Well, I’m very tall, it’s often remarked upon. And very clever too, I have four degrees from universities so specialised and at such a high level that nobody has ever heard of them. The commonly-held belief is that I am a fairly short, fairly thick brummie, 41 years old, who lives in a pretend castle in the Herefordshire countryside with his wife, Mindy, two daughters, Izzy and Willow, six dogs, four cats, eight horses, two goats, a flock of sheep, twenty or so ducks, twelve cars, four motorcycles and an unnecessarily large collection of chickens. And you can go with that one if it suits you better. I suppose a quick run-through of my career is appropriate, so here goes:
I’ve worked in telly and radio since finishing Art College. I can’t have been a very good artist, because my first proper job was in radio. I started work at BBC Radio York in 1989 as a programme assistant on the mid-morning show. Mostly, I made tea and got to drive about the county interviewing farmers who had found a turnip shaped like an elephant and blacksmiths who had made gates for someone who once met the Pope. My very first interview, in fact, was with a local Hammond Organ Appreciation Society. Unfortunately, I made so many jokes in it about Hammond Organs that it was censored and never broadcast. I was disappointed time and time again when girls failed to respond in quite the fevered way I had anticipated to my arrival in a three year old Ford Escort with ‘BBC Radio York’ emblazoned down the side. I was fired from BBC Radio York in 1990 and went to work at BBC Radio Leeds. Then BBC Radio Newcastle, Radio Cumbria, Radio Cleveland and Radio Lancashire. I don’t want you to think of me as a sort of romantic, wandering radio gypsy moving from county to county wherever the work and love took him – although you can believe that if you prefer. But I think in fact, it was just cos I wasn’t very good and the work kept drying up.
I started doing telly at Granada Men in 1996 and finally got to talk about my first love – well, first after cheese and beer – cars. This was fun, I quickly realised. I was paid – albeit it only just – to drive brand new cars and tell people what I thought of them. I could no long afford a car of my own at this point and would hire a purple Nissan Micra from the petrol station down the road for twenty five quid a day when I was working. I also started hosting non-motoring programmes on the Granda Breeze Channel, presenting a sort of sawn-off version of This Morning at the weekends. It was great, I had a chef on the show, a regular psychic expert and a guy who would value your antiques over the telly. Then they shut the channel down, so I sort of concentrated on cars for a bit.
Then, in 2000, Mindy had a baby whom we called Izzy. We moved from our flat into a house and in 2002, I auditioned for an all-new series of Top Gear. I was told by everyone, including my agent, that I would never get the job. I got the job. And Mindy, Izzy and I moved out to the country so that we could keep our feet on the ground – albeit muddy ground strewn with sheep poo and rabbits. Top Gear sort of took off a bit, rather surprising us all. We had set out just to make a car show but everyone kind of got carried away with it and it became really quite popular.
In 2003, Mindy, Izzy and I were joined by our second daughter, Willow. Top Gear carried on growing and by now was popular in all sorts of places, some of them abroad. We were about to move house in 2006 when I had a bit of a crash. I sort of left the runway at 300mph in a jet-powered dragster and damaged my brain a bit. This was tricky, cos Mindy and our two daughters didn’t know what they were going to get when I came home. But I’m ok. I think.
Since then, I’ve gone on to do lots of other programmes, including a kid’s science show called Blast Lab, various grown-up documentary programmes and series about science and engineering and the intellectual powerhouse that is Total Wipeout on BBC1.
I’m aware that I’m a very, very lucky boy in lots of ways. I try to do my bit to raise awareness about brain injury and how it affects people physically, mentally and socially, especially children and I enjoy my telly work almost as much – but never actually as much – as I enjoy spending time with my wife and two beautiful, funny, clever daughters. But I reserve the basic, human right to wake, some mornings, in a grumpy mood just cos that’s how I feel.