How Jeremy Clarkson rose to fame

The star is known for some of our best-loved television shows

BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - MARCH 2: Jeremy Clarkson on the grid during the F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain at Bahrain International Circuit on March 2, 2024 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Qian Jun/MB Media/Getty Images)
Jeremy Clarkson shot to fame on Top Gear. (Qian Jun/MB Media/Getty Images)

Jeremy Clarkson may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but most would agree some of his shows are TV juggernauts.

The outspoken star found fame with his big motoring series Top Gear and The Grand Tour, but he’s also done well in the game show market with Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? And of course, his agricultural adventures in Clarkson’s Farm are now drawing in millions of viewers.

So just how did he get started? We have a look back at the TV star’s rise.

Clarkson was born in Yorkshire and, interestingly, went to private school courtesy of Paddington Bear. The star’s mum Shirley had made toy versions of the marmalade-loving bear for Clarkson and his sister and when people started to comment on them, she started selling them.

Co-host Jeremy Clarkson attends Amazon Studio's
Jeremy Clarkson was born in Yorkshire. (PA Images/Alamy)

The little business took and off and proved to be very lucrative, providing enough for Clarkson’s schooling. He has been quoted as saying in an interview: “It was the start of my good fortune, really, which has followed me all the way through life.”

After school, Clarkson ended up working for a local paper. And it seems this too involved a stroke of luck.

He was interviewing for a position at the Rotherham Advertiser and it turned out that his GP grandfather had delivered the editor’s first baby. Clarkson’s grandad had actually left home during an air raid to deliver the baby, and it the grateful editor apparently decided to return the favour by giving Clarkson a job.

While he was busying himself with local news, Clarkson’s real love was cars and he eventually started his own company which would carry out car reviews for the press.

Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson leans on a Carver, a tilting three-wheeled vehicle, at Dunsfold Park, Surrey.  (Photo by Chris Young - PA Images via Getty Images)
Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson leans on a Carver, a tilting three-wheeled vehicle, at Dunsfold Park, Surrey. (PA Images via Getty Images)

Clarkson was at a motoring event in the 80s when he had a chance meeting with a Top Gear researcher who decided he would be perfect for the motoring show. He aced his screen test, and bagged a presenting spot in 1988.

Former BBC Top Gear editor Tom Ross once told The Guardian that Clarkson “stood out a mile” when it came to the tests for the coveted position. “Was he trouble from the start? He sure was,” he joked.

Top Gear proved to be Clarkson’s big break, launching his career as a TV star. He appeared on the show from 1988-1998 before he quit the show saying he had "taken Top Gear as far as I could." The car show limped on for a year, but was cancelled by the BBC in 2001.

Read more: Jeremy Clarkson

Clarkson was tempted back to Top Gear by former co-host Andy Wilman, and the pair rebooted the show in 2002 with a whole new format that led to the famous lineup of Clarkson, Richard Hammond, James May, and — that tame racing driver — The Stig.

The Stig (back), Richard Hammond (left) James May (centre) and Jeremy Clarkson at London's Royal Geographical Society to launch the Top Gear Live World Tour.   (Photo by Tim Ireland/PA Images via Getty Images)
The Stig (back), Richard Hammond (left) James May (centre) and Jeremy Clarkson at London's Royal Geographical Society to launch the Top Gear Live World Tour. (Tim Ireland/PA Images via Getty Images)

He ended up having many more programmes, such as Jeremy Clarkson's Motorworld, Clarkson's Car Years and chat show Clarkson. And he also hosted the first series of Robot Wars.

He was with Top Gear on and off until 2015, when he was dropped after an altercation with one of the show’s producers. Hammond and May followed him out of the door, saying the trio came “as a package”.

James May, Jeremy Clarkson, and Richard Hammond return in The Grand Tour: Sand Job. (Prime Video)
James May, Jeremy Clarkson, and Richard Hammond did Top Gear then The Grand Tour together. (Prime Video)

Top Gear may have been in his rear view, but petrolhead Clarkson refused to give up on car shows. “I have lost my baby but I shall create another,” he wrote in The Sunday Times. “I don’t know who the other parent will be or what the baby will be like.”

In 2016, he, May and Hammond unveiled The Grand Tour on Amazon's Prime Video.

Top Gear enthusiasts embraced it from the get go and with its mix of banter and motoring adventures it seemed to be in for the long haul. But in 2023 it was confirmed that the programme was set to end with two final specials.

Clarkson has also dabbled in the talk show world, landing his own self-titled programme in 1998. The show, which featured a mix of interviews with celebs and politicians, ran for three series but wrapped in 2000.

The programme was loved by some but there was controversy when in one episode the star put a 3D plastic map of Wales in a microwave. He was later quoted as joking: “I put Wales in there because Scotland wouldn’t fit.”

Stellify Media

Who Wants To Pe A Millionaire?: SR39: Ep1 on ITV1

Pictured: Jeremy Clarkson 

This photograph is (C) Stellify Media/Sony and can only be reproduced for editorial purposes directly in connection with the programme or event mentioned above, or ITV plc. Any subsequent usage may incur a fee. This photograph must not be manipulated [excluding basic cropping] in a manner which alters the visual appearance of the person photographed deemed detrimental or inappropriate by ITV plc Picture Desk. This photograph must not be syndicated to any other company, publication or website, or permanently archived, without the express written permission of ITV Picture Desk. Full Terms and conditions are available on the website

For further information please contact:
Jeremy Clarkson now hosts Millionaire. (ITV)

Clarkson won fans from a different audience when he took over Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? in 2018. Chris Tarrant had hosted the hit show’s original run, which was from 1998 to 2014.

Four years later, TV bosses decided to revive it and picked Clarkson to host. He has now been in the chair for 10 series, with another in the pipeline for 2025.

The TV star’s latest – and perhaps, most surprising – success has been Clarkson’s Farm, which has followed the celeb as he has got to grips with running his Diddly Squat Farm.

CLARKSON'S FARM, Jeremey Clarkson, (Season 3, premiered May 3, 2024). photo: Ellis O'Brien / ©Amazon / Courtesy Everett Collection
Clarkson's Farm has been a huge success. (Ellis O'Brien / Amazon / Courtesy Everett Collection)

The series set on the farm in Chipping Norton started in 2021 and was quickly a huge hit, returning for two more series so far.

Clarkson has hit plenty of road bumps along the way, like the time he ended up with rotting potatoes after growing too many, and the time he tried bee-keeping. “The bees aren’t so bad but it’s just they hate me,” the Mirror quoted him as saying. “Even though I wear my full bee suit they worked out how to get into it.” And there were tears all round when new piglets died in the latest series.

However, viewers have been gripped by watching Clarkson deal with the ups and downs of farm life, and another series is coming.

Clarkson's Farm and The Grand Tour are streaming on Prime Video.