James May on Stripey Jumpers, Horrid Noises, Season 3 of The Grand Tour
We sat down (over the phone) with James May for a spot of chat on Conversation Street
It’s getting close to the season premiere of the third season of one of the biggest shows that’s vaguely about cars but really more about three friends on an adventure, in the world. In the first two seasons, The Grand Tour was making some big changes to try and find the new path for Clarkson, Hammond, and May. We’ve already heard that season four and five are going to happen, and that they’re going to ditch the studio segments entirely to focus more on the adventure. So what is the plan for season three? Or is that series three? We sat down (over the phone) with James May and double park to nip in for a spot of chat on Conversation Street.
wheels.ca: Season two dropped some big segments and made large changes to others. Like dropping the cameo deathwatch that was Celebrity Brain Crash and the more than a little controversial “The American” test driver. What kind of things can we expect from the new season?
JM: We’ve got effectively three specials, rather than the usual one. We’ve got a few other films that are almost special length; you know almost a full episode long. We’ve got a few silly races, some terrible old cars. some rather romantic old cars as well. Bickering, some sort of shallow pointless arguments, and a few supercars.
And no guests.
That’s right. Gone are the cameos of season one, also headed to the rubbish pile are the head to head races of the Celebrity Face Off. In their place are, nothing.
JM: We’ve ditched the guests because they weren’t that popular. And we realized we could spend more time on the films if we ditched the guests. So the guests got the bullet, I’m afraid.
wheels.ca: Over the short run of the series, we’ve seen some serious injuries and illness. You with a broken arm, Jeremy with pneumonia, and, of course, Richard’s off-track incident. The third time around, have you all been so fortunate as to stay safe and healthy?
JM: Remarkably, yes. I hadn’t really thought about that until today, but there’s been no serious illness, no serious injury. I mean, one or two bruises and a cut finger, but yeah. We’ve finally worked out how to do this without knackering ourselves. It’s brilliant. It only took us 17 years.
wheels.ca: You’ve been to Canada multiple times whilst filming, and you’ve looked across at Canada from (the US side of) Niagara Falls. What’s your favourite place in Canada?
JM: Well, I haven’t been to all of it. But I have spent quite a bit of time in Vancouver and around the, I always call them the fields. I know they aren’t called that in Canada. And I’ve done a bit of flying around there in float planes and things. So I like that bit. I like all the low price but high-quality sushi. I like the crisp air. I like the scenery. It’s all great. But I need to see a bit more of Canada, to be honest. There’s a lot of it that I’ve been nowhere near. To go to the Jazz Festival one day, that’d be very good.
wheels.ca: Alternative powertrains are arriving by the minute these days. James is a big motorcyclist, and has many times expressed how important it is that a vehicle give you that “fizz” when you drive it. How does he feel about new electric motorcycles?
JM: Well I’ve tried a few, and I’ve got an electric car (a BMW i3). I’m quite a fan of electric propulsion. I think it’s a different sort of excitement. I mean you don’t get the thrill of the buzz in the sweet spot of the engine, you don’t get the perfect gear change. But you do get this sort of instant torque, silent progress, strange noise, feeling that you’re sort of in Star Trek or something.
So I quite like it.
But it’s been a year or two since I’ve ridden an electric bike. So I need to get back on top of that. I rode a fuel cell one a few years back. With a sort of plug-in fuel cell where the fuel tank would normally be on a normal bike. You could recharge it in your house and simply plug it in the bike and off it went. And I have to say it was bloody brilliant.
It was really, really good. It’s great if you live in a built-up urban area as I do, and you have to set off early in the morning. Cause you always feel a bit bad about firing up a BMW flat twin or a Ducati or something. If you just sort of silently float away on your electric bike it’s all very agreeable.
wheels.ca Recently James has done an unboxing video on his own YouTube channel. It was a little different from most. May unboxed a full-size Yaris GRMN. In your Yaris unboxing, you’ve made it clear you’re a very big fan of the pull tab on the cardboard box. (James says he has a bit of a crisis halfway through pulling the 4m long tab) How do you feel about that squeaky sound of the polystyrene blocks (large foam packing blocks holding the car in place) rubbing together later in the video?
JM: It doesn’t bother me. I’m not a particular fan of it. I know a lot of people dislike that sound like they despise fingers on blackboard. The nearest one to that that I hate. In fact it’s the only sound that really, really distresses me is people’s hands on balloons.
When people rub their hands on balloons and it makes that sort of growling noise. I hate that. It makes my gums hurt. It makes my eyes sort of invert. But it’s not quite the same as polystyrene. I quite like the feel of polystyrene. I like cutting it with a hot wire. And I quite like lying on it. For some pervy reason.
wheels.ca: One of your trademarks has long been the striped purple rugby shirt. Last season you mentioned you had been asked not to wear that shirt, but you told them no. Is there a chance we’ll see it this season? Is it still in the wardrobe?
JM: Oh it’s definitely still in my wardrobe. Actually, it’s terribly remiss of me, I don’t think I’ve worn it this series. That’s very poor, isn’t it? Because I think it still has its own website somewhere so there’ll be some questions asked on the web about what’s happened to the pink and purple stripe rugby shirt of doom!
But you can reassure all your readers that it survives. It has a small hole in it, but it’s got a good 30 years left in it yet.
*Season three of The Grand Tour goes live starting January 18th on Amazon Prime Video. In the first episode, the Trio take a Ford Mustang RTR, Dodge Challenger SRT Demon, and Hennessey Exorcist Camaro to their spiritual home of Detroit. With a drag race on a deserted street and a sound-off in an abandoned theatre, they try and bring some soul back to the Motor City. Clarkson also takes the McLaren Senna to Donnington raceway in the UK. Because it’s too fast for the Eboloadrome.
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