ohu early morning coffee on his farm in Oxfordshire, Jeremy Clarkson talks about his new nemesis, badgers, and how they urinate constantly, usually on his grass. âIf they have tuberculosis and a cow eats that blade of grass, then you, the taxpayer, pay to have that cow killed. A quarter of the world’s badgers live in the UK, causing chaos. But if you say, “I’m going to cut down a badger,” you can expect to find your house on fire within 10 minutes. Carrie Johnson is an avid badger, so the government is unlikely to do anything while she is running around.
Your understanding of why the badgers and inclinations of Boris Johnson’s wife rocked Clarkson’s Levi may depend on how far you’ve come in his career. Since leaving the BBC’s Top Gear in 2015, he has co-hosted four series of The Grand Tour (essentially Top Gear with 300 times the budget) on Amazon Prime Video. In his most recent Amazonian business – Clarkson’s Farm – he attempts to cultivate the 1,000 acres of land he has owned since 2008, but did not farm until the farmer who worked them retired in 2019. âI didn’t have to know what was growing in my fields,â he said, gesturing around. âNow I know what’s in them all.â
Clarkson’s Farm has thrilled Clarksonphiles by showing the TV’s main boor / buffoon completely out of his comfort zone and quickly sinking. âI had the most horrible accident last week,â he said at one point. âI hit a telegraph pole with very expensive borrowed equipment. So I’m in deep trouble. But there have been, inevitably, reviews of Clarksonphobes, which he acknowledges with the words: “A lot of people don’t like cars and neither do I, and certainly not the combination of the two.”
Clarkson doesn’t give a lot of interviews. âYou inevitably say something stupid. Then they say, ‘He’s stupid.’ So it’s easier not to bother. But there’s a reason I’m sitting in front of this mud-covered figure: he pulled out a book, a collection of his agricultural journal columns. âI look like a farmer,â he says. âI even bought a plaid shirt and a pair of steel-toed boots, which are incredibly heavy. I don’t know how the farmers work.
Clarkson’s Farm has divided Guardian television writers. âUnlike his auto shows,â wrote Stuart Heritage, âwhere his common reaction to any trouble was to throw it off in an orgy of explosive ignorance, the Clarkson we meet here is actively willing to learn. Better yet, he’s not the alpha opposite this show, because everyone knows so much more than him. However, in her one-star review, Lucy Mangan called the show, which she renamed Jeremy Buys a Tractor, âboring and ridiculous rubbishâ.
Clarkson is 61 now. When I ask him how he hopes to die, he puts a piece of Nicorette in his mouth and says, âBefore, I thought I put out my last cigarette at 107 and would die. But I quit smoking four years ago. When my dad died at 61, I thought to myself, “This is a pretty good round.” Now I’m 61, if I died I would be furious. I am far from having finished. So, yes, I think about dying every day. This is your title. In 40 years I will be dead and no one will remember me. While some channels will probably still broadcast Top Gear repeats, I suggest. “No blue plaque,” he nods, laughing, “but I’ll be on Dave.”
Clarkson ended up in hospital with pneumonia in 2017 and, last Christmas, feared he would “die alone in a plastic tent” after contracting Covid. How is his health now? âI have my first physical in two and a half years next week – anus full – and I’m terrified. They start with a prostate exam and it gets more and more outrageous as the day goes on. Then a doctor calls you into this dimly lit surgery to review your results. You’re setting there thinking, “Do I have cancer?” That’s all that matters to me. I don’t listen to the rest – I drink less, I lose weight. You would have thought that with all the exercise I would look like a whippet.
With the Grand Tour only appearing as a special (but lasts much longer than the Guardian hopes, he says) and his farming adventure is now filming his second round, is the Clarkson Farm the retirement plan? âNo. I’m not a farmer. You spend 30 years blowing everything upâ – this included his own farm in a 2016 episode of the Grand Tour – âthen do this pretty sweet show with some lovely people from a village. C ‘so distant, like David Attenborough doing a program on the jet ski, or Nicholas Witchell who says, “I’m going to be a cage fighter. But I’m still the same person. I know a bit about cars, so I can be bombastic. I don’t know anything about farming, so you watch me learn. I was nursing a semi yesterday because I was driving a tractor past one of the fields. “
Half ? âPriapic,â he said. “Tumescent.” Oh I see. âAnd then I noticed a strip that was not seeded. So I arrested Kaleb for making his first mistake in two years. This is Kaleb Cooper, Clarkson’s agricultural assistant, 22 years old. âI haven’t seen him all morning. He is sulking.
One of the nicest things about Clarkson’s Farm is that absolutely everyone treats it with genuine, complete and utter disrespect. “Why would they do otherwise? ” he says. “I’m just one of those rich motherfuckers who moved to the Cotswolds.” Local opinion is certainly divided, however. The taxi driver who takes me to his house is a fan, calling him “Lord Clarkson”. But one person I speak to in the pub, who has met him once, describes him as “clearly a big pimple.”
Clarkson doesn’t seem too worried and mentions that he has set up a Google Alert on himself. âIf I get up in the morning and there’s no alert,â he said, âI’m happy. But the red pants brigade is against everything. One of them turned around last night at the parish council meeting and said, âIt’s not your job to be rude. I said, ‘It sort of is.’ “
There is also something quite refreshing about seeing Clarkson having a really tough day. âI definitely sleep better after a day on the farm,â he says. âThere are no cameras here today, however. I had to write a column and I see you. But as soon as you’re gone, weather permitting, I’m back on the tractor.
The week after our interview, Clarkson won the British Farming Awards in the Flying the Flag for British Agriculture category. He dedicates it to Cooper, saying he couldn’t have done it without him. This echoes recent remarks by sheep farmer and author James Rebanks, who said Clarkson has done “more for farmers in a series than Countryfile has achieved in 30 years.”
If Clarkson has truly become the new voice of British agriculture, no one is more surprised than him. âIf someone had said to me two years ago, ‘The president of the National Farmers Union wants to invite you to lunch,’ I would have thought, ‘What’s going to happen in my life to cause this? “”
Does he think an OBE could be on the cards? “You’re very nice. But I’m more annoyed that I never won a Bafta. I’ve done some really good shows over the years: a good one on Brunel and a few military documentaries. You’d think the Bafta committee could thinking, “We should at least name him. Take him to London to disappoint him. But as soon as the papers say, ‘Jeremy Clarkson, friend of David Cameron,’ that’s it, ‘He doesn’t have a Bafta.’ “
He continues, âI can’t imagine in a million years that the honor committee will say, ‘Okay, everyone, it’s just the man.’ Go on. Go through the cuttings. You will quickly find out that I am not.
Diddly Squat: A Year on the Farm is published by Penguin (Â£ 16.99). To support the Guardian and Observer, order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply.