When Jeremy Clarkson began drinking in The Last Chance Saloon, late last year, he knew his BBC career was hanging by a thread.
It would have been sensible for him to order a sparkling water and sit quietly in the corner of his new local until the N-word row blew over. But sensible isn’t in a word that exists in Jezza’s lexicon of life. Playing safe just isn’t his style.
He’s a two bottles of Whispering Angel rosé over a (hot) Steak and Chips lunch, followed by a brandy and pack of Marlboro type of guy.
The 54-year-old ex-Top Gear host was never going to be able to keep his nose clean. He knew it. We knew it. More importantly, BBC executives keen to add his scalp to their belt also knew it.
It was just a matter of time before even The Last Chance saloon was calling last orders on Clarkson.
There was a little diplomatic incident in Argentina involving a Porsche bearing a number plate the locals felt was a reference to their Falklands defeat.
On that occasion, BBC chiefs, through gritted teeth conceded, he wasn’t to blame for causing locals to riot and his 30-strong crew having to flee a stone-throwing mob chasing them from the Belgrano’s home port back to Chile.
If there is a word that sums up Clarkson, it is ‘hubris’ – which means someone with extreme pride and self-confidence. However, its origin is in ancient Greece, and when hubris offended the Gods it was severely punished.
Clarkson has offended the Mexicans, Germans, French, Scots, cyclists, though ironically not the Ancient Greek Gods. He has hubris by the truckload – in fact, he offended truckers too.
BBC 2’s new series of Top Gear was passing without incident, attracting six million viewers and deemed by fans to be back to form. But, we all knew it wouldn’t be long before hubris-laden Jezza put his foot – or, as actually happened, his fist – in it.
And so the Beeb had little choice but to red-card their biggest-earning star after he allegedly gave producer Oisin Tymon a split lip outside a north Yorkshire hotel, in what became known as #steakgate.
Moaning about the lack of hot food after a 15-hour day is understandable – but chinning a colleague is most definitely not.
But what a sad way for the Beeb’s biggest global star to be forced out – he wasn’t actually sacked, his contract, due to expire at the end of March anyway, was just not renewed.
His downfall was celebrated by those who dismiss him as a monster and un-PC dinosaur. But he is genuinely loved by many millions of fans – as shown by the one million signature petition to try and get him re-instated.
Weirder is the fact that many of his biggest fans are kids. Ten-year-olds love the Top Gear mayhem.
Weirder still his appeal crosses the sexes. He is as popular with women as petrol head men.
And, despite his ribbing of Johnny Foreigners, it is a fact that Johnny Foreigners are his biggest fans. Despite his very Britishness, his success is on a par with those other unlikely global superstars: Mr Bean and, in Albania at least, Norman Wisdom.
Jezza was as much judged by what he appeared to be – and stand for – than what he really was. That’s what people liked. It was an in-joke: three non-PC, middle-aged schoolboys given free-rein to cause havoc. They wanted to be the Top Gear him – driving great cars in exotic locations while spouting clever one liners. But didn’t want to be him in real life.
So, where and what next for Clarkson? He’s a workaholic adrenaline junkie, so don’t expect him to sit around lounging on the sofa watching Jeremy Kyle.
Politically-correct British television chiefs might have shut the door on him, but America loves him. Australia loves him. South Africa loves him. India loves him. Scandinavia loves him.
I reckon Top Gear’s team will re-group, continue to play huge venues with their live show and begin making a new version of the show loved by millions, to market via Netflix, Amazon Prime or Hulu. It will coin it in.
Top Gear’s King Jeremy is dead, for now – but he’s not buried and he’ll be back.
- Guest Blogger: Nigel Pauley. Fleet Street journalist and Acting TV Editor of the Sunday Mirror