«James May» - biography, albums, songs, video clips

For other people named James May, see James May (disambiguation).

James Daniel May (born 16 January 1963) is an English television presenter and journalist. He is the 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.

Early life

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

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.


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. 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, May confessed that in 1992 he was dismissed from Autocar magazine after putting together a hidden message or 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".

May's original message, punctuated appropriately, 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." 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

His past television credits include presenting Driven on Channel 4 in 1998–99, narrating an eight-part BBC One series called Road Rage School, and co-hosting the ITV1 coverage of the 2006 London Boat Show. He also wrote and presented a Christmas special called James May's Top Toys (for BBC One) exploring the toys of his childhood.James May: My Sister's Top Toys attempted to investigate the gender divide of toy appeal. In series 3, episode 3 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.

Top Gear

Main articles: Top Gear (1977 TV series) and Top Gear (2002 TV series)

May first co-presented Top Gear in 1999, before it was axed by the BBC because of poor viewing figures. He rejoined the show in the second series of the present Top Gear format in 2003, where he earned the nickname "Captain Slow" owing to his careful driving style. Despite this sobriquet, he has done some especially high-speed driving, including in Top Gear Series 9, taking a Bugatti Veyron to its top speed of 253 mph (407 km/h) which is nearly one-third of the speed of sound at sea level and later on taking a Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Super Sport edition to 260 mph (417 km/h). In an earlier episode he also tested the original version of the Bugatti Veyron against the new Pagani Zonda F.

He became one of the first people – with co-presenter Jeremy Clarkson and an Icelandic support crew – to travel by car to the magnetic North Pole, using a modified Toyota Hilux. In the words of Clarkson, he was the first person to go there "who didn't want to be there". He has driven a 1.3-litre Suzuki SJ413 through the Bolivian jungle, along Death Road and over the Andes to the Pacific Ocean in Chile. He also drove a modified Toyota Hilux (previously used as a crew car during the North Pole expedition) up the side of the erupting volcano Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland.


May presented Inside Killer Sharks, a documentary for Sky and James May's 20th Century, investigating inventions. 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. He has also presented a series called James May's Man Lab.

James May on the Moon

Main articles: James May on the Moon and James May at the Edge of Space

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

James May's Toy Stories

Main article: 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. 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 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.

Also for the series, he recreated the banked track at Brooklands using Scalextric track, 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.

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.

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 proceeded to finish a full lap of the Isle of Man TT Course. A full 37 3/4 mile long circuit.

Oz and James

Main articles: Oz and James's Big Wine Adventure and Oz and James Drink to Britain

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

Personal life

May lives in Hammersmith, West London with dance critic Sarah Frater, whom he has dated since 2000.


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,Ferrari 458, 1984 Porsche 911, 2005 Porsche Boxster S (which he claims is the first car he has ever purchased new),Mini Cooper, Citroën Ami, Mazda MX-5, 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. He often uses a Brompton folding bicycle for commuting. He passed his driving test on his second attempt and justified this by saying "All the best people pass the second time".

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. May also flew a Cessna 182 against Jeremy Clarkson in a Bugatti Veyron to London for a Top Gear race.



Year Title Role
1999 Top Gear (original format) Presenter
2003–present 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–present James May's Man Lab Presenter
2011–present James May's Things You Need To Know 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


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

Title Developer Year Role
Forza Motorsport 5 Turn 10 Studios 2013 Voice over


On YouTube, James May and his self-described crack team of scientists, mathematicians, comedians have created Head Squeeze, 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 for BBC Worldwide.


External links

  • at the Internet Movie Database
  • on Top Gear
Preceded by
David Tremayne
Guild of Motoring Writers
Journalist of the Year Award

Succeeded by
David Tremayne