'Holidays for three 12-year-old men': Jeremy Clarkson returns with The Grand Tour

Top cars, outrageous challenges and over-the-top setpieces: presenter Jeremy Clarkson is revving up the car-show format with The Grand Tour, his globe-trotting new program for Amazon. The British host explains what's guiding his new series, bringing it to Canada and why he thinks his motley trio's shtick works.

The anticipated project marks the British TV host's return after his controversial split from Top Gear

Amazon's new motoring show, The Grand Tour, reunites former Top Gear presenters, from left, James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond. (Amazon Prime)

With top cars, outrageous challenges and setpieces worthy of Michael Bay, Jeremy Clarkson is revving up the car-show format with The Grand Tour, his high-profile, globe-trotting new program for Amazon Prime Video.

The anticipated project marks the notoriously unfiltered British TV host's return after his controversial split from Top Gear, the record-setting BBC show he helped vault to an international following, along with producer Andy Wilman and co-presenters Richard Hammond and James May.

In an exclusive telephone chat with CBC News, Clarkson discusses what is guiding the new series, bringing The Grand Tour's tent to Canada and why he thinks his motley and gleeful trio's shtick works.

Q: The Grand Tour's first episode opens like a movie. What was behind that?

A: Extravagant is, I think, the word we all thought when we met … A lot of money went into that. I just thought it would be a good idea to have a bridge from the old to the new and that was a way of saying 'Right, well now look where we are.' … It sets the tone of what's to come for the next 12 weeks and explains what we're about. 

Q: What's different in making a streaming service show versus one for traditional TV? 

A: There are no commercial breaks or commercial interference, which is joyous as far as we're concerned. It's no different day-to-day: same crews, same producers, same everything and the same uninterrupted hour of television.

Q: How do you balance fan expectation and trying new things?

A: Because we don't know how many people are watching it — it's a closely guarded secret, we don't even know — the only thing we can do is make a program that we enjoy. And then hope that we're not so unusual that other people won't share our taste. 

One of our directors, asked what it was he did for a living, said: "I organize holidays for three 12-year-old men" … We go on holiday with each other and then somebody films it for us and puts it onto Amazon. That's all we're going to carry on doing: having fun on television, or on a phone, or whatever you're watching us on.

Q: What's been your favourite car this season?

A: The Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio. I love Alfa Romeos and that was tremendous. The Aston Martin DB11 is also pretty good, I must say. The most enjoyable filming was probably Jordan. That didn't even have any cars in it at all, just us three clowning around.

We'll definitely be appearing in Canada at some point. Nothing is more certain than that.- Jeremy Clarkson

Q: Will Canada figure into your world travels?

A: When we went to Canada [with Top Gear], I was staggered about how many people got in touch … Before we finish with The Grand Tour, we'll definitely be appearing in Canada at some point. Nothing is more certain than that.

I might just say here and now that we'll do it in series two. Not quite sure where or how. I've got a friend who's got a house in Ottawa — maybe we'll go pitch the tent in his garden. Could do that — see all those beautiful lakes. Then we can just talk about Canada and say "Why can't you say roundabout properly?" We can have fun and games with it.

Q: What else are you keen to take on?

A: It's just thinking of funny things that will amuse us and entertain us and we'll come and do it. That's what we're actually in the middle of now: working on season two and thinking of all the silly things we can go and do around the world.

I'd just find a story in Canada and come and do it. Combine harvester banger — actually I've done that: banger racing up in Red Deer [in Alberta, for his 1998 doc series Extreme Machines].

'We do drive each other up the wall, but it's part of what it's all about,' said Jeremy Clarkson, seen at left, with co-hosts Richard Hammond and James May in the series premiere of The Grand Tour. (Amazon Prime)

Q: Did your relationship with Richard and James change during The Grand Tour

A: Before, it was just sort of benign dislike of one another. But it's blossomed into a fully formed hatred now. We do drive each other up the wall, but it's part of what it's all about. That said, we do have a laugh. We do work really well together, which is a good thing, because we spend about six days a week, 24 hours a day in one another's company. Even when we're not filming, like now, they're sitting in the same office as me. So I see them every day and all day.

Q: How do you explain your show to people not interested in cars?

A: If you went to a television company and said "Look, we got these three badly dressed men with awful teeth, and they can't do anything at all, and they try and it always goes wrong," nobody would buy it. And yet somehow it does seem to work.

Whenever you watch television, there's always someone who's an expert in their field doing great work. They know a lot of stuff, they're intelligent, they're good-looking, they can bake a great cake, climb a great mountain, find a rare animal — whatever it is, they're brilliant at it. For once, you can tune into television and say "I'm not so hopeless after all 'cause I'm better than those three idiots." We give people hope that you don't have to be a genius or a superstar or Kate Moss to work on television.

The Grand Tour airs on Amazon Prime Video.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.