Jeremy Clarkson and crew roar into Belfast for live show

Former Top Gear presenter seemed unrepentant of BBC ‘fracas’ which ended his contract

 

Jeremy Clarkson did not look like a repentant man when he roared into Belfast’s Odyssey Arena on Friday night. He arrived on a souped-up hovercraft, to a burst of pink fireworks, one hand held high to acknowledge the cheers of the crowd.

The boxing anthem Eye of the Tiger rang out triumphantly around the stadium. The choice of music was the first of many mocking references to Clarkson’s “fracas” with Top Gear producer Oisin Tymon, which resulted in a split lip for Tymon and the end of Clarkson’s long career at the BBC.

This was the first public appearance by Clarkson alongside his fellow Top Gear hosts, Richard Hammond and James May, since leaving the programme in March. It was also the first show in a six month long worldwide tour which will zigzag from South Africa to Poland, via Australia and Norway, before returning to London in November.

Originally called Top Gear Live, after Clarkson’s dismissal the long-running tour was hastily stripped of all BBC branding and re-named Clarkson, Hammond and May Live.

Clarkson himself seemed to find independence rather liberating. After a tasteless quip about the disabled physicist Stephen Hawking drew a gasp from the audience, he said, “it’s alright, I don’t work for the BBC any more – I can say what I want.”

The show may not have been Top Gear in name, but it certainly was Top Gear in nature. There was no Stig, of course, for legal reasons. But the rest was all there: crazy stunts, screeching tyres, backfiring exhausts, hand-brake turns.

A pair of black Porsches tore through the arena, blazing with flames. Four lime-green Ford hatchbacks performed a mad ballet to the Arctic Monkeys’ song ‘I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor’.

A posse of French motorcyclists used centrifugal force to circle the interior of a giant steel globe, known as “The Motorcycle Salad Shaker of Doom”. The air was so thick with exhaust fumes from all the exuberant revving that at times it was hard to see what was happening on the stage.

In short, it was an environmentalist’s nightmare. Not that anyone was worried about what Clarkson described as “eco-crap”. They were far too busy enjoying this extraordinary circus of speed and silliness and skill.

Part of the show was devoted to what Richard Hammond called “automotive pornography”: a parade of impossibly sleek super-cars which came purring into the arena, in a cloud of dry ice, for the three presenters to gloat over and admire.

They weren’t the only ones. Scores of middle-aged men in the audience set down their plastic cups of beer to concentrate on filming the beauties with their smartphones. “Absolutely gorgeous,” one murmured, as he zoomed in on a particularly curvaceous Lamborghini.

It wouldn’t be Clarkson, Hammond and May without the subversive, mickey-taking banter for which they’re so well-known. Inevitably, the French motorcyclists endured some daft jokes about drinking too much red wine and having garlicky breath but as ever, much of the presenters’ humour was directed at themselves. “We’re old, and I’m fat, and we’re all unemployed,” said Clarkson ruefully.

The show’s former producer Andy Wilman, who has now resigned from the BBC, once described Top Gear as “an hour a week where three badly dressed middle-aged men bicker, fall over and catch fire”, and the same spirit of hapless lunacy prevailed in the live show.

They bounced around in Robin Reliants until they tipped over and got stuck and had to climb out of the windows. Another section involved racing electric cars made out of kitchen appliances. Hammond had an ironing board on castors, while May appeared to be driving an out-of-control tumble drier. Clarkson was at the wheel of a dragster constructed from a freezer, a microwave oven and several food blenders, powered by a 53 metre plug-in flex. It was bound to end badly, and it did.

A central conceit of the show was pretending that Top Gear had never happened at all, “for legal reasons”, and that the three men were hoping to break into television as the presenters of a new motoring programme.

The real future remains unknown, although Clarkson has admitted “listening” to broadcasters about potential new projects. “We’ve had a lot of interest in our TV show from all around the world,” he told the Belfast audience. “Who knows what will happen?”

Nothing is likely to be settled until the six month world tour is over. But on the evidence of the live show, there was no sign that Clarkson intends to change his insurrectionary ways. “I hope you are driving home and not using public transport,” he said as he bid the crowd goodnight, to a standing ovation. “And please, please, please, whatever you do – drive fast.”