Alex Hall, the first wife of the Top Gear presenter, says his current spouse, Frances Clarkson, is the secret to his success and has “done her penance”
After 21 years in a marriage that weathered rumoured infidelities and plenty of career controversies, Jeremy Clarkson is heading for a second divorce.
In a week in which Clarkson was severely reprimanded by the BBC over alleged racist language, his wife Frances’s decision to seek a divorce will be another dent in the ego, and the bank balance, of the famously bullish Top Gear presenter.
While many women might wonder what took her so long, one in particular is on hand to offer some words of wisdom.
Alex Hall, Clarkson’s first wife, believes Mrs Clarkson “deserves every penny” of her divorce settlement, which could amount to half of his £30 million fortune.
“She’s done her penance,” said Miss Hall. “It is her hard work that has made him into the idol he is today. “Jeremy is the frontman but behind the scenes she was the swan paddling frantically beneath the surface.
“So she deserves every penny she gets – she worked for it.”
News of the impending divorce emerged yesterday after Mrs Clarkson, 52, was reportedly spotted “toasting the end of her marriage” during a holiday in Majorca with a female friend.
“Francie had a really jolly, boozy time because she is finally getting a divorce from Jeremy. All her friends have been waiting for years for her to do it and she finally has,” a source said. The couple, who have three children, are said to have been living separately for three years.
Clarkson, 54, is alleged to have struck up a relationship with Phillipa Sage, a former beautician who has worked with the Top Gear team as an events organiser. They were first spotted together in 2011 and were photographed kissing on a beach holiday in Greece last year.
Both parties remained silent yesterday, with Clarkson’s spokesman declining to comment. But the first Mrs Clarkson was on hand to dispense advice – and some surprisingly warm words towards her ex-husband.
Miss Hall married Clarkson in 1989 but their union lasted just six months before she ran off with one of his best friends.
In 1993, Clarkson married Frances and Miss Hall also married again. But she claims – in allegations denied by Clarkson – that she soon began seeing her ex-husband again in an affair spanning seven years.
Clarkson attempted to gag Miss Hall by taking out an injunction banning her from discussing him. But he dropped it in 2011 after his name was widely circulated online. Last night, Miss Hall described herself as “pragmatically detached and indifferent” about news of her ex-husband’s latest woes.
She conceded that she and Mrs Clarkson were “not friends or anything” but offered her own insights into the marriage.
“I think she had her head in the sand. So every time Jeremy said, ‘No, nothing’s going on, it’s just a bit of malarkey’, she believed him,” said Miss Hall of the alleged infidelities.
“She will have a newfound freedom now, but she became famous as a result of him and she may struggle with that. It’s not an easy thing to deal with – you are always ‘Jeremy Clarkson’s ex’.”
Miss Hall said she wished the couple “all the luck and a happy, healthy, sensible divorce”. But she added: “I don’t think he ever loved his wife – he loved me. He did say once that he never ever wanted to feel so bad ever again. So he blocked everything out.”
Clarkson made an apparent reference to his first marriage when he told an interviewer: “The worst way anyone can dump you is by going off with your best friend.”
Miss Hall, 49, who runs a company called Wacky Suits and is divorced from her second husband, says she feels “a cathartic relief” that she no longer has romantic feelings for Clarkson.
Somewhat surprisingly, given their legal history, she describes him as “a decent, loyal and honourable man”.
She also believes he has found true love with Miss Sage. “When I first saw the pictures in the paper, I knew that he had fallen in love with her,” she said.
“I think he will be very happy with her. I think he’s a serial monogamist, I don’t think he’s a fly-by-night philanderer.”
In 2010, Clarkson wrote a newspaper column about test driving a Maserati in New Zealand, with Sage in the back seat. The headline read: “Lie back, leggy Phillipa, while I have some fun.”
He has also likened her to a racehorse, joking she is “so tall she’s actually measured in hands”. Clarkson’s fortune has been estimated at £30 million. In 2012, he earned £14 million from Top Gear: £8.4 million for his stake in the company behind the programme, a £4.86 million dividend payment plus his £1 million salary.
He is also in demand on the after-dinner speaking circuit, where he can command at least £20,000 for one evening. The Clarksons have two family homes: a mansion in Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, where he socialises with David Cameron, and a converted lighthouse on the Isle of Man. Clarkson also has a flat in Fitzrovia, central London.
And then there are the cars: a 2011 report by hire car firm The City Car Club suggested Clarkson owned a stable of 12 cars including a Lamborghini and an Aston Martin V8 Vantage.
James Maguire, a divorce lawyer of James Maguire & Co, said Mrs Clarkson would be entitled to take half of her husband’s assets. “The law on divorce now works on a sharing principle which tends to be a 50-50 split,” Mr Maguire said. “With a high value case like the Clarksons, you are looking at sharing the assets. “The courts will consider the wishes of the individuals when doing this. So if he really wants to keep his extensive car collection and save it from being sold or split, then he may be able to do so if he compensates his wife for the value or buys her out.”