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After several months of intense debate in the U.K., the BBC late Tuesday revealed who would be stepping into Jeremy Clarkson’s controversial gas-stained shoes as the host of its flagship car franchise Top Gear.
In the U.S., the name Chris Evans might be more associated with the flashy shield antics of Captain America. But the actor and the new Top Gear host have little in common. In Britain, he’s a reformed ex-bad boy of broadcasting, a 49-year-old TV and radio personality who has been on and off the radar since the early 1990s.
Here are seven things to know about the new Top Gear host.
1. Rise to fame:
He rose to nationwide fame in the U.K. between 1992 and 1994 as the cheeky, ginger-haired launch co-host of The Big Breakfast, Channel 4’s game-changing light entertainment series that at its peak was the most highly rated U.K. breakfast TV show.
Despite a barrage of complaints for innuendo-filled commentary, including references to oral sex, Evans transformed the show into a ratings gold mine. However, his controversial on-and-off air persona saw him frequently battling with management, with his most infamous falling out coming after a 17-hour pub-crawl ended just two hours before he was due on air. He lasted less than two years.
Such was his star appeal while at Radio 1 that he was the station’s highest paid presenter at $11,000 per day, but also managed to take an extra week of unplanned vacation, have his morning shift changed so he could come in later and amend his contract to double his holiday to twice that of other DJs. The final straw came when he asked to not work on Fridays, so he could prepare for a TV show.
3. Love life:
In 2000, Evans began dating pop star-turned-actress Billie Piper, famously buying her a Ferrari filled with roses after their first date. She was just 18 at the time and couldn’t drive (he was 34). The two married the following year in Las Vegas at a ceremony at The Little Church of the West, but separated amicably three years later and eventually divorced in 2007. Evans is now happily married to wife number three, professional golfer and part-time model Natasha Shishmanian. They have two children together.
4. Company sale:
Despite netting more than $120 million in 2000 after selling his company Ginger Media Group — which owned Virgin Radio along with his other TV interests — to the Scottish Media Group for $350 million, in 2004 Evans chose to sell off a sizeable collection of his furniture at a London market.
5. Return to radio:
After a period away from the limelight, Evans returned to the public eye in 2005 as a host on the BBC’s Radio 2, which was well-received and largely free of the antics that led to much of the controversy on Radio 1.
On winning the Sony Music Personality of the Year award in 2006, he thanked the U.K. public broadcaster for giving him a “second chance.”
6. Top Gear past:
Already described as a “friend of Top Gear” and having appeared on the show’s Star in a Reasonably Priced Car segment (his lap time of 1.48.1 was a tenth of a second short of Ewan McGregor‘s), Evans has a vast collection of motor vehicles, including a 1963 Ferrari 250 GTO, which he bought for $19 million.
On being named the new host, Evans described the show as his favorite TV program of all time. “A bad Top Gear is still 10/10 for any other program,” he said, adding that he felt “immense sadness” on watching the last episode with Clarkson at the helm.
7. Possible female co-host:
Although nothing has yet been confirmed, Evans has said there will “definitely” be a female presenter on his all new Top Gear. “But not for the sake of it,” he said.
Speaking to BBC Radio 5 on Wednesday, he added that he had “sympathy” for ousted host Clarkson and that he only decided to come on board last week when co-hosts Richard Hammond and James May “officially ruled themselves out of any future” with the show.
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