‘Dismissing global warming? That was a joke’: Jeremy Clarkson on fury, farming and why he’s a changed man

“Are you happy?” I ask Jeremy Clarkson. A few times on Clarkson’s Farm, you said were happy. His thick eyebrows seem low, like storm clouds gathering. “I said that in season one, episode one,” he replies. “And I meant it then. Lockdown was a blessed relief. You thought: no one’s inviting me out, I don’t have to go anywhere. Lisa would say, ‘Let’s go on holiday again next weekend.’ And I could say, ‘No! We can’t!’ It was brilliant. We were stuck here. So I was very happy at work then.” Didn’t he say he was happy at another point, while building his pigpen or sowing on his tractor? He looks at me, eyebrows locking, lips pursed in thought. He has perfect recall of the entire Clarkson’s Farm archive. He was pleased when he did those things, but it wasn’t a blanket expression of happiness. Pleased? “Well, what did I do for 25 years? I drove around corners shouting and achieved nothing. Nothing! And then you plant a field of mustard, which I did last year, and some of it grew. Not as much as I’d been hoping, but some. So you have a sense of achievement.” Could we allow for the possibility that he might be contented , then? Clarkson concedes that springtime is nice. “This is going to sound awfully pretentious, but I’ve never noticed the buds coming on the trees before. I spent a good 20 minutes yesterday staring at buds, going, is that too early? Or is that later than normal?” Reasons Jeremy Clarkson might have to be happy: his Amazon Prime show Clarkson’s Farm is the most watched on the streamer in the UK and series four has already been commissioned. So he can sit at his kitchen island, laptop on the polished stone, surrounded by 10-foot windows, and think of ideas for shows, columns, what to have for supper. He can walk over to the fridge and eat the mustard he grew, feeling that sense of achievement you get when you plant something with a tractor, “which is quite complicated”, as opposed to in a vegetable garden. He can have Sunday lunch with beef or lamb from the farm, gravy made with flour from the farm, vegetables from the farm, potatoes and even beer from the farm. This is all, in his words, “properly satisfying”. It’s a very different Clarkson to the one I interviewed eight years ago. Back then, on a spring morning like this one, he’d been sitting at the bottom of a swimming pool in Barbados with a head-crushing hangover and an oxygen tank, wondering what to do with his life. “My luck stopped suddenly,” he said then. But when I suggest the Clarkson before me today is a changed man, happier, maybe one age has mellowed – he’s 64 – or maybe one who has less to be angry about, now that every TV concept he’s had since has been not just gold, but pure 24-carat liquid gold on tap, he bridles. “No, no, no. I’ve got slightly more air in my lungs. But changed, no. People’s perception of me may have changed, but I haven’t.” The Clarkson I met before, the one everyone watched on Top Gear, followed by The Grand Tour, the one who wrote outrageous things (which we will get to), that Clarkson was a caricature, “a comic creation”, he insists. “Everyone assumes the character they see on motoring shows is me, but it’s exaggerated. To think that I was like I was on Top Gear is the same as thinking that Anthony Hopkins is a cannibal.” He feels no pressure to be controversial any more. He can say a line like, “I noticed the buds today” and it can mean that and not have a perverse double meaning. “That’s just me being me, for once. I don’t have to think, ‘Right, I’m going to say something stupidly provocative now.’ That’s relaxing.” Pause. “Also, you,” he means him, “don’t wake up every morning to find you’re in the middle of a tabloid maelstrom for something you’ve said or done.” Can we talk about what he wrote in the Sun in December 2022 about the Duchess of Sussex? “You can try. You won’t get anywhere.” Clarkson said his hatred of Meghan operated on a “cellular level”, that he disliked her more than the serial killer Rose West and fantasised of a day “when she is made to parade naked through the streets of every town in Britain while the crowds chant ‘Shame!’ and throw lumps of excrement at her”. It was written in the controversial era, he says, the era he has just told me is firmly behind him, “So, actually, I’ve already addressed that.” Right, it wasn’t the real you. Is it true the Sun’s editor tried to stop him, but he went over her head? “I won’t say anything. Put me in a half-nelson and I won’t say anything.” Is it right he emailed Harry to apologise, and Harry didn’t email back? “Honestly, I’m not talking about that. There’s enough to be talking about with farming. You can say you tried.” Later, I see a wicked twitch in the mouth of nouveau era Clarkson, when the idea of baiting me becomes irresistible. “I don’t have to be contrary, but I might say something Guardian readers might say, ‘That’s contrary.’ Badgers are a case in point. Badgers are much loved in certain circles. Not here.” Wildlife group activists – “hunt saboteurs” – report him for illegally filling in badger setts which means there’s a policeman in a stab vest in his kitchen on a near weekly basis. “But we haven’t filled in a badger’s sett. There’s no point, because we’ve shot them. So is it contrary to say we’ve shot our badgers? It’s a true fact. So, yeah, it’s difficult to know where contrary starts and ends, really.” When I arrive from London, Clarkson is waiting for me, arm resting on the open window, in the car park of the local train station. It’s a glorious spring morning, sky wide open across the vast Cotswolds landscape. We speed past hedgerows of hawthorn blossom in his old Land Rover, moss-green and muddy in the footwell. He’s smoked so much in this car over the years that even the steering wheel has emphysema. He slows so that I can hear a noise like an expiratory wheeze when he turns it. Does he miss smoking? “No.” He chews nicotine gum constantly. About him are balls of it, carefully removed from his mouth and placed on the closest convenient surface once the active ingredient has been thoroughly drained into his bloodstream, before he pops another from the blister pack. On the gravel outside his house there is topiary of a dog cocking his leg, a white Aston Martin (“a bargain”) and a brand new Land Rover (“Lisa’s”). There’s also a red vintage Massey Ferguson, waxed to a sheen. “Vintage tractors: mark of a hobby farmer,” he says when I stop to admire it (later he’ll say the same of chickens; “hobby farmers” are evidently low in farming hierarchy). The Massey had to have a new engine after his neighbour David Cameron, the David Cameron, Lord, and current foreign secretary, blew it up. “He’s got his own tractor now,” Clarkson says. The Camerons live on the left side of the valley. Across there is Rebekah Brooks, CEO of News UK, queen of the “country supper”. He dots the landscape with his finger naming people. Film people, business people, aristos. Not far are Lord and Lady Bamford, the Conservative party donors who lent Boris Johnson a house when he was ejected. No wonder Chipping Norton has a reputation for being an incestuous nest of media and politics. As I’m saying this, Clarkson spies a lorry coming up the road to his house. “Not another fucking delivery,” he mutters, darkly. “Lisa’s.” In the kitchen he insists I try their water because it tastes delicious. He recently had a glass of tap water in London and mouth-sprayed it across the room in disgust; London is a place he rarely visits. Now, his life has contracted to this small corner of the Cotswolds. He’s been here on and off nearly 30 years (previously with his second wife, Frances Cain, mother of his three grown-up children). Judging by the bored “Mornings” from locals, they’ve just about come to terms with him. Diddly Squat is the 1,000 acre working farm he bought in 2008. It comprises a farm shop run by Lisa, a burger van, 29 goats, 60-70 pigs, seven cows (soon to be 30-40), 40 chickens, 100 sheep and a cat. “Lisa’s cat, not my cat.” He had a restaurant in the lamb barn but the council closed it. Clarkson’s Farm is gentler than The Grand Tour. There’s hugging and crying – I can’t say why because I’ve signed an NDA. There’s a lovers’ tiff between Clarkson and Kaleb Cooper, Clarkson has filed 11 applications since he bought the farm (the latest at Christmas for a large grain store) which lies in an area of outstanding natural beauty – “Because farmers have made it outstanding,” he points out. “Nothing natural out there.” He says the government tells farmers to diversify, to use buildings and broaden businesses. “But if you try, your local authority will say, no, you can’t. We put in for planning permission to turn the lambing barn into a restaurant and all hell broke loose.” In this series, the future of the burger van hangs in the balance. The council have denied a “vendetta” against Clarkson, driven by a few newcomers, but the highs and lows are woven through the show. At one point in 2022, “when it was getting really sticky”, Clarkson remembered he knew Michael Gove – who is in charge of planning – and rang him up. “Put it this way, he was the person in government who I actually had a phone number for. In the first series, the farm turned a profit of £144. He blames uncontrollable outside forces, such as extreme weather: “Somebody’s going to say, ‘You drive cars!’ but you know what I mean.” This year earnings were better, but still not a living wage. Yes, he knows he is not going to starve, but most farmers don’t have TV shows and they are “fucked. And it’s terrifying because they’re going to have to sell. The farms are going to be snapped up by hedge funders or farming conglomerates, who will see hedgerows and woods as annoyances and will bulldoze and turn England into Canada. We will lose the countryside unless we protect farmers.” He highlights the suicide rate in farming, “worse than any other industry”. Low wages combined with the loneliness of 12-14 hours a day in a tractor is lethal, he says. “They’re thinking, ‘I can’t afford the diesel, I can’t afford the seed, and there’s a risk the weather will be all wrong and it’ll be pointless and wasted.’” Proximity to nature has made him far more aware of the climate. He measures rainfall like a meteorologist, so if you say it was a wet weekend, he’ll be able to tell you it was 25mm. He can also tell you that we’ve already had this year’s allocation of rain because it’s always 38in, “give or take”, and this is “a fucking nightmare” because you need varied weather for farming. Where does that put his shrugging disregard for global warming on his motoring shows? “That was part of the caricature,” he says. “It was a joke.” He mocks his own controversial era voice, saying, “Oh, come on.” Then says, “Now you think, ‘Jesus Christ, my neighbours over there, they’ve had to replant everything because it’s all drowned.’ I can’t believe it’s not dominating the news agenda,” he adds sardonically. “Oh no, wait, it is.” It is, except Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer have both scrapped their green commitments, I say. “Because they don’t really work and they won’t achieve anything,” he counters. Would he take a role as a climate tsar? “No, no, no.” Why? “I won’t drive a Tesla. I’ve got probably 10 cars, all with V8 engines. I don’t think electric cars solve anything. Science is going to be needed here, not politics. Science will solve it eventually. Always does.” In time? He pouts. “Don’t know. It’s happening really fast. That’s what always surprises me. In the last five years, I’ve noticed a dramatic change here – ”He breaks off and smirks. “I’m like a Guardian reader’s wet dream, aren’t I?” Then continues, “It hasn’t snowed for five years. We probably get a minute of sleet. We used to get snowed in every year.” Does he still hate Greta Thunberg? “Well, I’m not going to be lectured by someone who’s never been to school.” Doesn’t he tell A-level students on X every year that school doesn’t matter? “It doesn’t, but you need to learn something. You could say, The School of Life, but she hasn’t been to that either.” He nips off to speak to someone and Lisa pops her head round the door, hesitant. She’s blonde, freckly, very smiley, very tall. She whispers that she has a present for me: two bottles of scent she’s launching at the farm shop called Wet and Drive. Yes, seriously. She perches, cautious, on the sofa and we talk about kids. When her three and Clarkson’s three get together on holiday, they slag them both off, but in her eyes that’s the mark of a successful blended family. “What are you two talking about?” Clarkson seems cross, coming back in, and it occurs to me that he thinks she’s stealing his interview. He’s tried Ozempic, “Didn’t lose any weight on it. I saw Flavio Briatore the other day. Now, I’m not for a moment suggesting he has been on Ozempic, but holy cow, he looked like Willem Dafoe: unbelievably thin. I’m just getting fatter. I’m surrounded by all this great food. Yesterday morning we had boar bacon. Good God, you can’t not eat it. Then there’s the venison: delicious. Lisa is growing potatoes like crazy.” Surely, he walks it all off outdoors? He pulls a face, puts his hand on his tummy. “I was going for a walk yesterday and had to stop, I was so exhausted. But my lungs are probably cleaner.” What about drinking? “Well, I don’t drink when I’m operating heavy machinery, that’s for sure. While it’s legal to sit in a tractor with a refreshing glass of beer or wine, you wouldn’t be operating any of the stuff on the back if you want both your arms on at the end of the day.” We’re back in the Land Rover on our way to the pub for lunch and halfway down his private road we meet a grey BMW. A man who doesn’t look as if he’s from Amazon leaps out with a package. “My book,” he says, passing it through the window. It’s a self-published work and comes with a note: “From one car enthusiast to another.” Well, he can’t read, Clarkson observes: “The sign on the gate says absolutely no public.” This is a benign ambush compared with the time there was a man sitting in his kitchen. Clarkson assumed he was with the crew and carried on working on his laptop. “He was looking at me writing the voiceover for Clarkson’s Farm and said, ‘Oh, is this the new series?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ I was chatting away, then suddenly went, ‘Who are you?’ And he went, ‘I was just passing.’ I said, ‘No, I’m sorry, you cannot just walk into somebody’s house and pull up a chair.’ He looked a bit baffled. They all do. The other day there was a knock on the door. Four sweet little kids. Their mothers at the gate, going, ‘Go on, kids.’ Like, ‘Walk in.’ I was like, no! You have to be nice to the children, obviously, it’s not their fault. But I did take their mothers to one side and say, ‘You can’t do that.’” Arguably the worst encounter was Lisa coming out of the shower in a towelling robe and bumping into a couple having a nosy around. Their attitude, Clarkson says, was, “He’s on television, he won’t mind.” After the pub, where he has two swift rosés, I ask, because his friends have told me how happy he is with Lisa, if he’d marry again. He says no. He’s been married twice – his first wife, Alex Hall, left him after six months for one of his best friends. Earlier I’d asked if he’d been hurt by anything in his life. “Oh God, countless things. But you’ve got two choices: wallow or stiffen your upper lip and get on with it. I come from a generation where,” he’d inhaled deeply, “we stiffen the upper lip and get on with it.” An element of his “park that and move on” approach is an increasing preoccupation with his own mortality. “I don’t have long,” he says. “I’ve probably only got what, 70,000 hours left, maybe?” After an afternoon tramping round the farm, we kick off our wellies and go in for tea. Clarkson is less fidgety than earlier, but seems a touch riled. His back was hurting by the chickens and goats, and when we went to see the pigs, he looked in real pain. He says he’s fine. He’ll take painkillers. I raise something we discussed years ago: how he was bullied as a boarder at Repton School, routinely beaten over his head and back with a suitcase. Perhaps he’s annoyed he ever mentioned it, or now sees it as the tear-stained soft toy subject of pampered millennials. Either way, he’s dismissive. “I don’t want to belittle bullying which can be dreadful. But it didn’t do me any harm. Actually, I’m glad I was bullied.” Why? “Because I was a bit of a prick. And I wasn’t a prick after I’d been hit over the head with a suitcase. The priggishness was knocked out.” That sounds like you’re saying you asked for it. “I don’t really want to get into bullying because it’s such a bloody awful subject.” We sit at the table and look at the astonishing blue glow of the late afternoon sky. Lisa opens some Diddly Squat crisps for me to try, pours some rosé and asks advice on the copy she’s written for the label on the Diddly Squat honey tequila. She has a 50/50 deal with Clarkson on profits from the Diddly Squat merch, in addition to her TV appearance fees. She makes the point that she needs to think of her retirement because if he were to drop dead, his kids would turf her out. This echoes what he told me – that they have no interest in the farm. “I keep telling them, listen, when I’m dead, I don’t want you to sell it. They look at me like, ‘Are you joking?’” We discuss retirement. The idea makes him shudder, and a retirement “hobby” Of all my questions, his favourite is whether he’s a secret lefty. He chuckles, repeating, “Am I secret lefty?” to himself all day long. In 2020, he said he’d consider voting for Keir Starmer. Listening to my tape back, I hear the glug of wine regularly poured. Lisa tells me they usually get through at least two bottles a night. They recently went to a health retreat in Portugal, she says. “It wasn’t hard not to drink those few days.” But Clarkson was miserable, the juice diet made him ill, and he ended up in hospital with an abscess on his back. She starts to describe lancing it herself, saying it was like the film Alien, and the cyst got baby cysts, “and he got greyer and greyer and almost died”. He grumbles in dissent. “No,” she insists, “you had to have a 40-minute operation.” In general, she doesn’t want to analyse him (or for me to), because if you solve the mystery of why he’s like he is, she argues, you neutralise his genius, which comes from his anguish, she believes. She told another journalist that Clarkson likes watching war films of an evening. “I am pretty much word for word on Where Eagles Dare, so she may have a point,” he says. He’s never watched Bake Off, but “Countryfile used to be jolly good, didn’t it? And then it all just became hijacked.” Who hijacked it? He gives me a look and I sense the presence of controversial era Clarkson. “Well, with the greatest of respect, the Guardian community at the BBC looked at it and thought, ‘No, we can’t have all these country people.’ So nowadays it’s just a smörgåsbord of everything that’s necessary for a modern-day television programme to be commissioned. “I saw one item recently where a woman went with another woman into a wood and was invited to lay down under a tree and it looked awfully soggy, but she lay down and was invited to hum. I couldn’t see what that had to do with Countryfile. I also noticed that Adam Henson [the presenter], who I like very much, said ‘a cow’s gestation period was the same as it is for people’. I thought, ‘You didn’t say people in the first take, did you? You said women . And somebody said, ‘Could you do it again and say people ?’ I’d have told them to fuck off.” He looks at me, turns his palm up to continue the point. “This is Sunday night on BBC. Average age of the audience? 60? Social demographic? ABC1. They don’t want to be told men have babies. Because they’ll go, ‘No they don’t, what are you on about? It’s Countryfile. Stop confusing me. I’m very old and set in my ways.’” He seems relieved to have got this off his chest. I ask how often his children roll their eyes at him for being contrary. He protests that “it’s difficult to know what contrary is. The other day I said something, and they said, ‘You can’t say that!’ I said, ‘Well, you could three weeks ago.’ What was it the other day that I got told I couldn’t say?” Fortunately, he can’t remember. “It’s complicated being not contrary,” he insists, undermining what he told me at the start of the day. “It’s complicated saying anything.”

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