As one of the hosts of the BBC’s popular, long-running car show Top Gear, Chris Harris is grateful but, in his earliest days in the job, he was also miserable.
Harris acknowledged on Tuesday that when he started as a regular on the show in 2016, he caught a lot of flak from its devoted following. They were unhappy that he was one of the people replacing Top Gear’s original hosts, which included its creator, Jeremy Clarkson. After Clarkson was dropped from the show in 2015, his co-hosts followed him out.
“Once a population wants to hate something, you’re in trouble. And I’ve never experienced hate like it,” Harris told the Jonny Smith Late Brake Show. “I have to be honest with you, it was tough. It was brutal, properly brutal.”
Harris insisted that he’s someone used to taking some insults, but this was on another level.
“I’ve got thick skin but if you’re waking up every day to hundreds of direct messages from people just going, ‘You’re shite, you’re not Jeremy, you’re whatever...,” he said.
“And I, when that first season broadcast, I thought four or five episodes in, I’ve made up my mind, I’m not doing this anymore, let’s stop immediately, because I can’t do this. I can’t handle the abuse. The show isn’t as good as I wanted it to be, and it was tough. And then I realised I couldn’t walk away from it, because I’d pretty much committed career suicide.”
(His comments start about 16 minutes into the conversation.)
Harris said some supporters of the YouTube show that he’d operated before the TV staple thought he’d sold out. So he felt like he didn’t have much choice in what to do next; Top Gear had to work.
Happily, it did, but it took some time. It was painful.
“It just broke me down. People that know me know I’m a pretty tough cookie, but after a while... It catches you at a bad moment,” Harris said. "If a few other things in your life go south, then the abuse — and it is abuse, it’s not criticism — by the time people are just sending you messages, not even on the back of content, just saying ‘you’re a prick, you’ve ruined Top Gear for me, I'll never forgive you,’ once they’re doing that, that is abuse.”
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Sometimes, Harris said, he was able to overlook hateful comments. It really depended on his mood, whether he was in a good place. And he continues to field them.
“But when you’re sat there with a glass of whiskey one night, ‘oh woe is me,’ and you read the messages...,” he said. “So I did pick up the phone, go and see someone, and I had to sit down. And ya know what, I’m still doing that now. Not because I'm in a really bad place, but because I need it because it's relentlessly negative.”
Harris said he still loves what he does.
“But I’ll never be able to reconcile the fact that it’s a show about cars that generates so much hate,” he said.