The 60-year-old former presenter of Top Gear and now The Grand Tour Jeremy Clarkson admits to being broken-hearted after the passing away of his hero Chuck Yeager. The host advised, “you should never meet your heroes.”
The longstanding Top Gear host cast back on his experience with The Right Stuff Star and the record-setting test pilot after he died at the age of 97 last week. The host shares his admiration with the retired Air Force officer and flying ace.
“They say you should never meet your heroes, and they’re right, because I once met mine. His name was Chuck Yeager.
“He died last week and I should have been sad because I’d been brought up on stories of how this natural-born, stick-and-rudder, speak-as-I-find redneck won the war single-handedly, with no help at all from the RAF or Polish airmen.”
But Clarkson also recalled his encounter with Yeager. The first meeting, however, was not a pleasant one.
“I had wanted to talk to Yeager about this for a television show I was making, and then one day, after months of me trying, he called my production office from his home in Sacramento, California, saying he would do the interview the next day,” the host described meeting Yeager.
Clarkson continued to look back:
“As I was in Chipping Norton, this presented something of a challenge, but as it was Chuck Yeager, I did a lot of tyre-squealing, and running at airports, and the next day the film crew and I pulled into his driveway at 3.15pm.”
Regrettably, Clarkson got off to a bad start with Yeager as the host arrived late for the interview due to a last minute changes in his schedule.
The host shared: “He was standing there, looking at his watch and, as I climbed out of the car, he said: ‘You’re 15 minutes late.’
“Naturally, I assumed he was joking, so I replied: ‘That’s nothing. You were three years late for the Second World War.”
The Airforce officer clearly showed how annoyed he was at Clarkson. He spun on his foot, stormed out, and slammed the door.
The host and his team then had to work out with Yeager and his equally furious wife, how they’d go about the interview after this terrible start. They were able to settle with a condition that Yeager would sit beside his super loud fridge.
During the interview, Yeager was displeased with the direction of Clarkson’s line of questioning.
“We began to talk about how the Americans had, let’s say, ‘appropriated’ a British wing design to get the Bell X-1 through the sound barrier.”
This wing had been successfully tested during the war and, as a result, the Berkshire-based company Miles Aircraft was well on its way to making a 1,000mph jet plane.
But then the British government suddenly shut down the operation in 1946, having already given the project’s research to the Americans.
Yeager denied all this, claiming the British were useless at everything and that ‘the only people I hated more than the Germans in the war were the English’.”
The bottom line is, the very meeting appeared to be a big mistake, at least from Clarkson’s side. Yeager was so frustrated with his face “turning purple with anger.”
Despite his negative experience with Yeager, which made him feel torn about his passing, Jeremy disclosed that he had wanted to remember him more positively.
“Which is why I shall choose to remember Yeager as he was portrayed on screen by the generous and brave and talented Sam Shepard.
“The right man who played a wrong ’un in what remains one of the greatest films made: The Right Stuff.”
Yeager’s wife Victoria announced his death over Twitter.
“It is [with] profound sorrow, I must tell you the love my life love General Chuck Yeager passed just before 9pm.
“An incredible life well lived, America’s greatest pilot, and a legacy of strength, adventure, and patriotism will be remembered forever,” she tweeted.