How Not To Be Like Jeremy Clarkson

Top Gear presenters Jeremy Clarkson and James May with Tony Harrison's Lancia Beta Coupe Stanford Hall 2008 Last Sunday, the BBC premiered the 23rd season of Top Gear with a new team of presenters. The program drew disappointing ratings in the UK and abroad. This had a lot to do with the absence of star presenter Jeremy Clarkson, who was forced to leave the show. More about that later.

Because Clarkson was such a dominating presence on Top Gear, he might have thought that the program wouldn’t stand a chance without him. Perhaps the critics and viewers proved him right. After all, there’s only one Jeremy Clarkson. This had me wondering…

Do you ever think you’re indispensable?

Do you believe your clients, your readers, or your viewers can’t live without you?

Unfortunately, the reality for most independent contractors is that they can be tossed out any time. The price of freelance freedom is often paid in uncertainty and stress.

In theory, this uncertainty should at least be partially compensated by a higher paycheck. But you know as well as I do that we have to fight for decent rates. 

Small fish in a big ocean don’t have a lot of leverage in the labor market, unless they operate as a school. But what about the big fish? How far are they allowed to go?

INFLATED EGOS

Some people, especially in the entertainment industry, seem to think they are untouchable, and they behave accordingly.

Like spoiled children.

Over the years they have gathered a loyal following, and have amassed a considerable fortune. Whenever they enter a room, people ooh and aah, and ask for autographs and selfies.

When these celebs say something that isn’t even remotely funny, people laugh hysterically. Some are suddenly seen as “thought leaders,” “trend setters,” or as the sexiest men/women alive.

Photographers will pray or pay for a pose and a smile. Companies fight for the opportunity to stuff backstage gift bags, hoping for a tweet of acknowledgment or better still: a product endorsement.

And so, the people who have everything they could possibly wish for, get even more without paying a dime. Those who aren’t as fortunate, can only hope, dream, and drool.

But fame is fickle, and recognition can be a double-edged sword.

The higher you climb, the lower you can fall. But if your cushion is elastic enough, you may be able to bounce back. Comfortably.

TOP GEAR

On March 25th, 2015, the BBC fired Jeremy Clarkson, one of the presenters of Top Gear. Top Gear is one of the most successful programs in the history of the Beeb, bringing in millions of pounds every year. The car show is one of the biggest factual TV shows in the world with an estimated audience of 350 million in 200 countries. People who don’t even care for cars (myself included) watch Top Gear religiously.

Clarkson’s sacking was self-induced. He was fired for physically and verbally attacking one of the producers because no hot food was provided after a day’s filming. Prior to that, he had been given a final warning because of earlier controversies. “This time,” said the BBC, “a line was crossed.” Clarkson was dismissed, in spite of the million+ people who had signed an online petition to reinstate him.

Yes, we’re all unique, but no one is irreplaceable, or above the law.

As Tony Hall, the BBC’s Director-General, said: “There cannot be one rule for one and one rule for another dictated by either rank, or public relations and commercial considerations.”

The question is: Who will have the last laugh?

Clarkson’s contract was up for renewal anyway, and as soon as he left, other networks in Great Britain started fighting over who could offer the man the most lucrative deal. In the end, Amazon Video won out. Like the Terminator, Clarkson (and fellow-presenters Richard Hammond & James May) will be back, making more money than ever.

THE TAKEAWAY

As much as I deplore what Clarkson did, I wondered if we could learn anything from what happened. Like Clarkson, you and I work with producers and directors all the time. Some of them are very nice people. Others are not. Some make unreasonable demands, crazy requests, and give you a hard time when asked if the check is finally in the mail.

There are some big egos in our business, and I’ve seen colleagues suck up to the people with power, and kick those who are lower on the ladder. Here’s something that happened to me while I was working at a radio station.

One day, a fellow-presenter lashed out at an assistant because he had given her a glass of water with what looked like a hair in it. The woman exploded, and left the assistant heavily hyperventilating in the hallway. But when the director of the station paid us a surprise visit right after the incident, my angry colleague was suddenly all smiles.

After we had taped our show, I took a good look at the infamous glass of water. A curly, red hair was indeed floating on the surface.

My explosive colleague happened to have curly, red hair.

SEVEN SIGNS

Most people I’ve worked with seem to have it together. Perhaps this is because invisible voices have a low profile. We don’t have millions of fans, or millions of dollars. 

Those I admire in my industry have certain things in common. They often thrive against the odds. They are loved by colleagues and clients alike. And if you wish to follow in their footsteps, I have a few recommendations for you.

My first suggestion is simple: Treat everyone around you with respect; not only the people in power. Even if some co-workers do their very best to push your buttons, you’re not a robot. You can’t control their behavior, but you can choose your response.

Secondly: Celebrate your achievements, and remember where you came from. You are where you are because people who probably didn’t know you, believed in you, and were kind to you.

You made tons of mistakes. We all do, but were they met with punishment or patience? And even if your teachers weren’t always tolerant, don’t use that as an excuse to give others the same treatment you so hated.

Third: Don’t ever take success for granted. It entitles you to nothing. It has to be earned, and treasured. Over and over again. And what good does it do you, if you make the people around you miserable? They’ll feed you what you want to hear, while spitting out the truth behind your back.

Fourth: Don’t mistake fame for importance, and money for value. Who gives a damn how many followers you have on social media, and how much you have stashed away in your Swiss bank account. Why should we even care about your credentials? All these things do not make you a good person.

You should take your work and your fans seriously, but please take yourself with a few grains of salt.

Fifth: If you end up -willingly or unwillingly- being a role model, know that it comes with responsibilities. You are in a privileged position to influence a great number of people who look up to you. Are you going to use that position, or abuse it?

Sixth: Don’t ever ask: “What’s in it for me?” The better question is: “What can I do today to improve the lives of others without getting anything in return?” It’s the result that matters. Not the reward.

Seven: Be humble, and be grateful. Every single day.

Success is hard to sustain. One moment you’re the flavor of the month. The next you’re yesterday’s news. Clients may seem ungrateful, but that doesn’t mean you should be. 

Appreciate what you have right now, and realize that you couldn’t have done it without the help of others. No matter how hard you’ve worked for it, and how much you think you deserve it, feel confident without being cocky. Big egos don’t make amigos.

One last thought.

No one is irreplaceable, but at least for one project, one gig, or for one show, you were chosen. That means something. 

If you’re lucky, you can make it last.

If it doesn’t, enjoy the ride, but hopefully not in a Jeremy Clarkson sort of way.

Paul Strikwerda ©Nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

photo credit: Jeremy Clarkson and James May Top Gear presenters with my Lancia Beta Coupe Stanford Hall 2008 IMG_6342 via photopin (license)

About the author

Paul Strikwerda

is a Dutch-English voice-over pro, coach, and writer. His blog is one of the most widely read and influential blogs in the industry. Paul is also the author of "Making Money In Your PJs, Freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs." goo.gl/ihVpMc

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Journalism & Media, Social Media

26 Responses to How Not To Be Like Jeremy Clarkson

  1. Chuck Davis

    One of your best ever blogs, Paul. Loved Banksy’s comment too. (I really should check into the VO-BB more often).
    An old friends’ grandmother summed it up for me, long ago with “It’s nice to be important. It’s more important to be nice”

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Unfortunately, nice guys don’t always finish first. They end up being people pleasers and doormats.

    [Reply]

  2. Rick Lance

    Paul… sometimes I think your chosen profession should be Psychology. But then… maybe it is.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    That’s a huge compliment, Rick. Thank you! I used to teach self-help seminars, but that was in a different life and in a different country.

    [Reply]

  3. Geno Allen

    Paul, your perspective is refreshing and I wholeheartedly agree. Thanks for a great blog.

    [Reply]

  4. Pingback: How Not To Be Like Jeremy Clarkson | videoworld studios

  5. Philip Banks

    Nice piece, Paul. Very thought provoking.

    For the most part we Voice Over people live in a dishonest world and the internet magnifies it 20 fold.

    Great news – Like the PR spin surrounding Jeremy Clarkson we do not have to “buy in”.

    I live by two simple rules.

    1 – Be nice to people if for no other reason than it’s easier

    2- What do we live for if not to make life less difficult for others?

    The above is true and not PR.

    Ask a well known VO Coach from LA and he’ll tell you that I am just MEAN. Probe the opinion of the head of an association and I’ll be dismissed as a bully. One of the Movie trailer greats has said “Philip Banks is just an a**hole!”

    Welcome to the world of the insecure artiste who needs approval above everything else and gawd ‘elp anyone who doesn’t stand in line to massage the guy or girl with the huge ego.

    Jeremy Clarkson is a Yorkshireman and as such his opinions are like his temper – Genetic.

    Internet rules for VO people.
    Everyone and everything is awesome
    Your opinion is EXACTLY the same as “their” opinion.
    When close to losing your temper come over to my place and take my two Border Collies (Jazz and Bess) for as walk.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Your perspective is always as humorous, as it is refreshing, Philip.

    I’ve often observed that people let their guard down around children and pets (even childish folks behaving like animals).

    Nature, nurture and personal choices account for our behavior. Clarkson’s Yorkshire roots may explain his irreverent behavior, but do not excuse abuse of any kind.

    [Reply]

    Philip Banks Reply:

    Quick outburst followed by an apology one can excuse. 20+ minute foul mouthed tantrum followed by physical contact. No excuse.

    My Dad would thump me for writing that ..he was a Yorkshireman!

    [Reply]

  6. steve hammill

    A strong ego is essential for success in VO. Your seven rules/recommendations don’t align with that, Paul.

    I’ve seen the “my ego is bigger and better than your ego” game played out hundreds of times. It makes for an industry with an inordinate number of jerks. However, even in a business where misbehavior is accepted, there remain a few boundaries.

    The boundaries tend to apply more rigidly to the lessor egos than the bigger ones…at least until Clancy lowers the boom.

    It would make for a nicer world if people would follow those rules though…

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I have to disagree with your first line, Steve. People can have a strong sense of self without being a jerk.

    Over the years I have interviewed many people in high places. The ones highest up the ladder we often much nicer than the ones just below. People in top positions don’t have to prove themselves anymore, because they have achieved the ultimate. It made many much more mild.

    [Reply]

    steve hammill Reply:

    Certainly people can have a strong ego without crossing the “jerk line”…but that usually happens when their teeth start to fall out 😉

    Judging a powerful person based on their demeanor in an interview is not wise. People usually don’t rise to the top of their profession without having at least some “blood on their hands.” Think Francis Underwood! 😉

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    It is clear that our experiences differ, Steve. Before I came to the States, I’ve had a long career in radio. During that time, I got to know certain people quite well. Not only did I have a chance to interview them, but I was given the opportunity to follow them around for a couple of days to get a more in-depth picture.

    The things that weren’t said when the microphone was on, were often more telling. I got an inside look into how some people treated their staff, and I got a good sense of how their staff responded. When there is an atmosphere of conflict and confrontation, one can tell. When people are putting up appearances, one can tell.

    Sure, not everyone behaved like a saint, but there are decent people in this world who live their lives with integrity. These people are real. Underwood is a figment of the imagination.

    Paul Payton Reply:

    I had the pleasure of meeting Bruce Springsteen not long after he had been on the cover of Time, Newsweek and Rolling stone pretty much simultaneously. He was an absolute gentleman and a “real person.” Strong sense of self? Yes, of course. Ego, no. He was just a real person who knew that he was good at what he did and enjoyed doing it. How refreshing!

    As always, Paul, you scored big. Thank you!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Although I have never met Springsteen, I’ve heard similar stories from others. To me this means that he wan’t just putting up an act. But I’m still waiting for the Boss to revitalize Asbury Park, as he once promised.

    [Reply]

  7. Paul Garner

    Dang, Paul! Hit the nail on the head again! Seems like it should be common sense, but unfortunately, it’s not as common as we might like.
    Thanks again for the great blog, Paul.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    You’re very welcome, Paul. My thanks have to go to Jeremy Clarkson. Without his actions, I probably wouldn’t have written this story.

    [Reply]

  8. Steven Lowell

    Great advice for any actor or voice actor. I learned this years ago while doing extra work on a film.

    The scene involved two boxers and much like all Hollywood films, the bigger boxer was losing to the small, underdog.

    And the bigger actor did not like this…so as he was being given direction to “lose” he complained out loud, “I could kick this guy’s ass in real life”. The crowd of actors, all extras, booed at him and yelled, “Just go along with the story!” and lots of other not nice things.

    The boxer grew upset and the director fired him. He was replaced by one of the extras in the audience; a non-union extra from New Jersey who was happy to play the role of “losing boxer” to get his union card.

    This is a business where the wind that pushes our sailboats is ‘public approval’ and should not be taken for granted, no matter what.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    You should write a book, Steven! Was Jeremy Clarkson in that ring, by any chance?

    [Reply]

    Marlene Bertrand Reply:

    I like this story. It is so true to life. We should never be so full of ourselves that we forget that we are all replaceable.

    [Reply]

  9. Sally Blake ( Voice On Fire )

    Good Morning Paul,
    I loved your blog this morning with my first cup of coffee. What a great way to start the day:)
    I have noticed over the years that some people with inflated egos often have a sense of entitlement presenting itself in how they treat people or even thinking they are above the law. I believe that eventually such behavior catches up to you.
    A wise person once told me that if the individual that you helped knows about the deed then it doesn’t count meaning you should assist without expecting anything in return. This is true giving.
    Thank you Paul !

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thanks for starting your day with my blog, Sally!

    The highest form of giving, is giving selfishly and anonymously, allowing the recipient to become self-sufficient. That’s why I’m not a fan of the super rich putting their names on concert halls, hospitals, and sports arenas.

    [Reply]

  10. Karen

    Perfect timing for this blog, Paul. Yes, I’ve worked with people who have let their success go to their head. I especially liked point #3. Just because success happened once upon a time, does not mean the world owes you perpetual adoration or deference. Being a nice person in all situations shows a true wealth of spirit.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I’m sure that you have had to massage a couple of egos here and there, Karen. In my experience, most people at the top of their game tend to be gracious, humble, and kind. They don’t have to prove anything to anyone anymore. The one’s who are not quite there yet think they need to make themselves important in order to climb the ladder. Fortunately, big bubbles are easy to pop.

    [Reply]

  11. Alison Shore

    Lovely post Paul, it costs nothing to be kind.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    You’re absolutely right, Alison. The Golden Rule applies to everyone.

    [Reply]

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