Clarkson on: celebrity
Recently I bought some new shoes. You may have read about them in Heat magazine. I'm told there were many pictures of me walking along the street in them, and much comment too. Apparently, no one likes them very much.
So, it's come to this. We are now so celebrity-obsessed that when someone from the electric fish tank buys a new pair of shoes, magazines and newspapers think it is important. Heat magazine could have run a story about how Mr Brown may be overthrown by the grey men in the summer recess. It could have run a report on the guidance systems in Iran's new rockets. But it did neither of those things. It decided my new footwear was more important.
This brings me on to Jamie Oliver. We're told that for every £1 Sainsbury's spends on adverts featuring the chirpy young cook, it gets £30 back in increased revenue. I dare say Walkers would have much the same thing to say about Gary Lineker and that Morrisons will soon be reporting bumper sales thanks to Hammond.
We've reached a point, in fact, where you probably couldn't hope to sell anything unless it's attached in some way to a celebrity. Seriously. You might develop a way of converting soil into gold, but unless you get Jane Fonda to say it works, the kits will sit on the shelves gathering dust.
I know my wife bought a Nespresso coffee machine because of George Clooney. And get this. Even when it turned out to be rubbish, she went out and bought another. If His Georgeness told her to fill her bottom with cement, she'd be on the phone to Travis Perkins.
It's much the same story on television. Big Brother is reasonably popular with people who are fat, stupid or 13 years old. But when Celebrity Big Brother comes along, everyone wants to see Vanessa Feltz throwing a wobbly and George Galloway licking Rula Lenska.
I was thinking about all of this while watching the recent German Grand Prix. It was all the usual stuff: some cars whizzing about, and then the one prepared by the team with the most money won. And I thought; hang on a minute. If we now have pro-celebrity golf and pro-celebrity tennis, why can we not have pro-celebrity motor racing?
It should be based on the British Touring Car Championship of the early to mid Nineties, when Volvo was fielding an estate car, the drivers were plainly out there to have fun and you absolutely never could tell whether the race was going to be won by Renault, Ford or BMW.
As was the case back then, each manufacturer would field two cars; only under my system, one would be driven by a professional racing driver, and one by someone from the performing arts. This way you could have Jason Plato partnered by Moira Stuart and Tiff Needell, partnered by - er - Tiff Needell. Their points from each event would be added together, so that the pro would be forced to help the am where possible.
The good thing about tin-topped touring cars is that the on-board cameras can see the driver's face as he bumps and bashes his way through corners. You'd need that, if you had Valerie Singleton at the helm. You'd want to see her cheeks puffed out in terror as she took the old hairpin at Donington, side by side with Darren Turner.
"If George Clooney told my wife to fill her bottom with cement, she'd be on the phone to Travis Perkins"
Of course, punters would be encouraged to turn up and watch the races, but they would never be shown live on television. Ever. This was the joy of Touring car racing in its heyday. We, the armchair fans, only ever saw the edited highlights, the crashes, the overtaking, the stuff. The long dreary bits where they were just doing motor racing was put where it belonged, in the cutting room bin.
And finally, because the series would be overseen by a Minister of Common Sense - and that job would be mine - it'd be very cheap for the motor manufacturers. If any of them turned up with an aero package, like Alfa Romeo did in the mid Nineties, they could argue all they like that it was within the letter of the law, but I'd simply tell them to go back to their pit and take it off. And dock them five points for being twats.
So, the car makers would love it because it'd be inexpensive. Die-hard racing enthusiasts would love it because half the field would be pros. The tracks would love it because thousands would turn up to watch Kate Silverton going wheel to wheel with Matt Neal. The sponsors would love it because their brand would be endorsed by David Ginola, and the television companies would love it because, for the first time in 14 years, they'd have a motor racing programme people would like to watch. And which didn't cost them £200 million.
I am so pleased with this idea in fact, that you can consider this column a statement of intent. And if anyone rips me off, I shall send my lawyers round to make a brooch out of their liver.
Of course, at this point you might be jumping up and down, imagining that you're the only one to have spotted the big flaw in my plan.
You have doubtless read the tabloids and the supermarket glossies, and you doubtless have it in your head that all celebrities go round to one another's mansions each evening to quaff champagne, gorge on swan and snort cocaine until the early hours.
You probably think that even now, as you read this, Huw Edwards, the newsreader, is in bed with Kate Moss while Sadie Frost looks on. And that they're all going to the Ivy for lunch because they fancy eating a peregrine falcon. So, you might be thinking, "Why would they risk this life of sex and myrrh and gold for the chance to get lightly killed in a Seat Ibiza on a soggy track in Lincolnshire?"
Well, there's the thing. You're wrong. First of all, celebrities do not earn anything like the money the papers claim. Mostly, they lead ordinary lives. Some even buy shoes from time to time. And nearly all of them do not have chauffeurs. Most drive themselves, and if you look at the list of stars who've appeared in TG's reasonably priced Chevy, you'll note that some of them are good. Very good.
Let's take Jay Kay as an example of the breed. You may imagine that he likes to start the evening with his head in a bowl of marching powder and end it, after punching a few photographers, with his whole head in a supermodel. In fact, he has a cottage in Scotland where he spends most of his time, camping and walking.
What's more, he's a very, very good driver. He has a feel for the car, a sense of what the front wheels are doing and how much grip they have left. And it's the same story with Peter Jones, from Dragon's Den. If he weren't 17ft tall, he'd have been up there at the top. So would Lawrence Dallaglio. The Stig reckons he's the best we've ever had. He was also amazed by Ellen MacArthur and Jennifer Saunders, both of whom were super fast and super smooth. Then there's Simon Cowell and Les Ferdinand. Both brilliant. And who can forget Jodie Kidd. Not me, that's for sure.
Would any of these people want to have a crack at pro-celebrity motor racing? Well, apart from Simon Cowell, the answer is, you can bet your life on it. And, come to think of it. I wouldn't be all that surprised if Simon said yes as well.
So there we are. I have seen the future. And in it, Jennifer Saunders is charging through the gooseneck, in a lime green Vauxhall.
This article was first published in October 2008.