After weeks of anxious waiting Top Gear fans were put out of their misery with the announcement of Jeremy Clarkson’s heir.
The BBC revealed that Chris Evans has signed a three-year deal to lead an all-new Top Gear line-up and the 49-year-old is due to begin filming the new series of the motoring show in the next few weeks.
It was an obvious choice. Evans is notorious for his interest in cars. He has a passion for Ferraris and in 2010 he paid £12m for a 1963 Ferrari 250 GTO to go with his large collection of vintage motors.
Among the cars he has owned are the original Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and James Hunt’s winning Formula 1 Hesketh 308.
Last year he set up CarFest – a family-friendly festival featuring cars, food and music to help raise money for the BBC’s Children in Need campaign. Evans, however, had previously ruled himself out of taking over Top Gear, saying he wanted the programme to carry on with Richard Hammond and James May and did not want to “contaminate the situation” by throwing his hat into the ring. That changed when Hammond and May confirmed they would not continue on the programme in Clarkson’s absence.
Evans says: “I’m thrilled – Top Gear is my favourite programme of all time. Created by a host of brilliant minds who love cars and understand how to make the massively complicated come across as fun, devil-may-care and effortless. When in fact, of course, it’s anything but and that’s the genius of Top Gear’s global success.
“I promise I will do everything I possibly can to respect what has gone on before and take the show forward.”
Kim Shillinglaw, controller, BBC Two and BBC Four, says: “I am so delighted that Chris will be presenting the next series of Top Gear. His knowledge of and passion for cars is well-known and combined with his sheer inventiveness and cheeky unpredictability he is the perfect choice to take our much-loved show into the future. Chris is a huge fan of Top Gear and has great respect for the craft and work ethic of one of the best production teams in the world. He knows the phenomenal attention to detail it takes to make a single sequence of Top Gear, let alone a whole series. He is already full of brilliant ideas and I can’t wait for him to get started.”
Evans built his reputation at the BBC’s London radio station GLR, where he ended up as a star DJ. He then became host of Channel 4’s The Big Breakfast, which became a huge hit and made him a household name.
He then moved to BBC Radio 1 to revamp the station’s breakfast show where his cheeky-chappie persona worked its magic and ratings soared. In 1996, he returned again to Channel 4 screens with TFI Friday – a classic Evans cocktail of music, celebrity chat, bizarre stunts and in-jokes.
However, hubris set in, he increasingly indulged in self-indulgent rants, and once famously said he hated Anthea Turner’s new TV show so much he wanted to “kick her in the mouth”.
After lots of highly publicised public drinking, he resigned live on air in 1997.
Later, at Virgin, Evans failed to turn up for a week of breakfast shows, claiming he had been ill, but photographs emerged of him out drinking with his new girlfriend Billie Piper and Virgin sacked him.
He has subsequently admitted that he was “stupid’’ and an “idiot’’ at that time and he has since rebuilt his image and his career as the host of the Brit Awards and replacing national treasure Sir Terry Wogan on his Radio 2 breakfast show which he has made the UK’s most popular morning show, with 9.5 million listeners tuning in every week.
Evans and Clarkson are friends and share a blokey and irreverent style. Evans will be seen as the continuity candidate to host Top Gear and has said that his ideas for the show involve “evolution’’ not “revolution’’.
However, whereas Evans has built himself back up from his naughty boy phase, Clarkson almost seemed to be courting controversy with a series of uncompromising and politically incorrect statements, jokes or gaffes and finally by punching a colleague.
Will he now attempt to rehabilitate himself, perhaps with another broadcaster and with Hammond and May? Would this mean going head-to-head with Top Gear – and with his old friend and successor Chris Evans?