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A number of students took part in a Skype call with Lancaster alumnus and Top Gear co-presenter James May. The event run by Fresherwear, an up-and-coming student project which seeks to capture student lifestyle and creativity by putting on exciting events each week. The event was held in the Management School on Wednesday Week 1, Summer Term.
May, who graduated with a music degree in 1985, spoke about a variety of topics, including the importance of a university degree on one’s life. He dismissed the opinion that most degrees are of little value to someone’s job after graduating, describing how his own degree ‘opened his mind’. He explained how the analytical skills and creative mind-set he developed at Lancaster turned him into a well-rounded opinionated person and made him an employable journalist in the early 80s.
May shared some of his memories from Lancaster, including times in the college bars, the Sugarhouse and the Waterwitch, as well as some pubs that are no longer around. He told students that the accommodation has greatly improved since he was living in Pendle, when ‘the rooms were a little bit smaller than the beds.’ He also recalled a challenge which involved getting from one end of the campus to the other on top of the spine. This is no longer possible, and SCAN strongly advises readers do not attempt it.
The Skype call was open to questions from the audience, one of which was how to make a profit through online media. James agreed that it is a problem people are currently looking for answers to, as everyone can be a journalist, a writer or a film maker with the web’s free open platform. “In a way, it’s a good thing,” May said. “The internet is democratizing what we read and watch because there is so much to choose from and we can become our own filters of what is good and what isn’t.”
A topic that many students were interested in was what goes on behind the scenes at Top Gear. When asked as to how staged the show is, May explained that there is a general plan for what is going to happen in each episode, including perhaps some things that might look spontaneous, “although a lot of them really are spontaneous” he said. He explained that none of the presenters’ dialogue is scripted, and that when choosing races they make sure they will be close to make entertaining viewing.
May was also asked what he is like on the road when not on Top Gear. He claimed to never having broken a speed limit, as he uses racing tracks to “get it out of [his] system,” which he said is very cheap for people to do now all across the country. “Speed is like farting,” May joked, “you have to know when it’s appropriate.”
“The conversation was good fun,” said second year English Language student Erik Apter. “James was very down-to-earth and interesting to speak to, and nothing he said shattered any preconceptions I might have had from watching him on TV.”
May offered a final note of encouragement to students to work hard at their degrees, stating that he thinks university has become even more important since he graduated due to the ever-competitive job market. “You lot take things seriously now,” he said. “And rightly so. We just used to vomit all the time.”