Sometimes your first instinct proves to be the right one. The suspicion that Chris Evans would eventually end up hosting Top Gear was hard to shake, even though he’d “categorically” ruled himself out of the running in recent weeks.
His repeated denials that he was interested in taking over from his mate Jeremy Clarkson had a strong odour of “the lad doth protest too much” about them.
Following the announcement of his appointment on Tuesday, Evans told The Guardian he’d only said he didn’t want the job, when he was obviously mad keen to get his hands on it, to avoid becoming “a pawn in a chess game” involving Clarkson and The Other Two, who are also friends of his.
We should probably have guessed something was in the air during last week’s TFI Friday revival show, which contained more incriminating clues than a Fifa annual audit.
Evans anointed Nick Grimshaw, live on air, as his preferred successor in the event of TFI Friday returning full time, something that’s started to look more like a certainty than a possibility. The show was hammered in newspapers and on social media, but nonetheless drew four million viewers in the UK.
Why would Evans be happy to give away the show that really made him a household name — albeit a name often preceded by the words “that prat” — if he didn’t have something else up his sleeve?
And then there was Clarkson’s appearance. People had expected he would be a studio guest; instead, he popped up in a pre-recorded segment, sitting in a car with Evans and ribbing him about not getting the Top Gear gig.
Finally, there was the drawn-out closing segment of the show, where Evans and the monumentally boring Lewis Hamilton spent what felt like an eternity talking about cars. The whole thing felt more Top Gear-ish than Top Gear itself. The media in the UK has already moved on to the question of who will join Evans as co-hosts. Since the BBC has said it will be an “all-new line-up”, we can take it that it won’t be either of The Other Two.
Evans said yesterday that he and James May would be meeting up, but it seems unlikely that May — who has a sideline fronting amusing documentaries about vintage toys — would be happy playing second fiddle to Evans.
As for Richard Hammond... well, can you honestly see him working on Top Gear with anyone other than Clarkson? Hammond always reminds me of the perpetually sniggering playground squirt who sticks like glue to the school bully. If Clarkson plans a rival car show, you can probably take it Hammond will be there by his side. Sniggering.
Evans has always been television Marmite, yet no matter what his detractors think, he’s arguably a perfect fit for Top Gear. He’s a car nut with a large collection of vintage autos (he was glimpsed at an auction in a recent Channel 4 documentary about the super-rich and their motors).
But Americans, as far as I’m aware, have never even heard of Marmite, let alone of Evans. What will they make of the hyperactive, high-decibel 50-year-old in the United States, where Top Gear has an enormous fan base and earns a lot of money for BBC worldwide?
Once Americans realised it wasn’t the same Chris Evans that plays Captain America in the movies, the online reaction ranged from disappointment to bafflement to disinterest.
A poster on The AV Club, a subsidiary of satirical website The Onion, wrote: “I was only familiar with him as being that dude who married Billie Piper when she was 19 and he was in his 30s.”
Evans could face a very long drive.