'It doesn't get better than Ireland' - Chris Evans shrugs off Top Gear critics
Published 11/06/2016 | 02:30
"If we'd walked on water, some would have said we walked too loudly," jokes Chris Evans.
If this is a man under pressure, then he's certainly not showing it.
On the contrary, he was positively beaming on the set of 'Top Gear' at the Dunsfold Aerodrome in Surrey this week.
The British tabloid press, and some broadsheets, have been heavily critical of the new 'Top Gear' format, of Evans as the replacement for the controversial Jeremy Clarkson, and of the entertainment value of the hugely popular show.
Some of the sweeping critical coverage has been personal - but Evans is taking it all in his stride.
With the third of six new 'Top Gear' episodes due to air tomorrow night, he believes the mixed reception to the reincarnated show - the most widely watched factual television programme in the world - was to be expected.
"Everybody is entitled to their opinion," he tells me during a break in filming.
"I've received literally thousands of emails from people saying they love the show, from individuals who don't have newspaper columns. And look, I've taken some of it (the criticism) on board - I've expected it.
"I would have been semi-disappointed if it (Top Gear) hadn't caused such a fuss. It has to cause a fuss, it's a massive show.
"But this is what we get paid for - we don't get paid to come into work, take a bow, breeze home again and get all the plaudits under the sun."
Last weekend's episode, the second in the series, which featured Irish Formula 1 legend Eddie Jordan in South Africa, had 2.8 million live viewers.
And when catch-up viewing was later included, the total audience for the first show in the new series topped nine million.
Irish tourism chiefs are hoping the series goes from strength to strength by the time the episode featuring the trip across the Irish Sea goes out on June 26.
Over three days, Chris Evans, in his classic Rolls-Royce Corniche and Matt LeBlanc, in a modern Rolls-Royce Dawn, filmed in the Kingdom of Kerry - from Kenmare to Slea Head.
"Wow, did we love filming in Ireland. It was brilliant, it really was - but then again, all the shoots went so well," Evans says.
"The footage and finished pieces look amazing. I think some people will find it hard to believe that this is Ireland. It was stunning, simply stunning.
"If you get Ireland on the right day and go to the right places, it doesn't get any better, really. You just need to do a contract with somebody about the weather," he says.
He did reveal to the Irish Independent that on the drive between Killarney and Dingle, he had one worrying moment.
"That drive over the mountains on the last day of filming was quite hairy for me. I bombed out at one stage and there were sparks under the car.
"Matt (LeBlanc) was behind (in his car) and he jumped out and said, 'hey buddy, you alright?', but I was fine. There are always hairy moments on those shoots."
Evans paid tribute to the Kerry locals who played their part - particularly the Gaelic footballers of the An Ghaeltacht and Dingle GAA clubs, who played an exhibition match for the show.
"We had a great crowd for the Gaelic football game," says Evans. "We filmed loads but only got to use a small part of it."
Indeed, a 'Top Gear' cameraman returned to Dingle last week to shoot an additional scene with Richie Williams, the local referee who officiated at Gallarus GAA club.
And before he returned to the aerodrome to film in front of a studio audience of some 700 people, I asked Chris Evans if a return trip to Ireland might be on the cards for next year's 'Top Gear' series.
"Honestly, we haven't had that discussion yet," he says.
"In the coming weeks, we'll sit down and look at all of that. Of course I love Ireland but we'll wait and see."
And former Formula 1 team owner Eddie Jordan said the astonishing production quality on 'Top Gear' has been eye-opening.
He told the Irish Independent: "What's impressed me most is the extraordinary way the production team shoot cars, presenters and surroundings.
"There are drones, cranes - you name it. It's sweepingly cinematic and edited like nothing else I've seen.
"What puzzles me is why it's had so much flak since going on-air, as the content really does speak for itself."