As one of the hosts of the BBC's popular, long-running car show Top Gear, Chris Harris is grateful but, in his earliest days in the job, he was also miserable.
Harris acknowledged on Tuesday that when he started as a regular on the show in 2016, he caught a lot of flak from its devoted following. They were unhappy that he was one of the people replacing Top Gear's original hosts, which included its creator, Jeremy Clarkson. After Clarkson was dropped from the show in 2015, his co-hosts followed him out.
"Once a population wants to hate something, you're in trouble. And I've never experienced hate like it," Harris told the Jonny Smith Late Brake Show. "I have to be honest with you, it was tough. It was brutal, properly brutal."
Top Gear presenters through the years
Top Gear presenters through the years
Top Gear presenters
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Matt LeBlanc, Chris Harris, Rory Reid, The Stig and Aurora Mulligan at the Top Gear preview launch of series 25 in London, England.
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(Left to right) Andrew 'Freddie' Flintoff, Paddy McGuinness and Chris Harris with a Porsche 911 GT2 RS and an Aston Martin DBS Superleggera at Billingsgate Market, London as they are revealed as BBC Top Gear's new presenting line-up, taking over the helm from Matt LeBlanc whose final series will air in early 2019 on BBC Two.
Top Gear America, with William Fichtner, Tom Ford and Antron Brown - Marche international des contenus audiovisuels du 16-19 Octobre 2017, Palais des Festivals, Cannes, France.
Exhibition MIPCOM (International Market of Communications Programmes) at Palais des Festivals et des Congres, Cannes (Photo by Lionel Urman/Sipa USA)
Top Gear presenter Chris Evans arrives at a press conference during the launch of the car show at Dunsfold Aerodrome in Surrey, as it returns to BBC Two on May 29 at 8pm.
Top Gear presenters (left to right) Chris Harris, Rory Reid, Sabine Schmitz, Eddie Jordan and Chris Evans arrive for a press conference during the launch of the car show at Dunsfold Aerodrome in Surrey, as it returns to BBC Two on May 29 at 8pm.
Top Gear presenter Eddie Jordan answers media questions during the launch of the car show at Dunsfold Aerodrome in Surrey, which returns to BBC Two on May 29 at 8pm.
(Left to right) Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May during Clarkson, Hammond and May Live, the first of three days at The O2 for the former Top Gear team.
File photo dated 26/1/2011 of Top Gear presenters Richard Hammond (left) and James May who selling twelve motorcycles.
Jeremy Clarkson leaves his home in London, as he laughed off his latest controversy telling reporters he was "just off to the job centre" after the BBC suspended him following a row with a Top Gear producer.
EMBARGOED TO 0001 WEDNESDAY MARCH 11 Pint-sized versions of TVÕs famous Top Gear presenters, Little Clarkson (centre) - Luc Hutter, 11 years old, Little Hammond (right) - Oliver Cater, 10 years old, Little May (lack left ) - Mackenzie Batey-Gray, 11 years old, watch the Little The Stig (driivng), conduct a special test drive at the LEGOLAND¨ Windsor Resort in Berkshire, this week as the Resort reopens its world famous LEGO¨ City Driving School for the 2015 season.
EDITORIAL USE ONLY A 9-metre high statue of the Stig which has been created by BBC Worldwide, departs the Top Gear track in Dunsfold, Surrey, for Warsaw in Poland, where it will be erected to mark the launch of new global channel BBC Brit.
Undated file photos of The Stig (left) and Ben Collins. The High Court today refused to grant a temporary injunction preventing the revelation of the identity of Top Gear's The Stig.
Motor Sport - Rockingham Speedway Opening - 26/5/01
BBC's Top Gear presenter Tiff Nedell before driving in the opening round of the ASCAR Championship
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The BBC Top Gear presenter Tiff Needel races down the hill in the Soapbox Challenge at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. The three day Festival at Goodwood near Chichester, West Sussex is a carnival for motor mad fans to get close to famous and classic cars. * ... just one week before the British Grand-prix at Silverstone. (Photo by Chris Ison - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images)
LONDON - JANUARY 22: TV presenter Quentin Wilson arrives at the '2004 TV Moments Awards Ceremony' at BBC Television Centre on January 22, 2005 in London. The awards celebrate the best and worst moments of the past televisual year. (Photo by MJ Kim/Getty Images)
Tony Mason (former rally co-driver and former BBC Top Gear presenter) at The Royal Automobile Club (Photo by Nick Potts/PA Images via Getty Images)
Sir Stirling Moss and his wife Lady Moss with Tony Mason (former rally co-driver and Top gear presenter) (Photo by Nick Potts/PA Images via Getty Images)
Angela Rippon steps back to yesteryear for 'Top Gear', the first of a series of 10 programmes to interest all road users which is broadcast on BBC TV on Thursday, July 13th. *PNR
Noel Edmonds, the television personality and host of BBC's Noels House Party. Circa, 1990. (Photo by Bryn Colton/Getty Images)
TV Presenter Julia Bradbury, guest speaker at the Sandringham Women's Institute, arrives at West Newton Church Hall, near Sandringham, Norfolk before the visit of Queen Elizabeth II.
Perry Mccarthy, Louise Goodman, Damon Hill, Deborah Meaden, James Martin, Phil Spencer, Vicky Butler-Henderson, Mark Blundel, Derick Warrick, Nick Mason, Luther Biisset, Amir Khan, Paul Sackey And Austin Healey Attend 'The Circuit' A Charity Based Race By Nspcc At The Bedford Autodrom. (Photo by John Phillips/UK Press via Getty Images)
Harris insisted that he's someone used to taking some insults, but this was on another level.
"I've got thick skin but if you're waking up every day to hundreds of direct messages from people just going, 'You're shite, you're not Jeremy, you're whatever...," he said.
"And I, when that first season broadcast, I thought four or five episodes in, I've made up my mind, I'm not doing this anymore, let's stop immediately, because I can't do this. I can't handle the abuse. The show isn't as good as I wanted it to be, and it was tough. And then I realised I couldn't walk away from it, because I'd pretty much committed career suicide."
(His comments start about 16 minutes into the conversation.)
Harris said some supporters of the YouTube show that he'd operated before the TV staple thought he'd sold out. So he felt like he didn't have much choice in what to do next; Top Gear had to work.
Happily, it did, but it took some time. It was painful.
"It just broke me down. People that know me know I'm a pretty tough cookie, but after a while... It catches you at a bad moment," Harris said. "If a few other things in your life go south, then the abuse — and it is abuse, it's not criticism — by the time people are just sending you messages, not even on the back of content, just saying 'you're a prick, you've ruined Top Gear for me, I'll never forgive you,' once they're doing that, that is abuse."
Sometimes, Harris said, he was able to overlook hateful comments. It really depended on his mood, whether he was in a good place. And he continues to field them.
"But when you're sat there with a glass of whiskey one night, 'oh woe is me,' and you read the messages...," he said. "So I did pick up the phone, go and see someone, and I had to sit down. And ya know what, I'm still doing that now. Not because I'm in a really bad place, but because I need it because it's relentlessly negative."
Harris said he still loves what he does.
"But I'll never be able to reconcile the fact that it's a show about cars that generates so much hate," he said.