From ‘Top Gear’ to ‘The Grand Tour’, petrolhead Richard Hammond has achieved global success with his lust for fast cars, dangerous stunts and playful banter.
But away from the cameras, the 49-year-old has maintained a secret lifelong passion for exercise which he believes has strengthened his mental health, confidence, self-respect and work ethic.
He tells RSNG why a winning combination of exercise and emotional honesty can boost men’s mental health and career success, and how he uses running to stay sharp, despite destroying his knee when he launched a $2.5 million Rimac supercar off a cliff in 2017...
RSNG When did you first discover the link between exercise and your own mental health?
RICHARD HAMMOND, GRAND TOUR PRESENTER ‘I’ve enjoyed running since I was a kid. I have lived in 20 different places, working at different radio stations and in different jobs, and wherever I have lived I have always had a 4-5 mile run that I have done as regularly as I can.’
‘Then I wrecked my knee in an accident [Hammond crashed a $2.5 million Rimac supercar when filming on a Swiss mountain in 2017] but I am a mere 49 years old and they don’t like replacing them when you are that ‘young’. So I still run once a week but the rest of the time I go to the gym.’
‘So I have always done exercise – not because I want to achieve the body beautiful; I am middle-aged, that is never going to happen – but because I am a firm believer in exercising for mental health. I am very aware of that. This is a physiological thing. Your mental health is resulting from physical effects, from what is happening is your brain and mind chemically. So it is about maintaining your physical and, as a byproduct of that, your mental health.’
‘You can’t have self-respect if you don’t look after yourself.’
RSNG What other psychological benefits do you extract from your exercise regime?
RH ‘I have always believed in the benefits to your mind, but also to everything else in your life, that comes from basic fitness. And I don’t mean about looking physically good but in terms of self-discipline.’
‘I would sometimes really beat myself up on a hard run because it is important to work hard. I tend to work pretty hard and I run a production company, and I work the team around me pretty hard. And there is no point doing that unless I am prepared to work myself hard. And sometimes developing that work ethic involves shouting at myself to run up a big hill.’
RSNG The next series of The Grand Tour sees you travel to Vietnam and Cambodia. How do you fit in your workouts around a busy filming schedule?
RH ‘That’s the bugger of it – it is really difficult because I am a morning exerciser. like to get up and run and I used to do that all the time. All I had to do was put a pair of trainers and shorts in my bag and go off.’
‘So if we had a call time to start filming at 8am, I would leave on a run at 7am. If you look after yourself you can do everything else more effectively throughout the day. So it is an important message that you are sending yourself at the start of the day.’
‘But increasingly, when we are away filming, it is an expensive business so we hit the ground pretty early. And if I get up at 4am, it is going to kill me. I like working in the States for that reason. I have done a lot of time in LA and it is great because I only half-adjust my body clock, so I go to bed early and wake up at 4am.’
‘That means I can have an hour at my computer doing emails and calling the office, and I can have a good hour to exercise, and I can still hit the road running at 6.30am for work. But sometimes when I am filming with The Grand Tour, it is impossible. We might be sleeping in a tent in the middle of nowhere.’
‘If I unzip the tent and look out and think, well, we didn’t wrap filming until late last night and we are off at 6.30am, I am not going to run around in the dark in the jungle anymore.’
RSNG You are supporting this year’s Movember campaign to raise awareness about prostate cancer and mental health, which involved dressing up as your moustached hero Nigel Mansell for a shoot. Are men getting better at discussing mental health?
RH ‘Yes, and it should all be out there and we should discuss it. And I think mental health is a fluid thing: you can be mentally healthy one day and not so well the other day. It is real and not imagined. So there is no need to be awkward about it. I talk about constantly. Once it’s talked about, you might find you have solved the issue, or if you haven’t at least you have identified the issue and you can then set about solving it. That is why blokes need to learn to be better at that.’
‘There are more and more choices facing all of us and that is fantastic because we can be who we want to be. But with all that freedom there comes the possibility that we might just sometimes be very introspective about it all and examine ourselves and be worried and not share that feeling.’
‘That is why I like the Movember project because it is based around blokes saying: it’s okay to talk about this stuff. In the pub we don’t just have to talk about football and moan about home and work. If one person opens up to their mates about a secret worry about cancer or mental health issues, that is a good thing to do.’
RSNG Do you ever discuss fitness and mental health with your long-term television colleagues Jeremy Clarkson and James May?
RH ‘I don’t want to say we all sit down in a health spa together, the three of us, and discuss it but yeah we are getting older and any bunch of blokes now will be better discussing health issues and how they feel and are.’
‘There is no down side to that. The very phrase ‘look after yourself’ is about self-respect. By definition, you can’t have self-respect if you don’t look after yourself. And if you do have self-respect, you will look after yourself because you will respect yourself. The two go hand in hand.’
RSNG Do you still have to do specific rehab exercises following your various stunt crashes?
RH ‘I am very conscious of keeping the soft tissue working around my knees so I will often spend some time doing balance exercises. I invented a rather wonderful exercise whereby I stand on one leg and stretch the other leg out behind me, with my arms out in front.’
‘So I am perpendicular to my own leg and then I dip as far as I can go on that knee. At first, my left knee, which was all broken, was all wobbly but now it is as good as my right. If that means the following weekend I manage to steal an afternoon to go for a run over the hills near where I live – with a knee support on – I now know it will hold up nicely.’
RSNG Do you follow any particular sports other than motorsports?
RH ‘I like watching rugby for pleasure. I love the fact that one player can hammer another one into the pitch but then scrape them up and shake their hands. I like the way the crowds work: as a spectator sport, it is properly sporting.’
‘If the other side pulls off an amazing move, they will clap and complement them. It is not sulky or recalcitrant or vindictive and petty like other sports. It is absolutely inclusive and wholesome and I think it is wonderful.’
WHAT NEXT? Watch Richard Hammond discuss his near-fatal crash in Switzerland.
*Richard Hammond is supporting this year’s Movember campaign. Whatever you grow will save a bro. Sign up for Movember yourself here
Comments are for information only and should not replace medical care or recommendations. Please check with your Doctor before embarking on exercise or nutrition regimes for the first time.