One of the most popular motoring shows of all time, Top Gear, has been on the small screen since 1977 with a number of different presenters at the helm. Originally a half-hour motoring review show, it was revamped in 2002 to become more of an entertainment show, with Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond on hosting duties.
They may have left to start their own Grand Tour series, but the show must go on, and the BBC has tried – and in some cases failed – to find new hosts who replicate the success and rapport of Clarkson, May, and Hammond.
The presenters of Top Gear may all like to portray themselves as suave and sophisticated petrolheads, but all of them have some embarrassing photographs in their pasts that they wouldn’t want any of us to see.
To many Top Gear fans, Jeremy Clarkson was the host who embodied the best of the show. He did, however, have a reputation for being rather blunt and opinionated. Eventually, the BBC fired him over allegations that he assaulted a producer.
Looking at this image of the younger Clarkson, no-one would believe that he would grow up to become such a belligerent individual.
Clarkson started working as a presenter on Top Gear in 1988, eventually appearing in 399 episodes of the BBC motoring show. This holiday snap shows what Clarkson looked like in the 80s, complete with a very unstylish curly mullet. He may never have been a style icon, but Clarkson probably wants this picture buried.
The trio of Clarkson, May, and Hammond created a very laddish culture on the show, complete with testosterone-fuelled contests and lots of pranks. James
May seems to be enjoying this candid snap of Clarkson fast asleep on a plane, but the chances are that Jeremy was less than impressed to see it when he eventually woke up.
It’s a dangerous game to play a prank on Jeremy Clarkson, however. He seems like the kind of guy who would be quite willing to wait for the right time to exact his revenge – which is exactly what happened when he caught James May taking a nap of his own on the plane to Australia, and posted the photograph on social media.
Thanks to Top Gear and The Grand Tour, James May and his fellow hosts have been able to travel the world and to experience the best – and the worst – of the local culture.
James will not want to be reminded of this particular trip, when chef Gordon Ramsay challenged him to eat some unpleasant dishes, including rotten shark.
Having started his career as a motoring journalist, James May started presenting TV shows in the 1990s and made his first Top Gear appearance in 1999.
In this photo, May looks almost unrecognizable, with his neat (and short!) haircut and smart suit. In fact, if anything, he looks more like a used car salesman than a TV presenter.
Richard Hammond, the youngest of the iconic Top Gear trio, started working on the show in 2002 when it was relaunched after starting his career in local radio.
Nicknamed “Hamster” because of his surname, this throwback school photo also suggests that the moniker might originally have been related to those adorable chubby cheeks.
The Top Gear boys liked to think of themselves as rebels and loved nothing more than to break the rules. But as a young man, Hammond seemed to enjoy a more structured environment, as a member of the Boy Scout movement.
The Richard Hammond who enjoys driving fast cars would probably love nothing more than to see this photograph disappear.
2015 was the end of an era for Top Gear. With Clarkson fired, and May and Hammond quitting to join him on a new show, the BBC had to find new hosts. Their first choice was veteran radio and TV presenter Chris Evans, who as this picture shows, had something of a reputation for partying hard when he was younger.
In 2001, 35-year-old Evans married singer Billie Piper in Las Vegas after the couple had been dating for just six months. Billie was just 18 at the time, and the age difference can be the only explanation for the hideous outfit that Evans is wearing in this photograph.
Perhaps he was trying to recapture his own youth in a bid to keep up with his young bride?
Before he got the gig on Top Gear, Chris Evans was a co-presenter on BBC magazine series The One Show.
While he and his co-star Alex Jones were filming in 2015 Evans stripped to the waist and wandered topless around the street for no apparent reason. He doesn’t exactly cut a fine figure of a man, and probably regrets revealing all.
It was seen as something of a coup when the BBC announced that Matt LeBlanc was also joining the post-Clarkson Top Gear. The actor had been a huge worldwide star thanks to his role as Joey Tribbiani on Friends, but he made more than a few embarrassing TV appearances before his big break, including several commercials.
LeBlanc was something of a heartthrob in his Friends days and still managed to cut an attractive if more distinguished figure when he started presenting Top Gear. Not that you would know it from this school photo of a young Matt, who looks more geek than chic with his mid-80s bowl cut.
Eddie Jordan was already an iconic name from the world of Formula One before he joined Top Gear as a host in 2016. He founded his own Formula One racing team in the 1980s when this rather embarrassing photo was taken. Note the very 1980s-style sports car parked casually in the background of the shot…
One of the major criticisms of Top Gear over the years is that it has always been something of a boys’ club, even though both Angela Rippon and Sue Barker had presented the show in its early days.
Recently, however, professional racing driver Sabine Schmitz joined the team, despite this very awkward photo of her dressed in traditional lederhosen.
In 2018, the BBC announced yet another change to the Top Gear line-up as they desperately searched for long-term replacements for Clarkson, May, and Hammond.
One of the new hosts was former cricketer Andrew “Freddie” Flintoff, who started his sporting career as a fresh-faced youngster at Lancashire County Cricket Club.
Flintoff was part of the successful England team who won the Ashes series against Australia in 2005. The players were invited to a reception with Prime Minister Tony Blair the next day, and it would seem from this photo that Flintoff and his teammate Kevin Pietersen had been “celebrating” for more of the night.
After his playing career ended, Flintoff went into commentating and also became something of a television personality. At the T20 Finals Day in 2017, he dressed up as Elvis to entertain the crowd and managed to take a rather embarrassing stumble over a speaker as he backed his way around the outfield.
Comedian and presenter Paddy McGuinness was also announced as a new Top Gear presenter in 2018, having started his career in the sitcom Phoenix Nights.
He also featured in a sketch show with fellow comic Keith Lemon, from which this still was taken. At least Paddy got to dress up as John Travolta, and not have to wear the Olivia Newton-John outfit!
McGuinness made his name as the suave and sophisticated host of ITV dating show Take Me Out, but his first TV appearance was as a contestant on a similar show called God’s Gift in 1996.
His long curly hair is miles away from his image as a stylish TV presenter and is one clip he probably wishes went lost in the archives.
Sources: BBC, Irish Examiner, Express, Grandtour Nation, Telegraph