, what have you got against them?
It’s not that I don’t like ‘classics’ it’s just that my take on them covers the time most relevant to me - ie 1971 onwards. I’ve loved cars from the time I was able to ride in them (not drive them). I have an appreciation of the earlier cars but I really love where the industry is going so don't spend too much time looking back.
It’s the dream garage question. What’s your top three?
I wrote about the ones that got away a few years ago, listing cars such as the Plymouth Prowler, Fiat Coupé, TVR Sagaris and Renault Avantime. I’d still love them all in my garage but given the choice of three today I’d have a different short list.
First up would be my practical ‘family car’, an Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio despite the fact it’s not available yet and I’d have trouble ordering one as I can’t pronounce it. I’m not sure I could own a car with a name like the sound made when driving over a cattle grid, but I'd give it a go.
The BMW i8 would have to be in my garage. I was fortunate enough to drive one around Vegas earlier this year and it ticks ALL the boxes for me. It’s a genuine supercar – the dimensions, performance and price all say so. It’s a technological tour de force, combining a clever hybrid engine, build and aerodynamics. The i8 is also a visual masterpiece, delivering head-turning drama with every surface, inside and out. It really is a concept car for the road.
I’d have another BMW for my third car – one of those ‘classics’, an 850CSi. I test-drove one at 19 but couldn’t buy it because my client was assassinated. It’s a long story and I’ll save that one for another day.
There may be one in your dream garage but you've never owned an Alfa. You’re not a proper petrolhead then?
At the risk of getting all defensive, this Top Gear thing is important, it’s incredibly exciting but as with my potential Alfa ownership, my family has been even more important. The first Alfa I really wanted was a GTV, around the same time I wanted a Fiat Coupé. I couldn’t afford either at the time so bought a Fiat Bravo instead because I loved the back lights and the tape deck cover. Seriously. I nearly bought a 147 for my wife, but we bought the first new generation MINI instead and never regretted that (she’s on her fourth now). By the time I could afford a Brera I had 2 kids with legs, so that wasn’t an option. I still wanted a 159 but bought a BMW instead as it was faster and pretty much guaranteed the whole A to B thing. There’s still an Alfa Romeo 8C Coupé on my wish list, and that Giulia Quadrifoglio.
First automotive pin up?
In the seventies I had a painting of an Escort MEXICO rally car on my bedroom wall. My dad had a white 2 door Escort estate as a company car and it was the closest we got to motor racing in those early years, with the shopping bouncing around in the boot.
First car driven?
Does a Sinclair C5 count? I loved that little plastic-bodied thing, with handlebars under your knees and bugs-in-your-teeth motoring.
First car owned. It can’t be a C5.
Ironically, I actually owned a Citroën C5 a few years a go (and an amazing C6), but that wasn’t as much fun as the Sinclair version. My first car was a Ford Fiesta MkI, in ‘almost British Racing Green’ with a brown vinyl roof. I thought it would be a great idea to paint the speedo needle red, to offset the actual lack of speed. I hadn’t accounted for the fact it then wouldn’t show up at night so I had to guess which numbers were being covered up, rather than pointed to. I also fitted a bucket seat, but only fixed the front so it hinged forward to let rear seat passengers in. Unfortunately, it also hinged forwards at every junction – with me sitting in it. It was eventually stolen (whole whole car, not just the seat) but joyriders lost control on a roundabout, ploughed through a fence into a pond. It was back on the road in a week. Crumple zones really weren’t high on the priority list back then.
If you got the Top Gear gig, this wouldn’t be your first visit to the studio would it?
Hah, no. We tested the ‘Lexus Symphony Orchestra’ on the Dunsfold set – an orchestra of cars using nothing but their powerful stereos to recreate unique compositions we’d recorded at Abbey Road. See, I told you the stuff I did at work was relevant.
In your TED talk last year, you said “I’d rather apologise for something awesome than ask permission for something lame”. Does that rule apply here?
Yes, more than ever. I think it’s been the Top Gear philosophy since its reinvention in 2002, although I’m not sure it helped Jeremy in the end. I really hope the spirit and irreverence of the show is retained as it genuinely reflects the audience, rather than an idea of how that audience should behave. If the aim is to pursue new viewers, there’s a very real risk of losing the existing ones (and that’s a huge global audience) but I’d love the challenge, especially when I can bring an extra helping of design and technology to the Top Gear table. That’s two things increasingly relevant to the next generation of car fans.
On that bombshell… no wait, we’re gonna need a new catchphrase.
Many thanks to Barons BMW, Farnborough for the M4 convertible. You know I'll be back.