phone mail2 facebook twitter play
An Interview with James May

An Interview with James May

13 April 2017 |

He is recognisable around the world as Captain Slow, the methodical foil of first BBC’s Top Gear and now Amazon’s big-budget The Grand Tour. But it is in his birthplace of Bristol that James May can trace the origins of the one classic motor that continues to evade his grasp.

During his career as one-third of the most notorious presenting trio on the telly, James May was often cast as the logical and sensible straight man to the hyperactive Hammond and the bombastic Clarkson. But his career path may well have been very different had it not been for a moment of audacious cheekiness not normally associated with the shaggy-haired Captain Slow.
 
Back during his formative journalistic years at Autocar, May was tasked with compiling the Road Test Year Book, an annual supplement that he says “took months of really boring research”. To alleviate that boredom – and for engine enthusiast May to find something unbearably uninteresting, we can only imagine how tedious it must have been – the young journo designed each page’s first letter to spell out an acrostic that read: “So you think it’s really good, yeah? You should try making the bloody thing up; it’s a real pain in the arse.”
 
After readers rang in thinking they’d won a prize, Autocar bosses dismissed the meddling May – who used the opportunity of unemployment to pursue a career in radio that led to a co-presenting job on a new motoring show called Top Gear. The rest, as they say, is history.
 
It’s hard to argue against the idea that May truly deserves his place. He is, after all, a man with an obvious and infectious passion. “I love the science behind cars,” he enthuses. “We all know that cars serve multiple purposes – they’re practical, they thrill us, but they also amaze us; tremendous feats of engineering. And the really interesting thing is that the fantasy cars of yesteryear are now reality.”
 
Despite the somewhat controversial ending to his Top Gear career, May is still living the motoring dream in what he describes as “the best job in the world” – its Amazon-backed and mega-moneyed rival The Grand Tour. And since breaking into the world of television, May has been around the globe many times over – from driving a Suzuki SJ413 down Bolivia’s Death Road on Top Gear to his recent excursions on Namibia’s Skeleton Coast. One place, however, still holds a special place in his heart.
 
“I feel like I’m home when I go to the West Country,” he explains. ““I was born in Bristol and grew up in the Avon area, and my grandparents and other family are from here.”
 
But even his association by birth to the city, and his status as one of the world’s foremost driving fanatics and motoring minds, still can’t bag him a chance to get to grips with one of the West Country’s rarest engineering exports: Bristol cars, creators of the boxy Blenheim and the gull-winged Fighter.
 
“I have chatted at length to Anthony Crook, who bought the company in 1960,” explains May. “And he’s fantastic, but he won’t let me get in one of his cars. He won’t even let me in the showroom! Do you know why? Because of Clarkson, who once thought it was appropriate to criticise Bristol. I’ve told him I’d buy one, or that I was born in Bristol – but to no avail! I have, it seems, been damned by my association to that oaf, and probably not for the last time.”
 
It’s not all bad, though. May can still fall back on his expansive automotive collection, which has included over the years such standouts as a Rolls Royce Phantom, Porsche Boxter S, Ferrari 458 Speciale, a Fiat Panda and a Brompton folding bicycle.
 
“At the moment I’m the careful custodian of six cars and 10 motorcycles,” he remarks. “Then there’s another motor in a museum. I think as well that the longer you drive, the more obsessive you become about cars. People say that they’re there to be driven, but they’re works of art as well – the older ones, at least – and you have to treat art with respect and love.
 
“I said earlier I was the ‘custodian’ of my vehicles, because that’s what I am. As a motorist, you never really own a car; it’s just in your care for a while. That’s why we all owe it to ourselves and our mutual friends to treat cars with the respect they deserve, because the chances are they’ll belong to someone else further down the road!”

Tell us what you think

You may also like

A Guide to May Day in Cambridge

A Guide to May Day in Cambridge

It’s that time of year again. The May Bank Holiday is upon us, and students in Oxford and Cambridge spend the weekend trying to raise the…

An Interview with Raymond Blanc

An Interview with Raymond Blanc

Raymond Blanc has come a long way since he was dispatched to England with little knowledge of the language after offering to give his former…

Win a Family Stay at Marwell Hotel and Zoo

Marwell Wildlife - Win a Family Stay at Marwell Hotel and Zoo

Looking for a family weekend this summer? We’re giving away a family stay at the amazing Marwell Zoo’s on-site lodgings, the Marwell Hotel.

Win Free Entry to The Canterbury Tales Experience

The Canterbury Tales - Win Free Entry to The Canterbury Tales Experience

We're giving away the chance to win free entry to an interactive tour through Chaucer's tales, meeting costumed characters and pilgrims along the way.

A Guide to May Day in Oxford

A Guide to May Day in Oxford

For those outside the Oxbridge axis, the last night of April will mean very little. For an Oxford local, however, it’s one of the most fun…

Top 5 Sunday Roasts in Oxford

Top 5 Sunday Roasts in Oxford

Family weekends can hardly be summed up better than a Sunday Roast. It’s one of those perfect childhood synecdoches: the smell of chicken in the oven…

A Weekend Away in ... Cardiff

A Weekend Away in ... Cardiff

The sun is appearing from behind the clouds and the idea of a weekend away is becoming more and more tempting. Get on the train…

Constable and Brighton at the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery

Constable and Brighton at the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery

When you think of John Constable your mind might wander to Suffolk fields and sleepy bays, or images of Hampstead Heath when it truly was…

Exeter on a Budget

Exeter on a Budget

Exeter, Devon’s capital city, is a wonderful blend of busy city, serene nature and vibrant culture. Boasting a history that pre-dates the Romans yet retaining a…

FILM REVIEW: Mulholland Drive Re-release

FILM REVIEW: Mulholland Drive Re-release

Fresh off the back of being voted the best film of the 21st Century last year, Mulholland Drive—that creeping, curious, oppressive enigma you didn’t understand first…

Most popular

Win Two Tickets to the Brighton Fringe’s Spiegeltent and a Meal for Two!

Brighton Fringe - Win Two Tickets to the Brighton Fringe’s Spiegeltent and a Meal for Two!

Roll up, Roll up! We're giving away two tickets to a fantastic evening at the Brighton Fringe’s Spiegeltent, plus a delicious meal!
Win Free Entry to The Canterbury Tales Experience

The Canterbury Tales - Win Free Entry to The Canterbury Tales Experience

We're giving away the chance to win free entry to an interactive tour through Chaucer's tales, meeting costumed characters and pilgrims along the way.
A Guide to the Dutch Season at the Brighton Fringe

A Guide to the Dutch Season at the Brighton Fringe

We celebrate the best of Holland's cultural offerings at the Brighton Fringe.
A Guide to May Day in Cambridge

A Guide to May Day in Cambridge

The May Bank Holiday is upon us, so experience it Cambridge-style.
A Hangover Guide to Brighton

A Hangover Guide to Brighton

Here are the greatest hangover cures following a night out in Brighton.
Win a Family Stay at Marwell Hotel and Zoo

Marwell Wildlife - Win a Family Stay at Marwell Hotel and Zoo

Looking for a family weekend this summer? We’re giving away a family stay at the amazing Marwell Zoo’s on-site lodgings, the Marwell Hotel.
Top 5 Sunday Roasts in Nottingham

Top 5 Sunday Roasts in Nottingham

We've scouted out the best roasts Nottingham has to offer.
5 Things You Didn’t Know About Oxford’s History

5 Things You Didn’t Know About Oxford’s History

We've compiled 5 of Oxford's lesser-known historical facts.
Bristol’s Hidden Gems: Alternative Date Ideas

Bristol’s Hidden Gems: Alternative Date Ideas

Here's a selection of some of the best unusual date spots across Bristol.
A Weekend Away in Arundel

A Weekend Away in Arundel

We spend a weekend in the beautiful Arundel, West Sussex.

Your inbox deserves a little culture!