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It’s been quite a strange year for The Grand Tour’s mastermind and executive producer Andy Wilman.
Plans for a new special in Russia had to be postponed in Spring due to Covid travel restrictions and a last-minute trip to the Outer Hebrides with Clarkson, Hammond and May was filmed across just a couple of weeks in the summer under tight social distancing restrictions.
All of this came while attempting to edit together the highly anticipated Madagascar Grand Tour special as well as recovering from his own bout of Covid.
“I’m alright. It’s alright. I started doing exercise again, although you wouldn’t think so looking at me,” says Wilman when we ask about his recovery.
“You do realise doing exercise, ‘S**t this is still knocking around me’. It’s in your lungs. But right now, no dramas. It’s all OK, thank you.”
Wilman’s recovery means that Grand Tour fans can finally watch the next special on Amazon Prime Video just in time for Christmas.
The Grand Tour presents A Massive Hunt is 90-minutes of vintage Clarkson, Hammond and May. The trio start off in three sport cars on a stunning race track in Reunion, before ending up in the middle of a pirate treasure hunt in one of the most beautiful islands in the world. The only problem? Madagascar also has the worst road the presenters have ever seen.
Part-Indiana Jones adventure, part-mystery, part-brutal road trip, fans will love the special, now available to watch on Amazon Prime Video.
We caught up with Andy Wilman to find out what went on behind the scenes in the special and what the future of The Grand Tour looks like during a global pandemic.
The switch from a regular series of The Grand Tour for Amazon to doing a couple of travel specials every year has helped the creative team and refreshed the format, but it does pose challenges for Wilman.
“We’ve always tried to make a special feel special,” he said. “If you look back at the Top Gear ones, they started at an hour. Then they became 90 minutes. Then some of them became two-parters. None of that was planned. The key thing is the 90 minutes. That’s the biggest thing that beats you around the head.
“A 90-minute special needs a narrative. In an hour you can piss around more. Just jump around like children with too much sugar. But these longer specials need a journey and narrative, which is added pressure.
“We’ve been to a lot of places, we’ve done a lot of old cars getting hammered by the environment but winning through – so you’ve got to try hard to think beyond that. That’s one of the reasons we took a break to do the boats (2019’s The Grand Tour presents Seamen). We knew people would say, ‘what are you f***ing playing at’, but we knew we still had the right ingredients and it was the right thing to do.
“And by the time we returned to cars for Madagascar we were all refreshed and ready to go for it with cars again.”
A pirate treasure hunt
In a quest which allows Richard Hammond to live out all his childhood fantasies, A Massive Hunt centres on the presenters looking for buried pirate treasure.
But how did the plan to turn the trip to a tropical island into a Indiana Jones-style adventure come to fruition?
“It’s some jigsaw pieces that came together,” explains Wilman. “We knew we had to come back with cars with a bang after the Mekong and we heard about this road which is believed to be one of the world’s toughest roads.
“Someone else looked around and said Reunion has this incredible road on it. It’s night and day the difference between these roads. And from there you start to piece the bits together.
“We could start on one island and go to another island. And the cars for one island are completely wrong for the other island and there is your adventure.
“And the last bit of the puzzle is ‘Why are we bothering?’, and it didn’t take much research in that part of the world to get stuck into pirates. It’s all over their history. They were our ingredients and off we go."
The Grand Tour’s toughest road ever
Throughout all their years on Top Gear and The Grand Tour, this team have driven across ice, deserts and the jungle. But the roads of Madagascar may have topped the lot.
Wilman described the trek as “mind-blowing”. The presenters could only travel half a mile a day at points of the journey and the crew were still in their cars shooting at 5am.
“We’d make a schedule in the morning and you’d go to the tent guys, we reckon we’ll do 20 miles today – see you up there. But we’d never get anywhere near,” recalled Wilman.
“But I was pleased that the problems were mechanical. After the Mekong, we wanted a car-based film with car problems.”
One thing that wasn’t a problem on the shoot was the locals.
“I thought it would be tricky getting permission to race on that road in Reunion, but the French couldn’t give a s**t and they were very happy with that,” he said.
“The Madagascans were brilliant. They got the panto of what we were doing. They were very charming and bright. You sometimes think when you rock up with a big film crew and three silly cars people will just think ‘What a bunch of morons’. But everyone around us got the panto and that was really helpful.”
A love letter to the EU
As Clarkson, Hammond and May travel from part of the European Union, Reunion, to Madagascar, Clarkson is unable to resist making numerous jokes and references to Britain’s impending departure from the EU.
As fans of the European Union, Wilman and the presenters felt it was a perfect set-up to salute the EU and offer a little nod to the fact things might not be too rosy after we leave.
“All four of us are Remainers, so it was good for all of us to say, ‘Hey, we’re back in the EU!’” said Wilman.
“It’s just part of the EU that is 5,000 miles away. That part was a little love letter to the EU from us, because none of us want to Brexit. We can be absolutely clear on that."
The future of The Grand Tour
Plans for a Grand Tour special in Russia were postponed in February and it’s unlikely that the crew will be able to shoot the film any time soon.
“In March this year we thought OK, we’ll go into lockdown and in the autumn we’ll be good to go. But look at us now. The f***ing pubs are closing again,” said Wilman.
“There will be a bit of a wait. Right now we should be preparing the Russia film, which were supposed to shoot last February. But we won’t get to do that for a while. Nothing is certain enough.
“These films take three months. And planning for them means spending money. And if the place gets shut down after the planning, you don’t get your money back.
“We haven’t got the money to do that. We can’t blow money on things that go to waste or else you end up with f*** all on screen. We have to wait until we can plan with confidence.”
For the time being, fans will have to settle for Grand Tour episodes filmed closer to home with an episode which follows the trio travelling between Edinburgh and the Outer Hebrides coming in 2021.
“Scotland was a real success,” said Wilman. “It was a different type of special. Smaller, charming, more knockabout. But we were really proud of it and we could keep doing that until we can get our passports back again.
“We’re still programmed to work and put a shift in, but we have to be realistic and we can’t go do the big travel specials until we have some sort of certainty and we’re a way off that.”
And with Clarkson, Hammond and May off filming their own respective solo shows for Amazon, does Wilman believe the trio have become more mellow and easier to work with in their old age?
“They are all good to work for. Nobody is creaking too much,” he replies.
“I would say going from 12 shows a year to just specials has been a great move. I wouldn’t like to answer your question if we were still doing 12 shows a year. I think we would be more exhausted and more worried about what we were going to do.
“We’ve earned our stripes to do fewer things at a better quality. We’re good to keep going like this. We’re not going to go away.”
The Grand Tour presents A Massive Hunt is available now on Prime Video.
Watch The Grand Tour seasons 1-3 and specials on Prime Video now.