Written by Graham Cutbill-White
Last night saw the second annual News UK Motor Awards, an event designed to celebrate the best cars on sale today, as voted for by readers of the Times, the Sunday Times and the Sun.
The event, at News UK’s headquarters near the Shard in London, was a gathering of industry marketing heads, journalists and a certain Jeremy Clarkson, lead motoring correspondent at the Sunday Times.
Having attended the inaugural event in 2018, I was expecting an entertaining evening. Last year was dominated by a certain frisson and banter that flowed between the lead presenter Clarkson, and colleagues Richard Hammond and James May, who happened to be in the audience.
Back then, as the drinks flowed and Clarkson began to announce the winning cars, heckles sprung from Hammond in particular, determined to offer a counter view to his Top Gear and Grand Tour colleague.
The hurling of abuse reached its crescendo, when News UK unveiled their 2018 Motoring Personality of the Year award. An award that was sprung – to the apparent surprise of its recipient – on Jeremey Clarkson himself.
As you can imagine, it was like a red flag to the bull; Hammond and May unleashed both barrels, jeering at their colleague receiving his accolade. It was like being on a television set, albeit the language somewhat dialled up, a little bluer and more unbridled.
So, this year, expectations were high. Clarkson was once again on the podium, presenting a batch of trophies alongside the main compere of the evening, television presenter Laura Woods.
As an industry awards do, it felt more intimate and party-like compared to the industrial scale bun fights of competitor magazine events. Guest were limited to the early 100s, rather than the 1000s that traditionally pack into venues like the Dorchester or Grosvenor House.
Woods was the mainstay of proceedings, doing an excellent job rattling through a long list of categories as varied as “adventure car or the year” and “dog-friendly car of the year”, alongside a roll-call of: best SUV, sportscar, family car and other such derivatives.
Notable accolades went to Volvo – manufacturer of the year. Porsche 911 – The Sunday Times car of the year. And, the Land Rover Defender, the Sun’s Car of the year.
Given the scale of the event, reactions from the crowd could individually be heard, rather than drowned out by a cavernous venue. It was the perfect backdrop for Clarkson, who took to the stage to announce three special categories: The Clarkson Supercar and Peoples Car of the Year, as well as The Times and Sunday Times’ Personality of the Year.
Opening the proceedings with the quip that he wouldn’t keep guests long as he realised the they all had “affairs to get on with after the show”, he delivered a typically provocative and entertaining set.
His chosen Supercar went to the Ferrari 488 Pista, a car he described as “genuinely unbelieveable…lighter and more dainty” than any other equivalent. But, what he particularly liked, is that it placed its previous model – the 488 Speciale – completely in the shade, rendering it “at a stroke utterly worthless…not worth its weight in scrap”.
His reason: James May is an owner of the previous version, so in his words, the 488 Pista “has ruined James May, which delights me.”
His next choice – Clarkson’s People’s Car of the Year – took tongue and cheek to another level.
You might expect a Ford or a VW to claim the crown – Clarkson is a recent and previous owner of a VW Golf after all. But no, his “people’s car” went to the £148,000 Bentley Continental GT V8.
His reasoning: “Bentley is owned by Volkswagen, and as we know, Volkswagen means people’s car”
Secondly, where he lives most of his neighbours “have helicopters. So, Bentley is a people’s car.”
On a final point he described the Bentley as “a wonderful, wonderful car, and I want one.”
But undoubtedly his most heartfelt accolade went to someone – through his warm description – he genuinely seemed to admire and respect. His motoring personality of the year went to TV presenter and legendary Motorcycle racer Guy Martin.
Clarkson summed-up Martin as “a truly brilliant human being, really. Unbelievably, he still works as a lorry mechanic, even though he’s a television presenter, motorcycle racer, speed record-holder, daredevil extraordinaire. And yet he seems to have a down-to-earth way about him.”
He also suggested that Martin was in effect an amalgamation of himself, Hammond and May – a “professional northerner, which I sort of am.”
“Someone who likes nuts and bolts and has a shed, which means he’s James May, and he goes upside-down and breaks bones, so he’s Richard Hammond.”
Finally, he savoured his particular admiration by saying he especially liked the way Martin couldn’t be bothered to come to London to collect the award “because he doesn’t like to leave Grimsby. I respect that.”
While Clarkson’s accolades were laced with irony, they were observations that kept the audience wanting more. Thoughts that while predictable on one level – typical of Clarkson perhaps – were at the same time inimitable and unique to him.
Roll on the 2020 awards.
Oh, in case you’re wondering. The 2019 award for dog-friendly car of the year went to the Nissan X-Trail.