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Artillery Row

Jeremy Clarkson touches grass

How a cocky petrolhead found his soul

The last truly poignant thing I watched on television was a show about a grumpy farmer raising piglets. He’s a city gentleman new to farming, but what may have started out as a gimmick has, over three growing seasons, transformed into a real calling. Or a passion, even. And one that, in some moments, sees him battle with life and death. Unfortunately, for a lot of the little piglets, it was death. After watching their births — their first moments and last, after their delinquent pig mothers smothered them without a care in the world — I cried. My husband cried. The friends who we harangued to watch the season again with us cried. And Jeremy Clarkson cried.

Yes, I am talking about Jeremy Clarkson on Clarkson’s Farm, streaming on Amazon Prime Video. Clarkson, over the last few decades, has made a career for himself in part by being easy to hate. It is uncomfortable for everybody, himself included, that the miserable boomer has turned into an unlikely national treasure, and all it took was some honest work.

Clarkson is cultural marmite. After 35 years on the BBC’s Top Gear, he is revered in the petrolhead community as a god. Newspapers love him because he’s impolite and will sell some prime “you can’t say anything anymore” content. Meghan Markle hates him after he once wrote he was “dreaming of the day” that British crowds threw lumps of shit at her. Feminists hate him for mostly that same reason. Leftists hate him for writing once that striking workers should be “shot in front of their families.” As for the denizens of the countryside, he has maintained a multi-decade fight in his newspaper column with ramblers.

Basically, the answer to whether you like Clarkson relies really on whether you take what a funny old guy says seriously. But there are some legitimate grievances towards the presenter too. When he was finally bounced from the Beeb, it was because he punched a producer. And as annoying as the people who had long had it in for Clarkson had always been, it is not some new Gen Z norm or innovation of “cancel culture” to say you can’t physically assault your colleague. That said, the producer in question did sue him for racial injury, which is a bit closer. (He called him Irish, for God’s sake!) The crux of it, anyway, is that Clarkson is badly behaved and probably too inconsistent to be trusted by any major TV network. He wound up on Amazon Prime’s The Grand Tour, a just-changed-enough-to-be-legal Top Gear clone, once again drawing a massive and mostly male audience that loves to memorise the 0-60 times of cars only oligarchs can ever afford. 

But, once The Grand Tour began winding down — it now returns just for the occasional travel special — the old presenters went off to make spinoffs for Amazon. And Clarkson decided to make his, and to rejigger his Times column, around his 1000 acre country farm in the Cotswolds. And that is where, through epiphany, necessity, human nature, act of God, or sheer growing up, Clarkson was reborn as someone who not just the lovers of edgy humour and high horsepower figures can admire.

Clarkson has won the approbation of the farming community, with for instance farming advocacy outfit No Farmers, No Food sharing its support. In a 2023 interview, one initially sceptical farmer described having been won over: “What makes it so relatable to farmers is that the ‘star’ doesn’t overshadow his supporting team. Clarkson doesn’t try to pretend that he’s in any way doing it by himself.” In the most recent season, Clarkson even showed the way different farmers approach the tradeoffs between crop yield efficiency and environmental degradation of the soil, a complicated problem without obvious answers given the economic pressures on farmers. Clarkson, so famously boorish and opinionated, let the different sides make their case on the issue and then… didn’t weigh in on what viewers should think.

Farmer Clarkson is different; he is calm and caring

Clarkson, at sixty four, sporting an alarming pot belly, was named the UK’s sexiest man for the second year running in 2024. Online voters may be having a bit of a laugh, but Jezza does have a girlfriend who is both a model and seemingly a true partner and a wonderful person who will wake up at night with him to rush to the pig sty. Take him as a lesson to all men wondering what it is that really gets a woman’s gears going. Is it having a nice car? Will women go for you if you get a flashy new Audi RS 6 Avant, with 621 horsepower? Or, come to dream of it, a Ferrari? Or, is it watching a man wake up, taking a walk around the lawn and checking whether the flowers are blooming? I know it’s the latter. I married a petrolhead who moved with me to the country and now is more concerned about what breed of bird is in the trees than the latest hot hatch. To nurture land feeds the body and the soul. Clarkson knows it too. In a recent interview with The Guardian, he said: “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.”

Farmer Clarkson is different; he is calm and caring. And after watching him mucking out stables, his new job seems to have cleaned up his reputation, too. Now, with the fresh air and honest work having unblackened his soul, he has to keep up running gags on the program pretending to be more of a twat than he is — for example making a big show of having bought the wrong tractor because it’s a Lamborghini with too much power. My own mother, a staunch Never Clarkson, recently binge watched the whole series, and started her praise of the latest season with, “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but…” 

After the third season of Clarkson’s Farm debuted on Amazon Prime, the film critic for the Irish Times tweeted, “I don’t suppose you win any friends on here recommending Jeremy Clarkson content, but Clarkson’s Farm really is excellent TV and genuinely moving.” Replies flooded in sharing the same apprehension. “I loved it and wouldn’t have called myself a fan previously. It was educational, funny, thought provoking and sad all in one show,” one said. Some were more direct, such as, “Can’t stand Jeremy Clarkson but Clarkson’s Farm is good, not sure why he can’t be more like that than being the insufferable prick he usually is.” 

Well, he can. And, no doubt uncomfortably for those of us who are still dedicated to our careers in media in cities or spend our time tweeting about what an insufferable prick Jeremy Clarkson usually is, there’s a pretty obvious bunch of lessons in all this: Get offline! Spend time outdoors! Care about the people you work around, and work together on things in the physical world you touch with your hands! Pay attention to things that grow! Eat well! Is this all a bit too much like advice your grandfather might give? Well, alright, perhaps the grandparents of the world were right. Come to think of it, Clarkson looks like a kindly grandfather now, just one with some nice cars and an overly powerful Lamborghini tractor.

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