WHILE many of us have sat back and watched as our waistlines expanded during lockdown, James May will be emerging from it looking and feeling better than ever.
And the 58-year-old puts it down to steering clear of his The Grand Tour co-hosts Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond — and their constant ribbing.
With Covid restrictions meaning they couldn’t film as they raced around in cars together, James has spent the past 12 months cycling — something that would make Sun columnist Jezza flinch — and says he is now looking “well buff”.
Even worse, his motor has barely left the garage.
In an exclusive chat, James told me: “I wouldn’t say I’ve particularly missed them. I’ve seen so much of those two idiots over the past 15 years of my life. I don’t pine for them in any way whatsoever.
“I’m definitely healthier, no doubt about that. I’m slightly slimmer, I’m stronger. I’m still falling to bits but I’m falling to bits in a slightly trimmer way.
“I think over the past year I’ve taken my car out a few times to the dump to get rid of cardboard for recycling, so I’ve driven a mile down the road.
“During the bit where the lockdown stopped I drove down to the countryside to my pub a few times but, honestly, I reckon in the past year I’ve driven probably a dozen times.
‘UK A WONDERFUL PLACE TO DRIVE’
“I’ve done a lot of cycling because I’m allowed to. I’ve tried to stick to the rules, but I’m allowed to ride my bike once a day for exercise so pretty much every day of lockdown I did between five and ten miles.”
So what will millions of viewers see when they tune in to James, Jeremy and Richard’s next adventure on their hit Amazon Prime Video show?
James said: “I’m well buff now but probably can’t drive my car any more.”
In between lockdowns the trio did manage to meet up and film one episode in Scotland.
It follows December’s epic treasure-hunting adventure in Madagascar . . . called A Massive Hunt.
While future episodes are also being dreamed up, it is looking likely they will have to shoot within the UK again.
This makes for unfamiliar territory for the trio, who are normally dumped in exotic locations.
James said: “It’s fine by me. The UK is a wonderful place to drive around and a lot of it is very scenic.
“I know some people think, ‘Well it’s not very Grand Tour-y. It’s not very exotic if you stay in England’.
“But you have to remember our viewers are all over the world.
“So if our British fans watch the television and, say, we go to India, they think, ‘Wow, that’s amazing. They’re driving in India’.
“But if we’re driving around in the UK, all our fans in India will think, ‘Wow look at that’. Everywhere is exotic to somebody.”
For UK-based viewers who love to see the former Top Gear hosts in the countries such as Vietnam, Mongolia and Cambodia, James has good news — especially as they were forced to abandon a Russian-based episode last year.
He said: “We’ll do some bigger ones in more far-flung and exotic locations.
“We don’t know what they are yet. A lot of that will depend on what happens with Covid, whether or not there are second waves, whether or not you need passports.
“Our guess is as good as anybody else’s. Well probably worse actually, because we tend to be terrible at this sort of thing.
“But yes, we’re not abandoning it. We are pausing it but in the meantime we’ve done Scotland, we’ll probably do another UK-based one fairly soon.
“So in a way Covid gives you more Grand Tour because we’ve had to do some extra ones during Covid that we filmed in the UK, rather than the big ones that we were about to do when Covid struck.”
In between filming, James has also helped develop an app — My Theory Test By James May — to guide young drivers through the theory examination of their driving test.
It includes videos that explain the “dull” parts of the test, lessons using scientifically proven methods to aid memory and an algorithm that helps pinpoint users’ weaknesses.
With more than 50 per cent of the 1.8million hopefuls who attempt to get their driving licence every year failing the non-driving part of the test, there is clearly a need.
James said: “There obviously is a problem with passing it.
“Some people struggle with it a lot and we’ve heard of some people taking it a dozen times.
“And the vast majority of it is bleeding obvious — you really have to question your continued existence.”
As a self-proclaimed Top Gear and The Grand Tour anorak, I point out that maybe this was something they missed out on covering during their motoring shows over the years.
“I then reference one of my favourite moments in the trio’s shows — when each host tries to buy a car and get insured on a budget as a new, young driver.
But there is good reason they never covered passing the test, James tells me — as they may have been embarrassed and, even worse, out of a job.
He said: “We probably haven’t done it because we were worried that we would fail.
“If you take the test again voluntarily and you fail, I think you then can’t drive.
“You can’t say, ‘No, I’ve already passed it back in 1980 whatever’. They say, ‘No that’s tough s**t, buddy, you’ve failed’.”
And as someone who failed to pass his test the first time — although when he took it there was no theory test — James has sympathy for the youngsters today.
He has reduced the price of the app from £4.99 to £3.99 throughout April and called on the Government to drop the £23 charge the 70,000 wannabe drivers may have to pay to retake the theory test they already passed before lockdown as it only lasts for two years.
James said: “They’re not retesting the driving instructors or the driving examiners, but they somehow think they need to retest largely young people because the theory test was taken two years ago. I just think it’s a bit unfair, not to use a bad word.
“I mean, leave them alone, for God’s sake. Everything else is a bit s**t if you’re 19 or 20 at the moment.
“You can’t go to parties, can’t see your mates, you can’t start university or college, you can’t start apprenticeships, you can’t get jobs, you can’t afford a house, and then they’re not going to let you drive a car either. Give them a break.”
- My Theory Test By James May is available to buy from the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.
View more information: https://www.the-sun.com/entertainment/2712866/james-may-well-buff-after-lockdown/