In the fast-paced world of automotive entertainment, one of several names that stand out as a brand unto themself is, Richard Hammond.
Known for his charismatic persona, daredevil antics, undeniable charm, short stature and exceptionally white teeth (“I haven’t had my teeth done!), Hammond has transcended the realm of television to become a recognizable figure in the automotive and entertainment industries.
How do we know this? The Hamster, as he is also affectionately known is a special guest at the upcoming Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame induction gala, and it’s all anyone who is attending can talk about.
Fellow celebrity guests Indycar Champion Dario Franchitti, and Canadian racer and F1 commentator, James Hinchcliffe are no strangers to the Motorsports community, but it is Hammond who allows us to examine how an individual can become a brand beyond the medium in which they first gained exposure.
Richard Hammond was born on the 19th of December 1969, in Solihull, West Midlands, England. Richard was destined to have a close association with the motor industry – it was in his blood after all. His paternal grandfather, George Harry Hammond, taught Polish airmen to drive during the Second World War; his maternal grandfather, Leslie Albert Dunsby, worked in the automobile industry for most of his career; and his maternal grandmother, Kathleen Shaw, was employed in the Colmore Depot, part of the Morris Motor Company.
Hammond has said, “I guess the car thing was always there – my mother’s father was a coachbuilder and my dad’s dad loved cars. He was in bomb disposal in the war and very good with his hands. I had a happy childhood, and most of it revolved around bicycles, moving on to motorbikes and cars.”
Hammond’s love of cars and motorcycles also came to the forefront as a young boy as he started building his own bicycles at age 11. “I’d have boxes of spare parts and Dad would help. He always let me lead, though, which I now think is quite significant.” Other dads might have wanted to take charge; to do it their way but Hammond’s dad decision to let the young lad lead the way ultimately saw him build a Chopper-style bike out of a smaller racer with a tiny wheel on the front. It was a disaster, and foreshadowing of things to come. The first time he braked, Hammond went straight over the handlebars, perhaps the first of many crashes that would define his venerability and appeal in the following decades. On Hammond’s 16th birthday, his father handed him his first set of keys – to a 49cc Honda – and off he sped.
In the mid-1980’s, as a teenager, Hammond’s entire family moved to the city of Ripon in North Yorkshire, England. It was here that he attended Harrogate College of Art and Technology from 1986 to 1988. It was said that for Hammond and his mates, the roads from college back to his home in Ripon were their race track. All the derring-do, and recklessness aside, It does seem that Hammond concentrated more on driving, then studying as his first proper job was in radio rather than as a graphic artist.
He began his career at BBC Radio York in 1989 as a program assistant before getting fired in 1990. He then went on to work at BBC Radio Leeds, then BBC Radio Newcastle, Radio Cumbria, Radio Cleveland and Radio Lancashire all while gaining vital experience in broadcasting and confidence in himself with each move. Hammond’s work at these various radio stations continued through the 1990’s, before he managed to get a get a spot on the British TV show “Men & Motors”.
Looking back, his segments on the channel might now seem a little dull, as it was essentially his first motoring TV show experience, but it most certainly helped pave the way for his role on the relaunched Top Gear in 2002.
It was here Hammond first gained widespread recognition as one-third of the iconic Top Gear trio, alongside Jeremy Clarkson and James May. Their chemistry on-screen was unparalleled, and Hammond's role as the "short, small one" brought a unique dynamic to the show. However, what sets Hammond (and in fact, the trio) apart is the ability to extend his brand beyond the confines of any single program.
One of Hammond's notable achievements is his transition to The Grand Tour after the trio's departure from Top Gear. This move showcased his commitment to the brand that the rio had become, and his own personal brand; the man behind the wheel. The Grand Tour not only reaffirmed Hammond's status as a prominent figure in the automotive entertainment world as part of the automotive “holy trinity” but also allowed him to showcase his versatility, adaptability and loyalty to his working partners and friends as well as his fiercely loyal audience of followers.
Beyond television, Hammond has successfully ventured into other mediums including writing. His books, often autobiographical and laced with humour, provide readers with insights into his life both on and off the screen. This literary extension of his brand has resonated with fans, further solidifying Hammond as more than just a television personality.
What truly makes Richard Hammond a brand unto himself is his ability to connect with audiences on a personal level. Whether he's pushing the limits of speed on-screen or sharing anecdotes from his life in interviews and podcasts, Hammond's authenticity shines through. He was never aloof and snobbish like the sometimes overbearing Clarkson, nor an egghead intellectual like May, but a true representative of the common man and the token “American” according to his fellow presenters making him a fan favourite in the ever so hard to crack market, North America. Fans don't just tune in for the cars; they tune in to see themselves behind the wheel. Moreover his fallibility and a few life-threatening crashes and well-publicized recoveries made him not just a celebrity, but a hero for many.
As such, Hammond's brand is no longer confined to the automotive world. His forays into documentary hosting, where he explores topics beyond the realm of cars, showcase his versatility. This diversification allows him to appeal to a broader audience, reinforcing the idea that the Hammond brand is synonymous with relatability and entertainment in various forms.
Richard Hammond's journey from a local radio broadcaster through the global phenomena that was Top Gear and The Grand Tour to his pet projects such as the community focused DriveTribe and The Smallest Cog™, his up-and-coming restoration business and reality show has transformed him into a brand that extends far beyond the realm of television.
His authenticity, charisma, and ability to connect with audiences have turned him into a recognizable figure not only in the automotive world but also in the broader entertainment industry. As Hammond continues to explore new avenues and share his passion with the world, it's clear that his brand is one that will endure, leaving a lasting impact on fans and enthusiasts alike.
And we can’t wait to meet this man and learn more about his fascinating journey, first hand. Now that’s brand appeal.