James May

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For other people named James May, see James May (disambiguation).
Not to be confused with James Bay.
James May
James May.jpg
James May in 2006
Born James Daniel May
(1963-01-16) 16 January 1963 (age 52)[1]
Bristol, England
Residence Hammersmith, West London, England
Other names Captain Slow[2]
Education Caerleon Endowed Junior School
Oakwood Comprehensive School
Alma mater Pendle College, Lancaster University
Occupation Presenter, author, columnist, journalist, wine critic
Years active 1998 (1998)–Present

The Daily Telegraph, Amazon,
(prev. Channel 4, ITV and BBC)

Known for
Height 6 ft 0 in (183 cm)
Partner(s) Sarah Frater (since 2000)
Website www.topgear.com/uk/james-may

James Daniel May (born 16 January 1963) is an English television presenter and journalist. He is widely known for his years as a co-presenter of the motoring programme Top Gear alongside Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond.

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[edit]

James May was born in Bristol, one of four children; he has two sisters and a brother.[3] 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.[4] He was also at school with Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes star Dean Andrews.[5]

A keen flautist and pianist, he studied music at Pendle College, Lancaster University. After graduating, May briefly worked at a hospital in Chelsea as a records officer, and had a short stint in the civil service.[6]


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[edit]

James May's hidden message

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, which "was extremely boring and took several months".

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". However, the eagle eyed or curious would soon notice that the letters did in fact spell 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] The editors of Autocar missed the 'joke' and only became aware of it when readers started calling in about it, thinking there might be a prize.

Radio and television[edit]

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) exploring the toys of his childhood.[12] James May: My Sister's Top Toys attempted to investigate the gender divide of toy appeal.[13] In series 3, episode 3[14] of Gordon Ramsay's The F Word, May managed to beat Ramsay in eating animal penises and rotten shark and with his fish pie recipe.[15][16]

Top Gear[edit]

BBC Top Gear presenting team of Richard Hammond, James May and Jeremy Clarkson, 2009

May was 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,[17] where he earned the nickname "Captain Slow" owing to his careful driving style.[2] He jokingly attributed his driving style to being 'traumatised as a small boy' by his mother's driving style.[18] 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.[19] 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.[20][21] 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 in Iceland.[22] He has also driven a 1.3-litre Suzuki SJ413 through Bolivia, along Death Road, and over the Andes to the Pacific Ocean in Chile.

Following the BBC's decision not to renew Jeremy Clarkson's contract with the show on 25 March 2015,[23] May stated in April 2015 that he would not continue to present Top Gear as part of a new line-up of presenters.[24]


May in 2007

May presented Inside Killer Sharks, a documentary for Sky and James May's 20th Century, investigating inventions.[25] 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.[26] 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.[27]

James May on the Moon[edit]

James May on the Moon (BBC 2, 2009) commemorated 40 years since man first landed on the moon.[28] 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.[29] This made him one of the highest flying people, along with the pilot, at that time, after the crew of the International Space Station.[29]

James May's Toy Stories[edit]

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.[30] 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[31] 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.[32]

Also for the series, he recreated the banked track at Brooklands using Scalextric track,[33] 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.[34]

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.[35]

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

Oz and James[edit]

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.[36] A second series was broadcast in late 2007, this time with May and Clarke in the Californian wine country,[37] and was followed by a third series in 2009 called Oz and James Drink to Britain.

Personal life[edit]

May lives in Hammersmith, West London with dance critic Sarah Frater, with whom he has been in a relationship since 2000.[38] In July 2010 May was awarded an honorary degree by Lancaster University, where he had previously studied music. [39] In August 2014, May was one of 200 public figures who were signatories to a letter to The Guardian opposing Scottish independence in the run-up to September's referendum on that issue.[40]


May has owned many cars: Saab 9-5 Aero, Bentley T2, Rolls-Royce Phantom, Triumph 2000, Rover P6, Alfa Romeo 164, 1971 Rolls-Royce Corniche, Jaguar XJS, Range Rover, Fiat Panda, Datsun 120Y, 2009 Porsche 911 Carrera S facelift, Vauxhall Cavalier Mk1, Ferrari F430, [41] Ferrari 458,[41] 1984 Porsche 911,[42] 2005 Porsche Boxster S (which he claims is the first car he has ever purchased new),[43] Mini Cooper, Citroën Ami, Mazda MX-5, BMW i3,[44] and several motorcycles including a Yamaha XJR1300, Moto Guzzi V11 Sport, a Triumph Daytona 675R and a 1978 Guzzi California. He has a penchant for prestige cars like Rolls-Royces and Bentleys, simple and basic cars such as the Fiat Panda, and motorcycles. As of July 2014, May has three registered automobiles: a Ferrari 458 Italia ("for special days"), a 1971 Rolls-Royce Corniche ("for collecting people from the airport"), and a 2014 BMW i3 (which replaced a 2007 Fiat Panda as his "daily driver").[45] 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' and an American Champion 8KCAB Super Decathlon with registration G-OCOK.[48] May also flew a Cessna 182 against Jeremy Clarkson in a Bugatti Veyron from Alba to London for one of Top Gear races.



Year Title Role
1999 Top Gear (original format) Presenter
2003–2015 Top Gear (current format) Presenter
2005 James May's Top Toys Presenter
2006–2007 Oz and James's Big Wine Adventure Presenter
2007 Top Gear of the Pops Presenter
2007 James May's 20th Century Presenter
2007 James May: My Sisters' Top Toys Presenter
2008 Top Ground Gear Force Presenter
2008 James May's Big Ideas Presenter
2009 Oz and James Drink to Britain Presenter
2009 James May on the Moon Presenter
2009 James May at the Edge of Space Presenter
2009–present James May's Toy Stories Presenter
2010–2013 James May's Man Lab Presenter
2011–2012 James May's Things You Need To Know Presenter
2014–present[24] James May's Cars of the People Presenter
2014 Phineas and Ferb Guest voice (as Ian)
2016-unknown An Amazon original series (title TBC) Presenter


Title Label Year
Oz & James' Big Wine Adventure: Series One Acorn Media 2006
James May's Motormania Car Quiz DMD 2006
James May's 20th Century: The Complete Series ITV 2007
Oz & James' Big Wine Adventure: Series Two Acorn Media 2008
James May's Big Ideas: The Complete Series DMD 2009
James May on the Moon BBC DVD 2009
James May's Amazing Brain Trainer DMD 2009
James May's Toy Stories: The Complete Series Channel 4 2009
Oz and James Drink to Britain Acorn Media 2009
Top Gear: Apocalypse BBC DVD 2010
James May's Man Lab: Series One Acorn Media 2011
Top Gear: At The Movies BBC DVD 2011
James May's Man Lab: Series Two Acorn Media 2012
Top Gear: Worst Car in the History of the World BBC DVD 2012
James May's Man Lab: Series Three Acorn Media 2013
James May's Toy Stories: Balsa Wood Glider/Great Train Race Channel 4 2013
James May's Toy Stories: The Motorcycle Diaries Channel 4 2014
James May's Toy Stories: Action Man at the Speed of Sound Channel 4 2014


Title Publisher Year Notes
May on Motors: On the Road with James May Virgin Books 2006 Reprinted 2007
Oz and James's Big Wine Adventure BBC Books 2006
Notes from the Hard Shoulder Virgin Books 2007
James May's 20th Century Hodder & Stoughton 2007 (H/B) Reprinted 2007 (P/B)
James May's Magnificent Machines Hodder & Stoughton 2008
Oz and James Drink to Britain Pavilion (Anova) 2009
James May's Car Fever Hodder & Stoughton 2009 (H/B) Reprinted 2010 (P/B)
James May's Toy Stories Conway (Anova) 2009
James May's Toy Stories: Lego House Conway (Anova) 2010
James May's Toy Stories: Airfix Handbook Conway (Anova) 2010
James May's Toy Stories: Scalextric Handbook Conway (Anova) 2010
How to Land an A330 Airbus Hodder & Stoughton 2010 (H/B) Reprinted 2011 (P/B)
James May's Man Lab: The Book of Usefulness Hodder & Stoughton 2011 (H/B) Reprinted 2012 (P/B)
James May: On Board Hodder & Stoughton 2012

Video games[edit]

Title Developer Year Role
Forza Motorsport 5 Turn 10 Studios 2014 Voice over
Forza Motorsport 6 Turn 10 Studios 2015 Voice over


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.[49] Also, May and his self-described crack team of scientists, mathematicians and comedians have created Head Squeeze[50] (now renamed "BritLab"; James no longer features as a presenter), a channel that provides left-field insights, sideways interpretations, bizarre facts and Terry Gilliam/Monty Python-inspired animation. The channel is a mix of science, technology, history and current affairs. The first video was published on in December 2012. Videos are produced by 360 Production[51] for BBC Worldwide.


  1. ^ Philby, Charlotte (27 September 2008). "My Secret Life: James May,TV presenter, age 45 – Profiles, People – The Independent". The Independent (London). Retrieved 20 January 2010. 
  2. ^ a b Thistlethwaite, Felecity (1 May 2014). "Captain Slow breaks the law: Top Gear's James May caught talking on his mobile while driving his £80,000 Porsche 911 down the M6". DailyMail.co.uk. Daily Mail. Retrieved 26 March 2015. 
  3. ^ James May: My Sisters' Top Toys (Television production). 23 December 2007. I never liked dolls much, and neither did my brother. 
  4. ^ James May (10 November 2007). "Frocks make a boy a man". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 31 December 2007. 
  5. ^ "Q&A with Dean Andrews feature – 2008". Top Gear. 7 May 2008. Retrieved 5 November 2009. 
  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. ^ James May's Top Toys Internet Movie Database
  13. ^ "Two Programmes – James May: My Sister's Top Toys". BBC. Retrieved 5 November 2009. 
  14. ^ "Season 3 Episode 3 – Gordon Ramsay's F Word". BBC America. Retrieved 8 February 2010. 
  15. ^ [1] "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."
  16. ^ [2] "This recipe is Gordon's version of a posh fish pie originally made by James May."
  17. ^ "Top Gear's James May Shifts His Career Into Overdrive". Fox News. 17 March 2010. Retrieved 5 March 2015. 
  18. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9NKBXUtsDB4
  19. ^ "James in the Bugatti Veyron SuperSport". Top Gear. Retrieved 26 November 2011. 
  20. ^ "Top Gear's Jeremy Clarkson criticised for glamorising drink driving". The Telegraph. 2 July 2008. Retrieved 31 March 2015. 
  21. ^ "Copy Top Gear's polar trip". The Telegraph. 21 January 2010. Retrieved 31 March 2015. 
  22. ^ "Toyota Hilux taunts Iceland's volcano moments before eruption - Top Gear takes credit". WorldCarFans. 19 April 2010. Retrieved 31 March 2015. 
  23. ^ "Jeremy Clarkson dropped from Top Gear, BBC confirms - BBC News". BBC News Online. 25 March 2015. Retrieved 25 March 2015. 
  24. ^ a b "Top Gear: James May rules out returning without Jeremy Clarkson". The Guardian. 23 April 2015. Retrieved 23 April 2015. 
  25. ^ "BBC/OU Open2.net – James May's 20th Century". Open2.net. Retrieved 5 November 2009. 
  26. ^ "BBC/OU Open2.net – James May's Big Ideas". Open2.net. Retrieved 5 November 2009. 
  27. ^ "To Space & Back with James May". http://www.fulldomeshows.com/. Retrieved 11 March 2015. 
  28. ^ "James May on the Moon". BBC. 7 July 2013. Retrieved 2 September 2013. 
  29. ^ a b "James May at the Edge of Space". BBC. 8 March 2012. Retrieved 2 September 2013. 
  30. ^ "UK | May starts building Lego house". BBC News. 1 August 2009. Retrieved 5 November 2009. 
  31. ^ Radio Times 24–30 October 2009
  32. ^ "Entertainment | James May's Lego house demolished". BBC News. 22 September 2009. Retrieved 5 November 2009. 
  33. ^ May to attempt Scalextric record, BBC News, 7 August 2009. Retrieved 9 August 2009
  34. ^ "Model train record bid off track". BBC Online. 25 August 2009. Retrieved 29 December 2013. 
  35. ^ "BBC Two James May's Toy Stories: Flight Club". BBC. Retrieved 25 January 2013. 
  36. ^ "Food – TV and radio – Episode guide". BBC. Retrieved 5 November 2009. 
  37. ^ "Food – TV and Radio". BBC. Retrieved 5 November 2009. 
  38. ^ "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. 
  39. ^ "Top Gear presenter James May awarded honorary doctorate". BBC News. BBC. Retrieved 3 August 2015. 
  40. ^ "Celebrities' open letter to Scotland – full text and list of signatories | Politics". theguardian.com. 7 August 2014. Retrieved 26 August 2014. 
  41. ^ a b Tobin, Dominic (13 November 2012). "James May: Adieu, Captain Slow, I’m Colonel Canary now". driving.co.uk. Retrieved 24 February 2013. 
  42. ^ "1984 Porsche 911 in "James May's Toy Stories, 2009"". IMCDb.org. Retrieved 26 November 2011. 
  43. ^ May, James (22 October 2005). "As seen on TV: Porsche breaks the spell of perfection". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 5 November 2009. 
  44. ^ "James May on Twitter: I've picked up my BMW i3. It's a bit weird driving around in The Future. By the way, Germany wins the World Cup". Twitter.com. 13 June 2014. Retrieved 26 August 2014. 
  45. ^ Top Gear Magazine, July 2014
  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. ^ "Aircraft G-OCOK, 1999 American Champion Aircraft 8KCAB C/N 825-99". Airport-data.com. 13 June 2008. Retrieved 2 September 2013. 
  49. ^ "Top Gear presenter James May posts first video on 'unemployment' YouTube channel". The Independent. 28 March 2015. Retrieved 18 April 2015. 
  50. ^ "James May fronts BBC Worldwide’s latest original YouTube channel – Head Squeeze". BBC. 31 January 2013. Retrieved 29 April 2013. 
  51. ^ "Head Squeeze – YouTube". 360production.com. Retrieved 11 December 2013. 

External links[edit]

Preceded by
David Tremayne
Guild of Motoring Writers
Journalist of the Year Award

Succeeded by
David Tremayne