Rob and Rylan’s Grand Tour review:

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My first misapprehension on encountering Rob and Rylan’s Grand Tour was that Rob Beckett had ditched his usual TV travelling companion, Romesh Ranganathan, and paired up with Rylan Clark instead. But it quickly transpired that this “Rob” was the altogether less geezerish barrister-turned-broadcaster Robert Rinder.

The second misapprehension was this was going to be another of those mildly entertaining but generally vapid two-celebs-on-a-jaunt shows. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised by these odd-couple travelling companions.

Their relationship seemed warmer and more genuine than most purported celebrity “friendships”. Rylan – such is the power of his persona that calling him Clark doesn’t feel right – called Rinder “babe”, and they weren’t shy of a hug. And their type of “grand tour” was very different to the Jeremy Clarkson variety of landing in various locations to stage motoring challenges.

This was an attempt to recreate the cultural odyssey undertaken by aristocratic young Britons of the 17th and 18th centuries, when youthful toffs would be packed off to Europe in the company of a tutor to immerse themselves in classical antiquity and the Renaissance.

There was no doubt about who was going to be the tutor here, for as Rinder quipped about Rylan: “He doesn’t know his arts from his elbow.” Their first stopover of three (Rome and Florence to come) was Venice, where the pair’s respective roles were established as Rinder gently glided to his 16th century palazzo by gondola, while Rylan, all dark glasses and whitened teeth, roared in by motorboat.

Their first cultural immersion was the Doge’s Palace, where they were afforded a private view of Tintoretto’s enormous painting Paradise – and Rinder became quite tearful at his protégé’s appreciation. Rinder continued Rylan’s education (and indulged an apparently long-held ambition) by conducting an orchestra in Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons in the church where it was first performed.

This Pygmalion-like relationship could have become tiresome, but the roles were neatly reversed when it came to less arty activities. The series marks the 200th anniversary of the death of Lord Byron, whose escapades in Venice were more licentious than cultural. “Why should Byron have all the fun?” asked Rylan, who had already been eyeing up the passing gondoliers.

“I want to unbutton you and maybe you could just do one of my buttons up,” Rylan suggested after Rinder admitted to being uptight (“We could form the perfect shirt”, Rinder shot back). It was one of several insights into the presenters’ lives and characters. While visiting a shop selling carnival masks, Rylan admitted that his persona was a mask. “At home I’m Ross [he was born Ross Clark], while Rylan’s my job. Ross isn’t bruised… Rylan takes the battering,” he explained.

But it was Ross who took a battering in 2021, to the point of attempting suicide, he said, after the breakdown of his marriage. Rinder also underwent a painful divorce. Determined to move on, they each went on a blind date – Rinder’s date, Fabio, turning out to be a drag queen.

And having been saddened by his friend’s need for a mask, Rinder now found himself liberated when persuaded they should camouflage themselves in drag (he looked like Pauline Fowler, said Rylan, who had transformed into a dead ringer for Eurovision’s Conchita Wurst). They then joined Fabio and his friends on a sashay down to St Mark’s Square.

Far from being a cosily inclusive RuPaul-esque experience, in the atmosphere of Georgia Meloni’s hard-right governed Italy, it was a small act of defiance. “Queer life in Venice is extremely reduced,” explained Fabio – and indeed one onlooker shouted homophobic slurs. Most applauded, however. Just this one short sequence alone provided more realism than most other celebrity travelogues combined.

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