MY brain goes into overdrive with the news that gas-guzzling petrolhead Jeremy Clarkson has turned to farming at nearly 60 years old. What? It’s as likely as Dwayne Johnson joining Ru Paul’s Drag Race.

Clarkson, as we know, is a curmudgeonly car show presenter and writer who hates fresh air and soil and trees almost as much as he hates Piers Morgan (Whom he once skelped).

What the libertarian loves in the morning is the smell of petrol engines – the bigger the better – vast swallows of nicotine and the right to wreck whichever part of the planet he finds himself standing in.

But now, The Grand Tour presenter – who once ran a Toyota pick-up truck into a tree to test the impact – is running a farm. And his adventures on his 1,000-acre stretch Diddly Squat Farm in Oxfordshire have been filmed for a new TV series.

It’s a great idea; an attempt to capture this uncontainable showman’s attempts to grow something more substantial than a beer belly and a carbon footprint.

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What makes the very idea of the series so compelling is that Jeremy Clarkson is, as Woody Allen once described himself, “at two with nature.” The multi-millionaire, Ferrari-driver finds himself in Hell. In attempting to bring life to barren fields, Clarkson found himself facing flooding, disease and pestilence.

Oh, and a pandemic.

What made the writer/journalist take on this challenge? Yes, he could see how this fish-out-of-water tale, with the potential for disaster, would make for great comedy and pathos (think the Beverly Hillbillies meets the Good Life meets the Yorkshire Farm).

But Clarkson is richer than God (with an estimated wealth of £50m). He doesn’t need the publicity. And farming demands patience and consideration. The Yorkshireman has a short-fuse temper, his anger evidenced when his departure from the BBC was made inevitable after he punched his producer.

Does he survive the journey? Will he fast become known as Tiller The Hun?

The interview is being held over a Zoom video call in Clarkson’s farmhouse, which looks all log-stove cosy and warm. Sitting next to the presenter is Kaleb Cooper, the 21-year-old farmhand who lives a couple of fields away, whom Clarkson recruited when he began to realise the task in front of him was bigger than a Rolls Royce Phantom.

It was perhaps one of the wisest choices Clarkson ever made. Kaleb is not only an expert in farming, but he also has a brilliant innocence and a delightful yokel accent. He’s only been out of the area once in his life (“I went to London. I didn’t like it one little bit.”) But his lack of worldly knowledge (he’s never read a book) is more than compensated with a great internal library of common sense. He’s Sancho Panza to Clarkson’s Don Quixote. They are a great double act.

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Clarkson admits he was an absolute innocent. “I honestly thought that farming was about putting seeds in the ground, weather happens and then you grow food, and then go on a ski holiday and moan about how awful the weather has been.”

Right from the start, Clarkson gets it wrong, which means the series is off to the right start, producing great comedy yield. He decides to plant wheat and barley, but he doesn’t go out and buy a standard tractor. He buys a Lamborghini tractor the size of a house – and then takes part of the roof off his barn when he tries to reverse into it.

The car nut finds the simplest tasks, like coupling mounts, impossible to do. He can’t come to terms with the machinery. “There are 20 times more deaths in agriculture than in all other fields. You can see why,” he says looking at the blades on a cultivator. What makes it all the funnier is that Clarkson is not the world most patient man, yet he’s in the business of slow growth. It takes him five and half hours to simply unload seed and fertilizer.

His has been a superior life – a middle class upbringing, boarding school education, and a career in which he’s very much in charge of his productions – but soon his farming friend, is telling him off. “You haven’t even drilled it straight!” yells Kaleb of Clarkson’s attempt to cultivate. “It’s as straight as a roundabout.”

“You make me feel pathetic,” admits the journalist, not used to being shouted at.

Now, if this farming year had been idyllic, with just the right amounts of sunshine and rain, this would have been a less watchable series. Thankfully, in viewing terms, Clarkson faced one disaster after another. “In one sense, the pandemic was the ideal time to start farming, given we couldn’t do much else and there was nothing else I’d rather have done. But then again in 2019 the weather was Biblical, with five separate weather records, which made life very, very difficult.”

We have a backdrop of seemingly calm countryside, yet the pace is seductively frantic. Clarkson, who has spent much of his career racing cars, is now racing again, against time, and the elements. “Nine days to do all those fields. And the forecast says it will rain for seven of them.” He wasn’t wrong.

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There’s more great drama when the black beetle arrives to create £4K worth of loss, wrecking an entire field. And then one morning Clarkson hit upon the idea of getting into “sheeping,” of turning one of his fields into a sheep farm, to get rid of the grass and “make sheep babies” he can sell on. “If I buy eighty lady sheeps, how many man sheeps do I need to buy?” he asks his Sancho Panza.

The wise Kaleb wants nothing to do with sheep. Too much trouble for little reward. Soon Clarkson feels the same when he realises the vast amount of work involved in caring for them. He can’t manoeuvre them. The sheep then jump the dyke. And they’re off. “I f******’ hate sheep,” he wails. “I cannot wait to eat them.”

What to do? How to cope? And without his Sancho, he’s on his own. Clarkson learns a sheepdog costs £20K, so he buys a drone that barks, which costs £2.5K. Clarkson’s smile is as wide as his Lambo. But the sheep only agree to be herded for about 20 minutes before they simply ignore the drone. This makes for great television.

Then he has to worm them. Ugh. But what of breeding? He buys two randy rams, whom he names Wayne and Leonardo. “They are really just STDs,” he grins. “Scrotum Transmission Devices.”

Clarkson may be rubbish at sheep farming, but he produces sackfuls of one-liners. As the new sheep farmer measures his woolly friends’ scrotal sacs for volume and efficacy he swells his chest and declares; “I’m glad my public-school education came in handy.”

At one point a sheep kicks him in the mechanics. Perhaps nature kicking back at him? Then he has to separate the rams because, he is informed by a shepherd he hires for expertise, they may have sex with each other. He looks stunned. And when told the female sheep tend not to form same sex relationships he quips: “There’s very little lesbian action then? It’s not like the internet?”

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Meantime, his girlfriend Lisa appears episodically in the Greek Chorus role, to shake her head in disbelief at her partner’s antics.

Back in the virtual interview, Clarkson is asked what he has he learnt about himself during his year in wellies. “I don’t think I’ve learnt much,” he shrugs. “I’ve always known I was not very practical. And I’m still not, as Kaleb will testify.”

Did he develop a love for his sheep? “I had a deep hatred for them,” he deadpans. “But as for the three who had to go to the abattoir, I felt bad about them. I wanted them to have a happy life. But it’s a business.”

We’re used to seeing farming series where we’re rooting for the little guy, Jeremy. But do you think some will tune in to see this millionaire ex-public schoolboy who lives up the road from David Cameron fall flat on his face?

“That’s a very good question. Yes, there may be a few who will hope I do well, those who like my programmes or columns or whatever.” He laughs: “And there may be a great many who tune in and say, ‘Lets’ hope that this big fat f***er falls flat on his face and makes a fool of myself.’”

It’s fair to say Jeremy Clarkson has managed to upset a considerable section of Britain in his days on television. He angered Scots Nats when he declared that the upside of independence would be the absence of “Caledonian Communists standing in our queues at Heathrow”.

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He had fun too at the expense of the Welsh. “What's the point of Welsh? All it does is provide a silly maypole around which a bunch of hotheads can get all nationalistic."

Clarkson hasn’t been afraid to hit out at those in power positions. He once called then Prime Minister Gordon Brown a "one-eyed Scottish idiot” and accused him of lying. Clarkson subsequently apologised for ‘referencing Brown's monocular blindness’ but insisted: "I haven't apologised for calling him an idiot."

It would be entirely unfair, however, to say that Clarkson developed his attitude simply to create a television persona. Born in Doncaster, his parents were lower middle class until they came up with the idea of turning Paddington Bear into stuffed toys and could then afford to send young Jeremy to Repton public school, in Derbyshire.

The teenager then proceeded to “break every rule in the book, including smoking in chapel, sitting through an entire chemistry lesson naked from the waist down and doing handbrake turns on the new all-weather sports pitches in my mum's Audi 80.”

He was expelled before he could take A levels. But what career for an intelligent, insouciant young man with a disdain for authority? Journalism, of course. And he enjoyed/endured a stint in local newspapers before taking off to London and setting up a motoring agency, supplying newspapers with reviews.

In 1987, Clarkson was spotted by a Top Gear researcher and went on to become the jeans-wearing bum-crack revealing face of the programme, bringing a new level of humour and irreverence.

It’s fair to say he stood out in the TV car shows, a format which had been, until his arrival, a quiet showcase for saying nice things about motors. Then this 6ft 4in, curly-haired motormouth began comparing the best cars to bits of Cameron Diaz’s body. He made headline-grabbing statements such as, “Top Gear is watched by eight million people in Britain every week. The others find something better to do like staring out of the window. Or having a stroke. These are Peugeot’s customers.”

Clarkson once described a Ferrari F430 as "special needs". He said the car owned by co-presenter James May looked "like a simpleton". On one show he announced, “Telling people you drive a Nissan Almera is like telling them you’ve got the Ebola virus and you’re about to sneeze."

Jeremy Clarkson attracted complaints, of course, but his Top Gear pulled in incredible viewing figures. He learned how to make compelling television. This is certainly shown with Clarkson’s Farm. And if he has to be the fall guy, so be it.

“So long as someone ‘hopes something’,” he argues. “That’s what makes good television. It’s when audiences don’t care you miss the point of it all. Television relies on jeopardy these days, so you need something to happen next.”

Does he think this series is a little about atonement for his sins? His life in television has been about fun, crashing cars into trees, chasing around the world, spending fortunes on crazed ideas...this is real hard work.

“You’re right,” he says. “Although, I tend to put a lot of effort into work, whatever it is. When I do the car programmes you tend not to see the writing and preparation that’s gone into it. But I’ve certainly put a lot of hard work into the farm.”

His eyes almost become misty. “Even though I’m always cold and out of breath, it’s a rewarding thing. I get to watch the rape and the barley grow now. And we’re trying to grow food that’s grown by local people. You know, it’s good fun because it’s hard work. And I love hard work, even though you may not see this on the other shows.”

Clarkson, however, is still a great complainer. “I didn’t know about all the government rules, it’s incredible. Did I know about Soil Compaction Rules? Every single thing in farming is complicated and made even more complicated by the government. I realised how little freedom farmers have to do what they’re good at because they’re being told what they can and can’t do by people who are not good at it all.”

Did he ever think about giving up, especially when the Biblical rains arrived? “No, Christ no. No, no, no, no, no! My whole mantra, since I was at school, was when someone tells you what you can or can’t do is to stay awake at night working out a way so you can do what they said you couldn’t do.”

Clarkson’s bleak, almost deranged enthusiasm emerges in every frame of this mud-splattered, sun-bursting, sheep-bleating series. His relationship with Kaleb is the stuff of Steinbeck or Cervantes, despite the 40-year age gap.

He adds: “I’ve learned an enormous amount from him. Like attaching things to the back of a tractor.” He grins: “I can’t even open a packet of sauce you get in a Japanese restaurant.”

What began as a television experiment, he says with a proud smile, has now become a way of life. The petrolhead hothead who works, and lives surrounded by wildflower meadows and brooks rather than motorways and garages seems to be calm. It may be too strong to suggest that farming has been his hedgerow to Damascus, but he seems content?

“In farming, you have to make hay when the sun shines. In the beginning I wanted to have a picnic. But 90 per cent of my life is spent here on the farm.” He grins: “Life’s shit. But I’m loving it.”

Clarkson’s Farm, Amazon Prime Video