When we think of Top Gear, we always, think about the lofty heights of the 2002-2016 era that saw the show hosted by James May, Richard Hammond, and Jeremy Clarkson. The three of them to an extent have defined what a car show is and what a car show can be, and even after their reign on the BBC ended due to Clarkson's fallout with a producer, the three are still going strong on Amazon's 'The Grand Tour,' which has recently been renewed for a fourth series of specials.
And when it comes to James May, we see a man who is quite frankly in stark contrast to the other two presenters that he works with. He is a much more measured and relaxed man to that of Clarkson and much less shouty than Hammond. He has his own very unique charm, and it has allowed him to flourish away from the main spotlight of Top Gear. There are many who have enjoyed his various toy programs, taking old childhood playthings into the 21st century and doing what looks like almost impossible things with them.
Of course, not everyone is going to know everything about Mr. May and there is a lot that can be told of 'Captain Slow' (more on that later). So what do we have here? Well, we have a list of facts that you may, or may not know about James May, perhaps the most well-loved of the 'three amigos.'
James May is well-known for his love of all things toy. And by that, we mean the sort of things you would play with, in Britain at least, when you were a youngster. This includes Mecano, Hornby railways, and Airfix model aircraft kits. This love affair with these childhood memories lead James to create his ‘James May’s Top Toys' shows and later spawned the rather brilliant ‘James Mays Toy Stories’ series that ran for a few years, arguably some of the best work he has done outside of Top Gear and The Grand Tour. And there were plenty of reasons that they were good as well.
May didn’t simply relive his childhood by talking about these toys for an hour then showing them off, he went big. He set for himself and a dedicated team impossible challenges to try and rekindle some of the magic of these old toys, which have dwindled in popularity in the Google era. This involved such things as building a house entirely out of lego, building the world's longest race track out of Scalextric, and the world's longest model railway that ran along an old line from Bideford to Barnstaple in the South of England. This challenge was so tricky the team had two stabs at it.
Okay, this isn’t something we can purely say for certain but it perhaps isn’t hard to imagine that this statement could be fact. May has always given off an aura of knowing a lot more about what’s going on around him then Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond. His knowledge of the intricacies of machines and how they work, and his attention to detail perhaps hint at the pure depth of his knowledge. Although this could purely be due to TV personas and the other two are just as clever as May is. Still, it is rather clear that James has a brilliant mind and knows what he is talking about.
As I have already mentioned, May has a knack for knowing the intricacies of machines and how they work. This has lead to a couple of series on the BBC of a show called ‘James May Reassembles.’ What is this exactly? Well it is really what it says on the tin, and that is May taking something, be it a model steam engine or a clock, dismantling it and then reassembling it over a half-hour program (edited from several hours of course) and putting it back into the state that it was in prior to that. It might not seem interesting, but it was actually rather insightful.
Like Hammond, May is a big fan of motorcycles and has a rather lovely collection at home as well. Again, this is something that baffles Clarkson who can’t understand the love of motorcycles that both Hammond and May share. It formed the basis of the Vietnam special where the three amigos went across the whole country on various forms of motorcycles, although Clarkson showed his lack of knowledge by effectively buying a scooter while May and Hammond bought two proper motorbikes. It was perhaps one of the best episodes of Top Gear that has been made, and certainly worth a watch for those who have not yet seen it.
To be honest, if this is something that you don’t know you clearly haven’t been paying that much attention to either The Grand Tour or Top Gear. May has what many would call an unusual taste in shirts, although I myself like to think it is simply perfect. As you can tell, he has a bit of a thing for very bright shirts, of varying patterns and imagery and it is something that many fans have grown to love about May over the years. It certainly allows him to stand out from the crowd and is very much a feature of his image now, and probably always will be.
James May isn’t just famous for hosting Top Gear on the BBC or The Grand Tour on Amazon. As we have looked at, he has hosted toy shows but he also hosted his own show on the BBC called ‘James May’s Cars of the People.’ The title probably explains a lot of it. May went around the globe to find cars that are for the people, in whatever shape, size or form that may be. It was hugely popular and ran for a couple of series, and is well worth a look for something entertaining, insightful and very much a different pace compared to Top Gear.
James May has a self-confessed love of aircraft, and has always wanted to fly. So in the mid-2000s, he took up flying and is now the proud owner of a private pilot license. His flying skills were featured in an episode of Top Gear that saw Hammond and May in a Cessna 182 race Clarkson in the Bugatti across Europe from Italy to London. May has been in several aircraft on his programs, including Eurofighter Typhoon and most notably, the Supermarine Spitfire, which he was allowed to fly whilst in a two-seater variant and something that was rather emotional for him, and for us as viewers.
Of course, no show would be complete without its protagonists having a catchphrase or two. And May and the trio of Top Gear/Grand Tour are certainly no exception. Perhaps Clarkson’s most used one from Top Gear is ‘How hard can it be?’ but it is perhaps one of May’s that has gained the most fame. I’m sure you can all remember which one we are on about, but for those that don’t, here it is. If something has gone wrong or is going wrong, May would rather casually utter the phrase ‘oh c**k.’ And no prizes for guessing what the word is! Rather amusing, fairly light and it has always stuck.
May is often referred to via a couple of nicknames, His more recent one, which apparently is also what he has been called in Italy, is ‘Mr. Slowly’ referring to his rather more relaxed approach to driving. The one what we all know and love though really is ‘Captain Slow.’ And again, this has also come from his relaxed driving style and how, unless he has to in a supercar or whatever it may be, he would rather drive at a more delicate pace compared to that of Clarkson and Hammond. It can be quite a refreshing change from the crazy antics of the other two presenters.
May not only has a love for aircraft, but for railways as well. And that shouldn’t come as surprise given what his favorite toys are. And that is the Hornby train set. In fact, it is just trainsets in general. The biggest achievement of the ‘Toy Stories’ show was perhaps the model railway from Barnstaple to Bideford that took two attempts to do it, as in the first one the loco’s broke down and suffered issues along the model track. May’s most treasured childhood item is his model ‘Flying Scotsman,’ which for those not in the know is one of the most famous steam engines in the UK, and indeed the world.
Yes, this really did happen. May co-hosted a wine show that he presented alongside Oz Clarke, and guess what? The show as quite the success. The show basically involved the two driving around either Britain or another country sampling different wines, and drinks and it was a rip-roaring success. It perhaps doesn’t sound it at first glance, but it was rather light-hearted and intriguing, and very much the kind of show you could kick back with on a chilled out evening. Oz popped up in a couple of May’s ‘Toy Stories’ episodes and helped him out with the second attempt at the model railway record.
Did you know this one? You probably didn’t, and it is perhaps one of the more intriguing and interesting facts around May. It turns out James May was actually the son of a priest, and when he was a kid and at school he used to be a choirboy in his local church. An unusual perhaps fact but interesting nonetheless, as it is always very interesting to find out where the stars that we have come to love have come from and where they were when they were kids.
One of James May’s first jobs was at Autocar magazine, a very popular car magazine in the UK, and it was where May was before he rose to fame on Top Gear. How did he get fired from the magazine? Well, he seemed to be bored with his job, so he slipped a hidden message into the magazine's Road Test Year Book and the message read, “So you think it’s really good, yeah? You should try making the bloody thing up; it’s a real pain in the a**e.” The publishers missed this but the readers didn’t and he eventually lost the job. But it was very, very funny all the same.
Yes, James May loves to play music. He has a degree in music and quite often he can be seeing playing a little tune on Top Gear on either a piano or a keyboard. Before the move to Amazon was confirmed, May uploaded a few short clips of him playing the flute on his ‘unemployment tube’ channel, to give some light relief to fans and viewers awaiting news on his future. Playing any form of instrument is a brilliant skill, and it is to May’s credit he has the degree and is a very good musician indeed. It has also created amusing moments on Top Gear.
It may seem surprising given how well May has done on TV, but presenting didn’t come naturally to James and it took him a while to find his feet on Top Gear. He was involved in it originally in 1999 before the reboot and didn’t fare too well, but luckily he got a call for when the show was rebooted in the early 2000s. He initially declined, but came onboard for season two of the show and never looked back. Many are probably thankful that he did indeed decide to come on eventually, as the chemistry that formed between the three presenters was what helped to make it so successful.
You can quite easily imagine Hammond and Clarkson driving around the streets in a crazy AMG Mercedes or Ferrari, but can you imagine James doing so? Well, he has owned a Ferrari before, but he isn’t so keen on it being his everyday vehicle. May has actually used a Fiat Panda for a while as his everyday vehicle, something certainly much more understated than any other car that he could have chosen. But you have to admire him for doing so and not flaunting himself around. But of course, you have to enjoy a supercar now and again.
James May was on Gordon Ramsay’s ‘The F Word’ cooking show in the mid-2000s, and was involved in a competition with Ramsay. First off, they ate some rather interesting and disgusting thing, and then proceeded to face each other in the cook-offf. Not only did May seem to have a lot more courage and whatnot in the eating contest, but he also shocked Ramsay by winning the cook-off, much to Ramsay’s disgust and May’s incredible delight. It was all very light-hearted of course, and made for very good viewing. The clip itself is on YouTube if you are curious about watching it.
Alright, this isn’t an outrageous fact, but it would surprise you to see how many people do not know where May was born. For some other information, Clarkson was born in Doncaster and Hammond was born in Solihull. Bristol is right in car territory, as it was the headquarters of the Bristol car company as well as the aircraft making company, perhaps partly explaining some of May’s love for cars and planes. Bristol is also now home to the legendary SS Great Britain steamship, so May is from a very well engineered town that has a lot of history and heritage deep in its core.
Perhaps this isn’t anything surprising given the fact that May holds a private pilots license and indeed loves anything to do with aircraft. But yes, James May initially wanted to be a fighter pilot in the RAF, before the car career was what he ended up doing. You can see why May wanted to become a fighter pilot, and it probably would have suited him quite well. For whatever reason. though he did not go down that route, and it is perhaps to our benefit that he has been a very much love TV presenter. We certainly couldn’t think of the three amigo’s without him!
Sources: Motor1, Road, BBC, Daily Mail, Pinterest, Famous People