Top Gear star Jeremy Clarkson would not have been on our screen every Sunday if it wasn't for Paddington Bear.
Alex Eckford spoke to Shirley Clarkson, Jeremy's mum and creator of the very first Paddington Bear soft toy.
Shirley Clarkson has revealed how Jeremy’s life would have taken a very different path if it weren’t for the cuddly toy.
“We enrolled Jeremy at Repton school, but didn’t know how we were going to pay for it,” says Shirley. “Then, just in the nick of time we started making enough money from the business to pay for his education.
“I’ve got a Paddington bear on the dashboard of my car. I looked at it recently and thought ‘if it hadn’t been for the success of the toys, Jeremy wouldn’t have had all the chances he’s had in life’.”
And her then schoolboy son wasn’t afraid to use it to his advantage.
“Oh yes, and Jeremy used to get kisses from the girls in return for Paddington Bears.”
Shirley also spilled the beans on how her son was obsessed with cars from an early age.
“Jeremy loved Dinky cars. He had thousands of them. He used to crash them into the skirting boards.”
Shirley is staying in Jeremy’s Notting Hill flat for the duration of her stay.
“I’ve just cleaned it. It was filthy,” says Shirley, smiling. “I cleaned the kitchen while he was out, and all his coffee mugs. And then I went in the bedroom to look at my outfit in the full-length mirror, took one look at the bedroom and thought ‘Oh, Jeremy!’”
But staying in her son’s flat meant Shirley would be able to spend some quality time with her son. Or so she thought.
“We were walking a hundred yards from Jeremy’s flat to a restaurant,” says Shirley. “And every few feet people were stopping him to talk to him. Later I asked him if he minded, and he said ‘yes, actually I do’. I think it’s a bit much for anyone to take.
“And then when we were in there someone must have phoned the papers, because the paparazzi were waiting for him when we left.”
And events in Jeremy’s earlier life didn’t exactly go to plan, either.
“He was expelled from school for ‘generally making a nuisance of himself. He calls it his ‘voluntary redundancy’”, says Shirley, shaking her head. “He was almost expelled once for causing some sort of explosion in a science lab. He was allowed to go back to school to sit his ‘A’ Levels, but didn’t get any. He said ‘Mum, I won’t need any, I’m going to be a TV presenter.’”
Shirley is extremely good company, an energetic 73-year-old who still enthuses about creating a classic toy (once Toy of the Year), and two children who have been hugely successful in their fields (Jeremy’s sister Joanna, pictured above with Jeremy, is a corporate lawyer).
And her pride extends to her grandchildren, including Jeremy’s three girls. Which is why she didn’t take kindly to the actions of The Stig, Top Gear’s mute racing driver.
"He frightened the life out of me," says Shirley, rolling her eyes. "He drove all of my grandchildren – all FIVE of them in the same car at the same time - round the Top Gear track at 180mph."
We’re standing by the Paddington Bear merchandise stand in the grand London train station, where, according to Michael Bond’s original stories, was found and taken in by the Bond family.
Tourists flock around Shirley when they find out she was the woman who made the original toy, and ask to have their pictures taken with her. For a moment she’s as sought-after as her famous son.
People are starting to crowd round the merchandise stand. Before I go, I ask her if all the rollercoaster ups and downs have been worth it.
"It's been a great adventure - despite having Jeremy as a son!"