To all intents and purposes, my life began when I started presenting Top Gear, so telling you that I was born Jeremy Charles Robert Clarkson on 11 th April 1960 seems somewhat irrelevant.
Ye Olde Top Gear was a complete shambles before I came on the scene. It had begun in 1977 as a “motoring magazine” type programme, with different presenters doing “articles” that you could watch on “TV”. For instance, Vicki Butler-Henderson might come on and tell you about the best way to put on mascara at the traffic lights, and Quentin Wilson might, I don’t know, recommend the best car for dogging.
I entered the realm of Top Gear in 1988, following in the bewildered footsteps of out-of-place celebs such as Angela Rippon and Noel Edmunds, none of whom had any business talking about cars, in my humble opinion. I was 28 years old, full of spunk and sarcasm, and they must have thought I was a young Greek god when I strode into my audition with my majestic 6ft 5 inch frame, my thick mop of curly brown hair and my natty, smart-casual ensemble of suit jacket with jeans that I carried off so well.
Naturally, within minutes they were begging me to help present their mediocre programme and turn it into something spectacular, and I was only too happy to oblige. Cars were my life. They had been for a long time. My first girlfriend had been a Ford Cortina Mk 4.
But the dream wasn’t to last. Through no fault of my own, Top Gear failed, and the programme was cancelled in 2001.
Having spent 13 years revelling in all that was Car, the cancellation came as a bit of a shock. As a Top Gear presenter, I’d been allowed to look at cars and touch them whenever I wanted. How could I exist without that liberty?
To that end, I found myself in the bar at BBC television centre, sipping at a pint of bitter and compiling a list of jobs that I could definitely do if I wanted. I was just debating the pros and cons of being an underwear model – no heavy lifting, but possibly chilly – when the peace was shattered by a man coming into the bar, weeping and sobbing in a most unmanly way.
Embarrassed by his lack of dignity, I ducked my head down and perused my list further. Would I, I wondered, need any formal training to be an astronaut…..?
I glanced up at the sound of chairs being pushed aside, and saw to my horror that, rather than hide in a corner and do his snivelling in private, the mass of tears and snot disguised as a man was making his way towards my table!!
Quickly crossing Astronaut off my list – I like travelling but I also like proper lavatories – I sat upright and prepared myself for whatever this “man” wanted.
He sat down at my table, burying his face in his hands.
“Oh, Jeremy!” he wailed. “Isn’t it terrible? Top Gear is to end, and we shall all be ruined! Oh, woe is me! Woe are all of us!”
There was an awkward silence.
“Indeed,” I agreed eventually. “And you are….?”
His head popped up indignantly.
“For God’s sake, Jeremy! It’s me! Andy.”
I was none the wiser, and smiled politely.
“Andy Wilman?” He continued.
I shrugged helplessly. I was finding the whole encounter impossibly uncomfortable, and I had no idea who this man was.
“I’m one of the Top Gear presenters!” he snapped. “I’ve been on there for 7 years! I produced your spinoff programme, Jeremy Clarkson’s Motorworld !”
I looked down at my hands, folded on the table in front of me.
“I drove that bloody Jaguar X-Type Saloon the other week!” he shouted.
Something clicked at that.
“Andy Wilman?” I guessed, pleased with myself.
“Yes, Jeremy,” he sighed. He seemed somewhat annoyed, but at least he had stopped that god-awful blubbering.
“How can I help you then, Andy Wilman?” I asked.
“I was saying how terrible it is that Top Gear is ending,” he said. “What are we going to do? What are YOU going to do? You have a wife and kids to support.”
He was right. I’d married my second wife, Frances, in 1993 and we had 3 offspring: 2 girl-children, Emily and Katya, and a boy-child I’d amusingly named Finlo. I giggled, as I always did, at the thought of Finlo’s name.
I looked down at my list. Racing car driver was on there, and I could definitely do that, but would it have the same satisfaction for me as driving a wide variety of cars ranging from the mediocre to the magnificent? And if I was a racing car driver, I would always be winning and I didn’t much like champagne.
Very deliberately, I drew a massive cross though my entire list, before writing at the bottom in clear, capital letters: “New Top Gear Presenter”. I then underlined it. And drew a circle around it. It still didn’t look right, so I added a few exclamation marks and a biiiig tick. There.
I stood up.
“Andy Wilman,” I intoned in my flawless bass/tenor/whatever. “I am going to save Top Gear. And YOU – “ I pointed a stern finger at him “ – are going to help me.”