1. Holy family
We always suspected James’ presenting and driving skills were pretty special, but we wouldn’t have called divine inspiration until we delved a little into his family tree. James is the son of a priest and, as hard as it might be to imagine these days, used to be a choirboy in his local church as a nipper. Guess that must be where he first got his taste for wine, too.
2. Sound of music
James didn’t leave his musical gifts behind in the choir loft, and believe it or not the leather jacket sporting jack-the-lad has a real sensitive side - he studied music at university with the flute and piano his instruments of choice. And the surprises don’t end there - to make a little pocket money during his studies James used to dress as a medieval minstrel and play banquets. If only Jeremy Clarkson could have seen him then.
3. Small world
While James was singing his little heart out in the choir in Rotherham a future colleague was cutting his teeth in the same city - the northern town is the place which gave a young Mr Clarkson his journalistic break. That’s not the only showbiz link the young James had - he went to school with Dean Andrews who would go on to muck about with cars, long hair and leather jackets himself in the BBC’s Life on Mars.
4. Up, up and away
James’ interest in transport doesn’t stop at cars - so much so in fact that in 2006 he pulled out all the stops and earned himself a pilot’s license after training at White Waltham Airfield in Berkshire. Owning his very own plane is one thing, but how flash is it to have a personalised plate on your set of wings? James’ is G-OCOK after his catchphrase ‘oh cock’. What a dude.
5. A man of letters
May’s journalism career began with the printed word, but in 1992 his stint at Autocar came to a rather abrupt end. Sick to the back teeth of putting together the Road Test Year Book our Jimmy decided to get creative and spell out a secret message, along the lines of ‘this is a pain in the arse’. Sadly eagle-eyed readers spotted it and thought they’d won a prize. James was given his walking papers, but as ways of getting booted go it’s a pretty darned cool one.
6. Octopus’ garden
With Top Gear having a reputation for thumbing its nose at global warming scaremongers and environ-mentalists you may be surprised to hear that James has been known to hang around the Chelsea Flower Show. He’s not come over all tree-huggy though, his entry to the 2009 show was made entirely out of plasticine. Good idea that, but those little Playdough greenfly get everywhere.
7. No accounting for taste
James makes no secret of his love of classical music, which isn’t a big surprise given his muso background and ivory-tinkling habits, but another of his music-making heroes is a bit more a surprise. Scottish comedy-songwriter Ivor Cutler, a John Peel favourite with records including Velvet Donkey and Jammy Smears, is a bit fave of our James - can’t imagine it blasting out of a Bugati but it’s a lovely image.
8. Bottoms up
James’ frank attitude and no-nonsense approach made it a bit of a shock when we discovered he was going to front a programme about wine with Oz Clarke. Why James, WHY?! Luckily he hadn’t gone all pretentious, and decided to out himself as a bouquet-spouting snob, but taken the chance to drink lots of wine for a living. Sensible lad, but we still get the sense his is a pint of best and a pork pie.
9. James to the oki
It’s probably not a huge surprise given the fact James carries the lingering air of a man who likes to spend his downtime in the sort of pub where ‘lager top’ counts as a cocktail, but one of his secret skills is that he plays a mean game of darts. While he may not be the next Ted Hankey we’re hoping his arrows skills will one day make their way onto Top Gear, perhaps with Clarko as a moving target.
10. Captain Slow
James’ nickname Captain Slow, thanks to his, how shall we put this, cautious approach to motoring may be well-earned but it hasn’t stopped him from splashing out on some pretty fast pieces of motor. The catalogue of his current or former cars reads like a motorhead’s wish-list, including Porsches, Bentleys, Rolls Royces and, um, Fiat Pandas.