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Jeremy Clarkson talks ‘The Grand Tour,’ climate change and the perils of boating in Cambodia

'The Grand Tour Presents: Seamen' — the official trailer

Whether it was through the antics of the BBC’s once-beloved automotive show, Top Gear, or the shenanigans of Amazon’s higher budget, more-refined version, The Grand Tour, it’s hard to deny that Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond have continued to keep their loyal fanbase enticed for more than 15 years.

Now, in their latest ploy to entertain viewers, The Grand Tour Presents: Seamen, the bumbling three-piece is taking the streaming spectacular one step further — at least in terms of danger — with a race across the Mekong Delta, which is a massive river that encompasses more than 40,000 square kilometres of Vietnam.

(L-R) Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson, and James May, of Amazon Prime Video’s ‘The Grand Tour Presents: Seamen,’ which premieres on Friday, Dec. 13, 2019.
(L-R) Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson, and James May, of Amazon Prime Video’s ‘The Grand Tour Presents: Seamen,’ which premieres on Friday, Dec. 13, 2019. Amazon Prime Video

The fourth season opener sees all three hosts captaining their own unique boats, without any assistance, including Clarkson’s recreation of a Vietnam war-era PBR (River Patrol Boat), Mays’ classic 1939 wooden river cruiser, and Hammond’s Miami Vice-reminiscent speedboat — which is ironically the most modern of the three.

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Their tiresome, 800-km aquatic road trip begins on the dangerously low-levelled Tonlé Sap Lake in Cambodia, before the group manages to weave its way down the perilous Mekong Delta. Along the way, the middle-aged trio suffers a series of nail-biting encounters and stress-inducing calamities.

To top it all off, the climax of The Grand Tour Presents: Seamen, is possibly one of the group’s most daring and exhilarating challenges that they’ve ever endured.

Ahead of its highly anticipated December premiere, Global News spoke with Clarkson, 59, about some of the things that happened on The Grand Tour’s trip to Southeast Asia.

Jeremy Clarkson of Amazon Prime Video’s ‘The Grand Tour’ in 2019.
Jeremy Clarkson of Amazon Prime Video’s ‘The Grand Tour’ in 2019. Amazon Prime Video

Global News: After all your years of work on Top Gear and The Grand Tour, it must be hard to continuously outdo yourself, but it seems you had no problem doing that with this special. It’s truly quite a spectacle.
Jeremy Clarkson: It is brilliant, isn’t it? “We present: Seamen…” Which at our age is quite an achievement.

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This is the first time you’ve focused on using boats in the show, right? You didn’t even use wheels.
JC: Well there were wheels at the beginning, we had bicycles because of climate change. I chose boats simply because [Richard Hammond and James May] hate them. They made me go across Vietnam on motorcycles too, which I hate. We’ve done lorries, which I hated too, so I thought it was time for some payback. [The PBR] was a rather good boat and a very interesting boat historically. It was remarkably good, bear in mind it’s a patrol boat river, in the sea.
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[Richard Hammond then cuts in]

RH: Yeah, not so good on land though was it?

JC: No, you’re right. I did crash it, but I was much less scared than those two. More importantly, the camera teams were shitting themselves.

Jeremy Clarkson of ‘The Grand Tour’ drives a PBR boat on the Mekong River, in Vietnam, 2019.
Jeremy Clarkson of ‘The Grand Tour’ drives a PBR boat on the Mekong River, in Vietnam, 2019. Amazon Prime Video

Should fans expect anything different in this new Grand Tour special?
JC: Not really, it is us three, we bicker, we laugh a lot and when the cameras are turned off, the laughter doesn’t really stop. We’ve done it on bikes, we’ve done it in lorries, we’ve done it in any manners of different types of car so it didn’t seem to me that it would be particularly different if we used boats.

We have the benefit of having worked together for 17 years too. You can’t really mimic that, it’s just impossible to fake chemistry, we do have that and you know, it is a journey. So, we do have a lot of fun making them and that shines through in this program.

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You three sometimes keep some of the vehicles you’ve used on the show, right? Are these boats of any interest to you?
JC: It’s complicated but I’d love to have that PBR. I like boats. I’ve had a boat license almost as long as I’ve had a car license. It has to be exported from Vietnam for reasons I don’t understand and am not interested in. I’m seriously thinking about [getting] it though.
You filmed a Top Gear special in Vietnam over a decade ago, what made you want to revisit the country on The Grand Tour?
JC: I wanted to roar into Vietnam on a PBR on the Mekong [river] to Creedence Clearwater Revival. That’s basically why I wanted to do it. Some of you will be too young to know what Credence is, but there’s an old man grinning over there, he knows what Creedence is.
Jeremy Clarkson navigates a map of Southeast Asia on Amazon Prime Video’s ‘The Grand Tour Presents: Seamen.’ The special premieres on Friday, Dec. 13, 2019.
Jeremy Clarkson navigates a map of Southeast Asia on Amazon Prime Video’s ‘The Grand Tour Presents: Seamen.’ The special premieres on Friday, Dec. 13, 2019. Amazon Prime Video

You had a few setbacks before hitting the sea, can you share exactly what happened in Cambodia?
JC: Well, it was supposed to be the rainy season. We knew we had to go then because we knew that Tonlé-Sap, the giant lake in the middle of Cambodia, would be full enough to drive a boat across. We monitored it, and it should have been pouring with rain. It should have been full, it should have been five times as big, and it simply wasn’t. There was nothing we could do.

The river that feeds [the Tonlé-Sap] reverses direction. It’s the only river in the world that does. It flows into it during the rainy season and then out of it in the dry season, and now, it’s been flowing out of it for far too long. The lake was damn near empty. There is no question — and we admitted to it for the first time ever on one of our shows — that there may be such a thing as climate change.
You don’t usually mention issues like climate change on the show, did you feel that you had to address it this time around?
JC: Well, [Hammond and May] were dragging along the bottom [of the river], in the mud. We can’t say everything is perfectly all right because it obviously isn’t, but our job is not to run around, have school strikes, sail to America on a carbon-fibre yacht that cost £15 million, or shout at people which achieves absolutely f**k all. Our job is to simply say, there it is and move on. We’re just entertainers.

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Were you worried about the well-being of Richard and James towards the end of the trip after you separated?
JC: When I got to “Journey’s End,” ordinarily there’s a crew there, we travel with several crews and there’s usually someone waiting with a camera and as I pull in, in this episode it’s [seen as] only moments until Hammond arrives then a few more moments until James arrived.
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The truth of the matter is, it was actually quite a long time. I had to go and have a couple of dozen beers while I waited for them. I thought, ‘God Almighty, have they all sunk?’ Because I’d heard various bits and bobs on the radio but [James] threw his in the sea during a temper tantrum, and [Richard] couldn’t reach his, and no one [else] was communicating on the radios, so I started to think, oh they’re all dead, now how am I going to get home.
(L-R) James May, Jeremy Clarkson, and Richard Hammond enjoy a bike ride together on Amazon Prime Video’s ‘The Grand Tour Presents: Seamen’ — which premieres on Friday, Dec. 13, 2019.
(L-R) James May, Jeremy Clarkson, and Richard Hammond enjoy a bike ride together on Amazon Prime Video’s ‘The Grand Tour Presents: Seamen’ — which premieres on Friday, Dec. 13, 2019. Amazon Prime Video

You all just got back from another trip, was that for a future Grand Tour Presents episode, and where did you go?
JC: Yes. It starts in La Réunion and then ends largely in Madagascar. We started on the very same beach that a Scotsman was eaten the other day.

Eaten? What do you mean?
JC: Yes, eaten by a shark. In La Réunion. Richard went off to get some snorkels so that we could go snorkeling in the afternoon that we arrived. He came back later and said to us, “My French is really coming on, I had a really good conversation with a man.” We went snorkeling the next day and discovered that on that beach, a day before, a Scotsman had been eaten.

We said, “Did the snorkel man not mention this to you, Hammond?” Then, we realized that he probably had said it, but Hammond’s French wasn’t good enough to understand. Hammond [probably] didn’t understand, “Be bloody careful because there are sharks there!”

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Did you end up going in then?
JC: Yeah. We did some filming, then did some snorkeling at the end of the day, when it was dark. But we went to Madagascar where there aren’t many sharks. It’s absolutely, spectacularly beautiful. It’s just unbelievable. My jaw was permanently lowered by Madagascar. Easily the best-looking place I’ve ever been.

(L-R) James May, Jeremy Clarkson, and Richard Hammond posing together during the taping of Amazon Prime Video’s ‘The Grand Tour Presents: Seamen’ — which premieres on Friday, Dec. 13, 2019.
(L-R) James May, Jeremy Clarkson, and Richard Hammond posing together during the taping of Amazon Prime Video’s ‘The Grand Tour Presents: Seamen’ — which premieres on Friday, Dec. 13, 2019. Amazon Prime Video

Do you or the hosts have any safe words while filming?
JC: What magazine are you from? BDSM monthly? Mine’s turtle. Oh, s**t sorry. I think a lot of people think that The Grand Tour is operated like other television programs where there are producers hanging around. It isn’t. When you see us going along the Mekong river in our boats, it’s us, and we never, ever allow anyone else to even park them. No one is allowed.

We just got back from Madagascar and we had to explain to some new people who were working, “You are never allowed to sit in our cars.” So, if we’re doing something, we’re doing it and it’s our decision to do it. If it doesn’t work out there’s no point shouting “Turtle” or “50 Shades of Grey.” It’s just, “You got yourself into the mess, you better f**king well get yourself out of it.”

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Is there anywhere left in the world that you’d like to visit for the show?
JC: There’s only six or seven countries I haven’t been to now. Zimbabwe is one of them. The BBC was banned from it though, so we could never go before, back when we were with the BBC. Iran banned the BBC too. So it would have to be one of those two.

The problem is, we’ve done Namibia, we’ve done Botswana, we’ve done Mozambique, we’ve done Madagascar. It’s all just a bit the same if you go to them. Maybe I’ll go there on holiday and put it on Instagram.

(L-R) Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson, and James May, of Amazon Prime Video’s ‘The Grand Tour’ in 2019.
(L-R) Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson, and James May, of Amazon Prime Video’s ‘The Grand Tour’ in 2019. Amazon Prime Video
[This interview has been edited and condensed.]

The Grand Tour presents: Seamen will be available through Amazon Prime Video starting on Friday, Dec. 13.

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adam.wallis@globalnews.ca