Bauer Xcel

Matt LeBlanc

Bauer Xcel
Matt LeBlanc

After the criticism the first series of the new-look Top Gear received, Matt LeBlanc, Chris Harris and Rory Reid are back behind the wheel. The trio will be the main three presenters of the motoring show, with Eddie Jordan, Sabine Schmitz and The Stig making regular appearances throughout the series. TVChoice met up with Matt, Chris and Rory at the Top Gear track and they revealed all about the new series…

You obviously want the programme to appeal across the board, not just to petrol heads
Matt LeBlanc I think we’ve got a good thing going. We’ve had a lot of fun. My experience in the entertainment business is, if you’re having fun making it, it’s generally fun to watch. We have a lot of experienced people who have been doing this particular kind of show for a long time behind the scenes and they really know how to do this. It’s our job to be the conduit that experience makes for the viewers at home.

Chris Harris  And the car is central to our show. Everything we do begins with the car. But I can’t be in charge of what the films will be because it would be a three-hour monologue about the valve gear on the Lamborghini, which is of no interest to anyone but four people on the planet - one of whom is Matt, by the way. But it’s the skills of the production guys that they can take quite a specialist subject and give it this general appeal.

Do you think you’ve found your feet more maybe this series?
Chris We don’t all sit around going, ‘Oh woe is me!’ It’s a dream job go to work every single morning thinking, ‘I can’t believe I get paid to do this,’ and I know we are all really buoyed by what we produce. The Aston film is a blend of beauty, humour and has a real thrill factor. I think that makes great television. We’re really lucky to be doing this.

Matt, you got some great reviews last year as a presenter. How have you found it going from being an actor to presenting?
 I look at it like any other role - I just act like a presenter, it’s pretty straight forward! My background is comedy and I’m the first guy to crack a joke at a funeral. It’s trying to balance the beautiful images of cars between the technical talk and bring that into laymen’s terms. We have a great production and writing team and we throw it all into the mix and come up with the best formula.  

Can you explain how the celebrity element of the show is changing?
 Yes, that’s still evolving as we speak, but it will be different from what it was last year. In the past, there’s just been one segment with the celebrity. Hopefully, we’ll try and weave them throughout the whole show a little more.

We’ve been lucky enough to see a couple of the films you’ve made for the series and Chris, you did some damage to an Alfa Romeo Giulia. Was that the only damage done to a car so far?
 Yes, and we’re going to keep it that way.

Matt That’s not strictly true … but as far as new cars go…

Old cars?
 Old cars were damaged quite a bit more than that, I think.

Does your heart sink? What goes through your mind?
P45! We don’t like damaging cars. People work hard to buy these things. Just wantonly hurting them and damaging them in the name of television is not good enough. But we tried something a bit tricky and we didn’t quite see that happening. There’s that lovely puff of glass vapour you see when it hits. It goes bang in your face! And you think, this isn’t a good day in the office. I got properly stroppy! I wasn’t happy at all. Then we calmed down and the team were very nice to me. They said, ‘Calm down and go finish your job.’

Rory Reid I was laughing quite a lot actually.

Chris Yes, Rory was a massive help.

So you damaged some old cars. Are these the ones you took to Kazakhstan?
 Yes, Kazakhstan was a great film. We had a really good time there.

Rory My car was actually fine if I remember rightly. It was you two causing most of the carnage.

Matt I think that was because your car was the darkest in colour, and you couldn’t see all the damage.

But these trips obviously help you all bond as a trio?
 Yes, exactly.

Chris It’s a bit like boarding school.

Matt I didn’t go to boarding school.

What’s the best car you’ve driven so far?
 It’s a toss-up between the Arial Nomad from last year and the 911R from last year. The DB11 was nice, but it’s a little too refined for me. That said, I had a great time in the Rolls-Royce as well. I like anything. They’re all fun, they all have their own personality quirks. I have a good time in any car I’m driving.

Matt, is it you driving when we see you sliding?
 I’ve been asked this before. We have a team of pro drivers, so some of it is me sliding it and some of it isn’t me sliding it. But in the name of entertainment, we’re here to make a car show, and make it look good. I do as much of it as I can, but am I a pro driver? No.

What’s been the biggest driving challenge for all three of you this series?
 The black taxi I was in, in Kazakhstan was interesting. These two guys had cars with working heating, and in Kazakhstan it was like -50!

Chris He didn’t whinge about it much! 

Rory The heater didn’t work to the point where the bottle of water I had in the car had frozen solid. I was stuck in that for about 20 hours.

Chris Every time he came on the radio, you could almost hear the violin going! My Volvo had fully functioning heated seats, so it was an excellent choice. Why would you go to Kazakhstan in a car with no heated seats? It’s one of the basics.

Matt I was in an old E300 Mercedes, with half a million miles of heating in it. They were just regular cars that were really rough around the edges. But at the end of that film, I was glad to say goodbye to that thing.

Rory I’ll never forget it.

Chris For all the wrong reasons!

Matt The car is such a part of our lives – everyone has memories of being in a car, whether it’s the first car you bought, the car you first went on a date in, the police car you found yourself in the back of when you were arrested. In Kazakhstan, they were old cars, but we had a really good time.

Last year, you were going up against the heritage of Top Gear and The Grand Tour was due to air. Now it’s a cleaner slate …
 I think the position we’re in now is better than last season. Not necessarily because we’re not going up against the heritage orThe Grand Tour, but because we figured out the things that worked least last time and we’ve fine-tuned it for this new series to create a much better programme, based on our past experience as a team. The things we’ve learnt will ultimately make this a much better show, regardless of who stands alongside or what came before.

What’s the biggest lesson learnt from last season?
 Do what Matt says.

Were you slightly in awe of Matt when you first worked with him?
 Yes, it’s intimidating for about three seconds, then he gives you a big old bear hug and you realise that you’ve got a lot in common. He’s a great bloke and we have a right laugh working on this show. I’m a student child of the Nineties and spent a lot of time in front of VHS tapes of him, so it’s quite bizarre.

BBC2, Sunday

Elaine Penn