In the past year, Jeremy Clarkson lost his mother, many of his relationships, and the job that defined his entire career. In a wide-ranging—and at times, perplexing—interview with The Times of London Magazine, Clarkson finally started dishing fully about what he’s been doing, and who he has been, in the past year.
Clarkson has spoken about his thought process and actions in the wake of the punch heard around the world, but it’s been mostly in drips and drabs. We know that just before it happened, he’d received a false positive diagnosis of cancer. And we know that he’d been a bit melancholy, resolving to carry on with a new car show, which he has done on Amazon Prime. Two sentences in particular seem to sum it all up:
“In one year I lost my mother, my house, my job. How do you think I f***ing [sic] felt?”
The reporter for the Times, Charlotte Edwardes, caught up with him in Barbados, where the ex-Top Gear crew is filming some sort of segment where they turn old cars into a reef (neat!). But what the hell was going through his head? What drives Clarkson, to be, well, Clarkson?
It’s still a little unclear. On the whole “slope” incident:
“No one gave a s*** in Asia. They were alerted to the fact that there was a ‘deeply racist’ slur in the footage, and said, ‘That’s not deeply racist,’ and transmitted it unedited. Which is what I thought would happen.
“I genuinely don’t think it was bad. It was built up to be a huge thing. We don’t mind being called ‘roast beef’. The Aussies call us Nigel, a lot. Or Poms. We call the French ‘frogs’.” He has admitted to mumbling the n-word while reciting Eeny, meany, miny, moe and is apologetic for being rude about Mexicans.
On the death of his mother last year, and his relations with the BBC at the time:
He looks sour. “Let’s say they were very unhelpful.” It was the time of the BBC inquiry into “the slope thing”. He was fielding calls. He mutters something about someone being “a s***”.
“I said, ‘My mother’s just died. Please leave me alone.’ But they wouldn’t. And it was bad. We were doing the TV show and the live shows, and three newspaper columns a week and endless investigations into whether or not we’d said this or done that or whether or not my hair was straight or my teeth were cleaned. It went on and on and on. It was very tricky. So there was quite a lot of pressure that year even for a jovial soul like me to handle. I was very close to my mum.”
And on where he went after the punch:
Last summer he disappeared for a month (when I ask where he went, he says “somewhere that was like prison”), and subsequently gave up drinking for four or five months. Initially, he says this was to “stay sharp” while negotiating his Amazon Prime deal. “You can’t deal with Californian lawyers if you’ve had a couple of glasses of wine.” Later he clarifies that his stint away was not rehab, but helped him clear out his head and think straight. “I’m a lot calmer now. There’s the same s***, but I can deal with it.”
The biggest takeaway of all, however, is that he’s this person that’s been put on top of a pedestal by many—if not the majority of—car fans.
He’s really just a human. He never misses his kids’ school plays. He likes bird watching. He recognizes that views on what constitutes racism have changed over the past few decades. His entire life has been turned upside down in the past 18 months. He knows he’s not perfect.
But after all this, we’re sort of left with a strange question as to whether we, the people who watch his shows and still read everything he writes—even if it is catastrophically dumb, sometimes—really have any idea who he is. And Clarkson, to his credit, seems to know he’s playing with us:
“The whole thing is an act, of course,” he says at one point. What? “My job, my TV persona. ‘Jeremy Clarkson.’ It’s a mask. We all wear masks. It’s not the real me.” Is he suggesting that the man who’s made £30 million from “being himself” is a con? “Yup.” Then who is the real you? “I’m not telling you,” he laughs.
Read the full interview here (subscription required), though full texts of it are floating around the Internet and I’m sure someone will post one in the comments. It’s fascinating, sad, and very hopeful.