James May

James Daniel May (born 16 January 1963)[1] is an English television presenter and journalist. He is best known as a co-presenter of the motoring programme Top Gear alongside Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond from 2003 until 2015. As of 2016 he is a director of the production company W. Chump & Sons (founded July 2015) and is also a co-presenter in the television series The Grand Tour for Amazon Video, alongside his former Top Gear colleagues, Clarkson and Hammond, as well as Top Gear's former producer Andy Wilman.

James May
May in 2006
James Daniel May

(1963-01-16) 16 January 1963
Bristol, England
ResidenceHammersmith, London, England
Other namesCaptain Slow, Mr Slowly, Rear-Admiral Slow
Alma materLancaster University
OccupationTelevision presenter, author, columnist, journalist
Years active1980 (1980)s–present
Known for
Height6 ft (1.83 m)
Partner(s)Sarah Frater (since 2000)

May has presented other programmes on themes including science and technology, toys, wine culture, and the plight of manliness in modern times. He wrote a weekly column for The Daily Telegraph's motoring section from 2003 to 2011.

Early life

James Daniel May was born in Bristol, one of four children; he has two sisters and a brother.[2] May attended Caerleon Endowed Junior School in Newport. He spent his teenage years in South Yorkshire where he attended Oakwood Comprehensive School in Rotherham and was a choirboy at Whiston Parish Church.[3]

May studied music at Pendle College, Lancaster University, where he learned to play the flute and piano.[4][5] After graduating, May briefly worked at a hospital in Chelsea as a records officer, and had a short stint in the civil service.[6]

Journalism career

During the early 1980s, May worked as a sub-editor for The Engineer and later Autocar magazine, from which he was dismissed for performing a prank.[7] He has since written for several publications, including the regular column England Made Me in Car Magazine, articles for Top Gear magazine, and a weekly column in The Daily Telegraph.

He has written the book May on Motors (2006), which is a collection of his published articles, and co-authored Oz and James's Big Wine Adventure (2006), based on the TV series of the same name. He wrote the afterword to Long Lane with Turnings, published in September 2006, the final book by motoring writer L. J. K. Setright. In the same month, he co-presented a tribute to Raymond Baxter. Notes From The Hard Shoulder and James May's 20th Century, a book to accompany the television series of the same name, were published in 2007.

Dismissal from Autocar

In an interview with Richard Allinson on BBC Radio 2,[8] May confessed that in 1992 he was dismissed from Autocar magazine after putting together an acrostic in one issue. At the end of the year, the magazine's "Road Test Year Book" supplement was published. Each spread featured four reviews and each review started with a large red letter (known in typography as an initial). May's role was to put the entire supplement together.

To alleviate the tedium, May wrote each review such that the initials on the first four spreads read "ROAD", "TEST", "YEAR" and "BOOK". Subsequent spreads seemingly had random letters, starting with "SOYO" and "UTHI". The curious noticed that the letters spelt out a message. May's original message, when punctuated, reads: "So you think it's really good, yeah? You should try making the bloody thing up; it's a real pain in the arse."[9]

Television career

His past television credits include presenting Driven on Channel 4 in 1998, narrating an eight-part BBC One series called Road Rage School,[10] and co-hosting the ITV1 coverage of the 2006 London Boat Show.[11] He also wrote and presented a Christmas special called James May's Top Toys (for BBC One). James May: My Sister's Top Toys attempted to investigate the gender divide of toy appeal.[12] In series 3, episode 3[13] of Gordon Ramsay's The F Word, May managed to beat Ramsay in eating bull penis and rotten shark and with his fish pie recipe.[14][15]

Top Gear

May was briefly a co-presenter of the original Top Gear series during 1999. He first co-presented the revived series of Top Gear in its second series in 2003,[16] where he earned the nickname "Captain Slow" owing to his careful driving style.[9] Despite this sobriquet, he has done some especially high-speed driving – in the 2007 series he took a Bugatti Veyron to its top speed of 253 mph (407 km/h), then in 2010 he achieved 259.11 mph (417 km/h) in the Veyron's newer 16.4 Super Sport edition.[17] In an earlier episode he also tested the original version of the Bugatti Veyron against the Pagani Zonda F.

May, along with co-presenter Jeremy Clarkson and an Icelandic support crew, travelled by car to the magnetic North Pole in 2007, using a modified Toyota Hilux.[18][19] In the words of Clarkson, he was the first person to go there "who didn't want to be there". He also drove a modified Toyota Hilux up the side of the erupting volcano Eyjafjallajökull.[20]

Following the BBC's decision not to renew Jeremy Clarkson's contract with the show on 25 March 2015,[21] May stated in April 2015 that he would not continue to present Top Gear as part of a new line-up of presenters.[22]


May presented Inside Killer Sharks, a documentary for Sky and James May's 20th Century, investigating inventions.[23] He flew in a Royal Air Force Eurofighter Typhoon at a speed of around 1320 mph (2124 km/h) for his television programme, James May's 20th Century. In late 2008, the BBC broadcast James May's Big Ideas, a three-part series in which May travelled around the globe in search of implementations for concepts widely considered science fiction.[24] He has also presented a series called James May's Man Lab. In 2013, May narrated To Space & Back, a documentary on the influence of developments in space exploration on modern technology produced by Sky-Skan and The Franklin Institute.[25]

James May on the Moon

James May on the Moon (BBC 2, 2009) commemorated 40 years since man first landed on the moon.[26] This was followed by another documentary on BBC Four called James May at the Edge of Space, where May was flown to the stratosphere (70,000 ft) in a US Air Force Lockheed U-2 spy plane. Highlights of the footage from the training for the flight, and the flight itself was used in James May on the Moon, but was shown fully in this programme.[27] This made him one of the highest flying people, along with the pilot, at that time, after the crew of the International Space Station.[27]

James May's Toy Stories

Beginning in October 2009, May presented a 6-part TV series showing favourite toys of the past era and whether they can be applied in the modern-day. The toys featured were Airfix, Plasticine, Meccano, Scalextric, Lego and Hornby. In each show, May attempts to take each toy to its limits, also fulfilling several of his boyhood dreams in the process. In August 2009, May built a full-sized house out of Lego at Denbies Wine Estate in Surrey.[28] Plans for Legoland to move it to their theme park fell through in September 2009 because costs to deconstruct, move and then rebuild were too high[29] and despite a final Facebook appeal for someone to take it, it was demolished on 22 September, with the plastic bricks planned to be donated to charity.[30]

Also for the series, he recreated the banked track at Brooklands using Scalextric track,[31] and an attempt at the world's longest working model railway along the Tarka Trail between Barnstaple and Bideford in North Devon, although the attempt was foiled due to parts of the track being stolen and vandals placing coins on the track, causing a short circuit.[32]

In December 2012 aired a special Christmas Episode called Flight Club, where James and his team built a huge toy glider that flew 22 miles (35 km) from Devon to the island of Lundy.[33]

In 2013, May created a life-size, fully functional motorcycle and sidecar made entirely out of the construction toy Meccano. Joined by Oz Clarke, he then completed a full lap of the Isle of Man TT Course, a full 37 34 mile-long circuit.

Oz and James

In late 2006, the BBC broadcast Oz and James's Big Wine Adventure, a series in which May, a committed bitter drinker, travelled around France with wine expert Oz Clarke.[34] A second series was broadcast in late 2007, this time with May and Clarke in the Californian wine country,[35] and was followed by a third series in 2009 called Oz and James Drink to Britain.

Internet presence

May created his own YouTube channel, titled "JM's unemployment tube", in 2015 after Top Gear was postponed by the BBC following Jeremy Clarkson's dismissal. May still produces videos on this channel (as of 2018).[36] May created Head Squeeze[37] (now renamed "BBC Earth Lab"; May no longer features as a presenter). The channel is a mix of science, technology, history and current affairs. The first video was published in December 2012. Videos are produced by 360 Production[38] for BBC Worldwide.

In 2016 May launched, with his former Top Gear presenters, a social network for motoring fans called DriveTribe.[39]

Personal life

May lives in Hammersmith, West London, with dance critic Sarah Frater, with whom he has been in a relationship since 2000.[40] In July 2010 May was awarded an honorary doctorate by Lancaster University, where he had previously studied Music.[41] He holds a Doctor of Letters degree.[42]

In August 2014, May was one of 200 public figures who were signatories to a letter to The Guardian expressing their hope that Scotland would vote against independence from the United Kingdom in September's referendum on that issue.[43]

In June 2016 he supported Remain in the EU referendum.[44]


May has owned many cars including a 2005 Saab 9-5 Aero, Bentley T2, Rolls-Royce Phantom, Triumph 2000, Rover P6, Alfa Romeo 164, 1971 Rolls-Royce Corniche, Jaguar XJS, 1992 Range Rover Classic Vogue, Fiat Panda, Datsun 120Y, Vauxhall Cavalier Mk1, Ferrari F430, Ferrari 458 Italia, 1984 Porsche 911, 2005 Porsche Boxster S (which he claims is the first car he has ever purchased new).[45] May currently owns a Ferrari 308 GTB, a 2009 Porsche 911 Carrera S facelift, a 2014 BMW i3, a 2018 Alpine A110, a 2019 Tesla Model S P100D, a 2015 Toyota Mirai and a 2015 Ferrari 458 Speciale which he ordered following his exit from Top Gear. He often uses a Brompton folding bicycle for commuting.[46] He passed his driving test on his second attempt and justified this by saying "All the best people pass the second time".[47]

May obtained a light aircraft pilot's licence in October 2006, having trained at White Waltham Airfield. He has owned a Luscombe 8A 'Silvaire', a Cessna A185E Skywagon[48], and an American Champion 8KCAB Super Decathlon with registration G-OCOK.[49]



1999Top Gear (original run)Presenter
2003–2015Top Gear
2005James May's Top Toys
2006–2007Oz and James's Big Wine Adventure
2007Top Gear of the Pops
James May's 20th Century
James May: My Sisters' Top Toys
2008Top Ground Gear Force
James May's Big Ideas
2009Oz and James Drink to Britain
James May on the Moon
James May at the Edge of Space
2009–2014James May's Toy Stories
2010Shooting StarsGuest
2010–2013James May's Man LabPresenter
2011–2012James May's Things You Need To Know
2014–2016James May's Cars of the People
2014Phineas and FerbIan
2015Building Cars LivePresenter
2016–2017James May: The Reassembler[50][51][52]
2016–presentThe Grand Tour
2019James May's Big Trouble in Model Britain
Al Murray's Great British Pub Quiz Guest
2020 James May: Our Man In Japan Presenter


Year TitleLabel
2006 Oz & James' Big Wine Adventure: Series OneAcorn Media
James May's Motormania Car QuizDMD
2007 James May's 20th Century: The Complete SeriesITV
2008 Oz & James' Big Wine Adventure: Series TwoAcorn Media
2009 James May's Big Ideas: The Complete SeriesDMD
James May on the MoonBBC DVD
James May's Amazing Brain TrainerDMD
James May's Toy Stories: The Complete SeriesChannel 4
Oz and James Drink to BritainAcorn Media
2010 Top Gear: ApocalypseBBC DVD
2011 James May's Man Lab: Series OneAcorn Media
Top Gear: At The MoviesBBC DVD
2012 James May's Man Lab: Series TwoAcorn Media
Top Gear: Worst Car in the History of the WorldBBC DVD
2013 James May's Man Lab: Series ThreeAcorn Media
James May's Toy Stories: Balsa Wood Glider/Great Train RaceChannel 4
2014 James May's Toy Stories: The Motorcycle Diaries
James May's Toy Stories: Action Man at the Speed of Sound
2016 James May: The Reassembler: Series OneSpirit Entertainment Limited
2017 James May: The Reassembler: Series Two

Video games

Year TitleDeveloperRole
2013 Forza Motorsport 5Turn 10 StudiosVoice over
2013 Gran Turismo 6Polyphony Digital
2015 Forza Motorsport 6Turn 10 Studios
2019 The Grand Tour GameAmazon Game Studios

Television advertisements

Year Title Role
2010 London Pride Himself
2015 The Tank Museum


  • May on Motors: On the Road with James May. Virgin Books. 2006. Reprinted 2007. ISBN 9780753511862
  • Oz and James's Big Wine Adventure. BBC Books. 2006. ISBN 9780563539001
  • Notes from the Hard Shoulder. Virgin Books. 2007. ISBN 9780753512029
  • James May's 20th Century. Hodder & Stoughton. 2007 (H/B). Reprinted 2007 (P/B). ISBN 9780340950906
  • James May's Magnificent Machines. Hodder & Stoughton. 2008. ISBN 9780340950920
  • Oz and James Drink to Britain. Pavilion (Anova). 2009. ISBN 9781862058460
  • James May's Car Fever. Hodder & Stoughton. 2009 (H/B). Reprinted 2010 (P/B). ISBN 9780340994559
  • James May's Toy Stories. Conway (Anova). 2009. ISBN 9781844861071
  • James May's Toy Stories: Lego House. Conway (Anova). 2010. ISBN 9781844861187
  • James May's Toy Stories: Airfix Handbook. Conway (Anova). 2010. ISBN 9781844861163
  • James May's Toy Stories: Scalextric Handbook. Conway (Anova). 2010. ISBN 9781844861170
  • How to Land an A330 Airbus. Hodder & Stoughton. 2010 (H/B). Reprinted 2011 (P/B). ISBN 9781402269554
  • James May's Man Lab: The Book of Usefulness. Hodder & Stoughton. 2011 (H/B). Reprinted 2012 (P/B) ISBN 9781444736328
  • James May: On Board. Hodder & Stoughton. 2012. ISBN 9780340994597
  • James May: The Reassembler. Hodder & Stoughton. 2017. ISBN 9781473656932


  1. "My Secret Life: James May, TV presenter, age 45". The Independent. 27 September 2008. Retrieved 16 January 2018.
  2. Philby, Charlotte (27 September 2008). "My Secret Life: James May, TV presenter, age 45". The Independent. Retrieved 20 January 2010.
  3. James May (10 November 2007). "Frocks make a boy a man". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 31 December 2007.
  4. "Top Gear's James May awarded honorary degree". Telegraph.co.uk. 16 July 2010. Retrieved 13 February 2019.
  5. "James May on Chris Evans, Amazon and life after Top Gear". Radio Times. Retrieved 13 February 2019.
  6. Duerden, Nick (15 August 2009). "The mild one: How James May became the most in-demand presenter on British television". The Independent. London. Retrieved 18 August 2009.
  7. Michael Deacon (19 June 2009). "Interview: James May". The Telegraph. Retrieved 12 September 2012.
  8. BBC Radio 2, broadcast 6 January 2006
  9. "Captain Slow takes the fast lane – TV & Radio – Entertainment". The Age. Melbourne. 19 June 2008. Retrieved 5 November 2009.
  10. James May Internet Movie Database
  11. "James May, Top Gear presenter, after-dinner speaker and awards host". Speakers Corner. Retrieved 5 November 2009.
  12. "Two Programmes – James May: My Sister's Top Toys". BBC. Retrieved 5 November 2009.
  13. "Season 3 Episode 3 – Gordon Ramsay's F Word". BBC America. Archived from the original on 17 July 2010. Retrieved 8 February 2010.
  14. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 14 November 2009. Retrieved 9 February 2010.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) "The worst ever would have to be James May, with his fish pie. Even though he won, which was extraordinary. He was drinking a bottle of red wine throughout the challenge, so I thought it was in the bag."
  15. "This recipe is Gordon's version of a posh fish pie originally made by James May."
  16. "Top Gear's James May Shifts His Career Into Overdrive". Fox News. 17 March 2010. Archived from the original on 12 April 2015. Retrieved 5 March 2015.
  17. "James in the Bugatti Veyron SuperSport". Top Gear. Retrieved 26 November 2011.
  18. "Top Gear's Jeremy Clarkson criticised for glamorising drink driving". The Telegraph. 2 July 2008. Retrieved 31 March 2015.
  19. Williams, David (21 January 2010). "Copy Top Gear's polar trip". The Telegraph. Retrieved 31 March 2015.
  20. "Toyota Hilux taunts Iceland's volcano moments before eruption – Top Gear takes credit". WorldCarFans. 19 April 2010. Retrieved 31 March 2015.
  21. "Jeremy Clarkson dropped from Top Gear, BBC confirms – BBC News". BBC News Online. 25 March 2015. Retrieved 25 March 2015.
  22. "Top Gear: James May rules out returning without Jeremy Clarkson". The Guardian. 23 April 2015. Retrieved 23 April 2015.
  23. "BBC/OU Open2.net – James May's 20th Century". Open2.net. Archived from the original on 21 November 2009. Retrieved 5 November 2009.
  24. "BBC/OU Open2.net – James May's Big Ideas". Open2.net. Retrieved 5 November 2009.
  25. "To Space & Back with James May". fulldomeshows.com. Retrieved 11 March 2015.
  26. "James May on the Moon". BBC. 7 July 2013. Retrieved 2 September 2013.
  27. "James May at the Edge of Space". BBC. 8 March 2012. Retrieved 2 September 2013.
  28. "UK | May starts building Lego house". BBC News. 1 August 2009. Retrieved 5 November 2009.
  29. Radio Times 24–30 October 2009
  30. "Entertainment | James May's Lego house demolished". BBC News. 22 September 2009. Retrieved 5 November 2009.
  31. May to attempt Scalextric record, BBC News, 7 August 2009. Retrieved 9 August 2009
  32. "Model train record bid off track". BBC Online. 25 August 2009. Retrieved 29 December 2013.
  33. "BBC Two James May's Toy Stories: Flight Club". BBC. Retrieved 25 January 2013.
  34. "Food – TV and radio – Episode guide". BBC. Retrieved 5 November 2009.
  35. "Food – TV and Radio". BBC. Retrieved 5 November 2009.
  36. "Top Gear presenter James May posts first video on 'unemployment' YouTube channel". The Independent. 28 March 2015. Retrieved 18 April 2015.
  37. "James May fronts BBC Worldwide's latest original YouTube channel – Head Squeeze". BBC. 31 January 2013. Retrieved 29 April 2013.
  38. "Head Squeeze – YouTube". 360production.com. Archived from the original on 24 February 2014. Retrieved 11 December 2013.
  39. Butcher, Mike. "Motoring community DriveTribe secures $6.5M from 21st Century Fox". TechCrunch. Retrieved 25 April 2017.
  40. "Transmission – BBC Top Gear Video: behind-the-scenes at the first of the new series «". Transmission.blogs.topgear.com. 23 January 2011. Retrieved 26 November 2011.
  41. "Top Gear presenter James May awarded honorary doctorate". BBC. 15 July 2010. Retrieved 3 August 2015.
  42. "James May answers the internet's questions". 12 May 2019. Retrieved 12 May 2019.
  43. "Celebrities' open letter to Scotland – full text and list of signatories". The Guardian. London. 7 August 2014. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
  44. "Jeremy Clarkson tells David Cameron 'my gut says stay in the EU'". TheGuardian.com. The Guardian. 16 June 2016. Retrieved 9 December 2017.
  45. May, James (22 October 2005). "As seen on TV: Porsche breaks the spell of perfection". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 5 November 2009.
  46. "Mine's a pint: a preposterous excuse for a Porsche". The Daily Telegraph. London. 3 February 2006. Retrieved 21 March 2009. James May with his Brompton bike
  47. "Dave: What's on Dave: James May interview". Uktv.co.uk. 29 March 2007. Retrieved 5 November 2009.
  48. "Incident Cessna A185E Skywagon - SE-FMX, 05 April 2014". Aviation Safety Network - Flight Safety Foundation. Retrieved 14 August 2019.
  49. "Aircraft G-OCOK, 1999 American Champion Aircraft 8KCAB C/N 825-99". Airport-data.com. 13 June 2008. Retrieved 2 September 2013.
  50. "Series 1, James May: The Reassembler - BBC Four". BBC. Retrieved 13 February 2019.
  51. "BBC Four - James May: The Reassembler". BBC. Retrieved 13 February 2019.
  52. James May to reassemble Kenwood food mixer in new BBC 'Slow TV' series 6 September 2016
Preceded by
David Tremayne
Guild of Motoring Writers
Journalist of the Year Award

Succeeded by
David Tremayne
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