A politically correct lefty goes to see Top Gear live – you'll probably believe what happened next

At the end of the evening I walked out wondering what I had liked the least

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The Independent Online

I travelled to Belfast on Friday full of hope that I might rediscover a long-lost fondness for Top Gear and its leading man. In adulthood, I have progressively become the sort of politically correct lefty metropolitan who appears to give at least half the population nightmares. I blame my job. I struggle to look at a photo of Jeremy Clarkson without curling a lip, but I used to bloody love the guy and his crazy car show.

Outside the Odyssey Arena I found hundreds of people like old me. Lads with their dads, groups of friends, lining up for almost a mile before the doors opened. There were even a few women. They came for the cars – the louder and more exotic the better – and stayed for Clarkson, a 55-year-old from Gloucestershire who turned a dreary magazine show into a global juggernaut.

It made perfect sense that a steak-based fracas in March had launched Clarkson’s name onto all the posters. Top Gear Live, the hit stage version of the axed BBC2 show, is now Clarkson, Hammond and May Live. And there is no doubt who carries the brand. Scandals and brickbats only seem to strengthen Clarkson’s resolve and standing, and every fan I met had come to see him. He is Top Gear’s Nigel Farage.

Perhaps I should have watched the show, which leaves Belfast today for a world tour (hello Australia, Norway, South Africa), alongside Jack, who’s 14. When the BBC let Clarkson go after he punched a producer in a row about dinner, Jack, who waited with his father, Gary, said he would rather tear up his ticket than watch the live show without his hero. His enthusiasm might have been infectious, but my own ticket directed me to a VIP suite reserved for media.

Local reviewers were bemused to share a complimentary platter of suitably underheated chicken wings with representatives of the national press.

We unfolded laptops and sat poised, as if covering a cup final or a state occasion.

 

As 5,500 people cheered Clarkson’s banter, we tapped away furiously in case he said something newsworthy.

One reporter asked the press officers what was going to happen, such was the demand from editors in London for early copy. Another writer struggled with shorthand in the dark.

As for the show? Totally dreadful. I had walked in with an open mind but walked out wondering what I had liked the least.

The platinum blonde with flame-throwers who set fire to twin Porsches as they drifted perilously close to her leather jumpsuit? The bit where Clarkson made jokes about the size of Hammond’s manhood (or Stephen Hawking’s disability)? Or the “automotive pornography” bit, in which supercars were greeted with wolf whistles? I couldn’t decide.

But my response was beside the point. The show, a revival of a now unmentionable brand that refused to die, was a triumph. Fans loved it.

And whether we had come to laugh and gawp, or type stuff, we were all there for the same reason: Clarkson. Even if he had attempted to quit in the middle of the meltdown, I suspect Top Gear Britain would have rejected his resignation.

I can admire his staying power, even if a close-up view failed to rekindle a lost passion.

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