Chris Evans and the charismatic denial


When Jeremy Clarkson was fired from Top Gear in March, Chris Evans was always favorite to rescue the BBC’s biggest-earning show.

At first, Evans made unequivocal statements about his lack of interest in taking over, and then announced he been had signed up to replace Clarkson.

His behaviours capture aspects of what might be called the charismatic denial.


Jeremy Clarkson’s high-speed career had crashed spectacularly. You might say he had been building up penalty points on his license to perform, even while he was transforming the BBC’s Top Gear TV programme into a global hit, transmitted to over 200 countries. Multiple controversies and his persona of the superstar petrol-head were essential elements in a show which was brilliantly filmed and produced.

The final penalty points came with a late night assault on a colleague. (I wrote punch-up in my first draft, first, but reports suggested that the injured party had not retaliated to the unexpected violent outburst).

The BBC was facing threats of losing its funding from public subscriptions in the upcoming General Election. Its dilemma might be seen as the risk of losing financial revenues or risking a political storm at a sensitive time.

Something had to be done

However reluctantly, The BBC announced a hiatus on broadcasting the show, after which Clarkson’s  contract was not going to be renewed. Chris Evans was among the mooted candidates for his replacement.

Evans was quickly installed as favourite. His successes as a TV personality suggested he was capable of moving Top Gear on. Like Clarkson, he is regarded as a charismatic figure. He also has an enthusiasm for the show, fast cars, and for engaging in high-profile media stunts. He had been a prodigious young broadcaster who created a series of TV hits such as The Big Breakfast, Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush, and TFI Friday. Success was interspersed with chaotic private life and assorted dismissals and comebacks.

The denial

Shortly after the announcement that Clarkson would be stepping down, Evans dismissed rumours he would take over, tweeting: ‘I can categorically say I am not and will never be running for office. Please discount my candidacy’ [Subsequent statements confirmed he was referring to replacing Jeremy rather than taking over from Ed, Nick, or David as a future candidate for leader of one of the country’s political parties].

Undeniably Chris Evans

On June 16th, 2016 there was a dramatic ‘undenial’. Chris Evans confirmed that he would be taking over from his friend Clarkson.

His first tweet as new Top Gear host was: “I would like to say Jeremy, Richard and James are the greatest. And NO I’m not leaving the R2 Breakfast Show”.

He could not have planned a better way of breaking the story.

Charismatic denial

Is this the action of a compulsive liar, or an untrustworthy rapscallion, or just an example of the fantasy world of show-business? I would like to offer another explanation.

The denial took place in that special world created by charismatics. It should be interpreted as a belief expressed by a charismatic and as such should not be examined by applying truth-tests of rational logic.

“I never had sex with that woman”

“I don’t want to become Prime Minister”

“I can categorically say I am not and will never be running for office. Please discount my candidacy”

“The world is coming to an end at noon tomorrow”

A charismatic assertion is grounded in expressed beliefs. This works particularly well for influencing followers, in the context of politics, marketing, or before going into battle . The language is sometimes inspirational.

My suggestion is that a statement made with absolute conviction is always open to scrutiny for its context. We might be advised to accept the statement as having the truth expressing the belief system rather than one likely to survive subsequent events.


Image from organicommunication files

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