“I was a teenager in Australia when I heard that Stirling Moss had crashed and wasn’t expected to live. It was the leading item on the ABC news, such was his popularity down under.
“More than fifty years later, at a Goodwood Preview Day, I found myself sitting in Duncan Hamilton’s Le Mans C-type Jaguar with Sir Stirling at the wheel. Who would have believed it? Part of life’s roundabout.
“An utterly charming man, with no ‘side’ whatsoever, as were so many top drivers of his era.”
“I first wrote Sir Stirling in 1953, asking for his autograph. I still have his reply envelope – posted from London with Irish stamp I’d sent! Many mails later, Stirling invited me to Shepherd Street and wrote the Foreword to my Gordon Bennett race book. An artist at the wheel, a British gentleman in the best sense of the word. And, unlike most modern drivers, a thorough and inspirational sportsman. How privileged we were to live during his time!”
“We had launched Bodyshop Magazine’s Industry Conference and Annual Awards in 1997 and two years on, somewhat surprised at the event’s success, we decided we needed a ‘personality’ to present the awards at our new venue in Birmingham. Amazed at the charges being mooted by speaker agencies for so-called celebrities, most of whom I had never heard of, I had a brainwave and decided to call Stirling Moss.
“Moss was not difficult to get hold of as, unlike his modern-day counterparts, he was not surrounded by PR men, agents or minders and his number was in the phone book. I duly dialled and, to my surprise, got straight through to the great man himself, explaining who I was and what I wanted. ‘No problem, old boy’ he replied, quoting a fee considerably less than some of the C list celebs that had been proposed by the agencies. A deal, which included the request that we cover his first-class rail fare, was swiftly settled, Stirling insisting on forwarding his Senior Rail Card so we could benefit from the reduced fare, a nice touch.
“On the day of the event, Stirling spent the afternoon showing (or brilliantly feigning) keen interest in all our sponsor stands, chatting to our guests and patiently signing colour prints of his drive to victory in the 1955 Mille Miglia. These I had commissioned from artist James Dugdale and, with the maestro’s signature, generated several thousand pounds for the motor industry charity BEN.
“Moss had previously declined my proposal that he make a presentation about his racing career, saying he’d prefer to be interviewed. I’d never done a ‘chat show’ type interview so was understandably nervous. I needn’t have been as Stirling proved a novice interviewer’s dream, all he needed was the odd prompt and away he went, enthralling an audience of several hundred hard bitten body-repair men.
“Later, during the Awards dinner he totally charmed my wife, chatting about anything and everything but motor racing and jumping up to take her chair when she got up to leave the table. Presenting the awards Stirling took his time, engaging with every recipient and ensuring they felt special. All went so swimmingly that he missed the last train back to London but, fortunately Stirling seemed happy with my proposal that James, our then nineteen-year-old son, drove him home. Afterwards I asked James if he had been nervous having one of motor racing’s all -time greats as a passenger. He responded that Moss had slept for most of the journey but had been very friendly and even invited him to his Shepherd Street house for a coffee and comfort break before sending him on his way. Subsequently Stirling sent me a letter saying how much he’d enjoyed himself at the event, thanking James for chauffeuring him all the way back to London and praising his driving skills. James expressed surprise ‘I didn’t drive very fast, I was focused on driving smoothly so as not to disturb Mr Moss’. ‘That’ I replied, ‘is probably why he was impressed’.
“Stirling Moss and I worked together on several more occasions and he was invariably charming, professional and 100% committed. After Jo Ramirez and I competed in the 2014 Mille Miglia retrospective I mentioned how incredibly gruelling we had found the four days taken to complete the marathon and that we could not begin to imagine how, in 1955, he had covered the course in a fraction over ten hours. Incredibly Juan Manuel Fangio who came second that year, finished over half an hour behind Moss and Jenks in a time that would itself have beaten the previous race record. Stirling subsequently wrote me a delightful letter saying that in his view my four-day odyssey with Jo was equally hard. ‘Back in 1955 I did not have to worry about all those daft timed sections’. I don’t think he could have meant it, but it was nice of him to say it!”
“Stirling Moss remains the only person I have ever interviewed who has helped me on with my coat when I was ready to leave – a true gentleman.”
“I interviewed Stirling over a breakfast at the Monaco Historic sitting with others such as Alain de Cadenet, Derek Bell and Jochen Mass when I asked Sir Stirling to repeat the fascinating story about the practice sessions that went on here in the ’50s. ‘Well this circuit is a street circuit,’ he begins with a huge smile on his face. ‘You can’t just turn up and test when you want to, it is only prepared during race weekend so this is the only chance you get to learn it, and often we would be practicing through the night and we would pop into the café by the marina much to the horror of some of the residents. One elderly lady asked me, “what are you doing here making all this noise?” and I replied we were practicing and she said, “well can’t you go and practice somewhere else?”‘
By now the whole table turned to Stirling to hear the famous story and the laughter surrounding our intimate conversation had turned into a party.”
“The first time I met Moss was at a press launch in London years ago for some now-forgotten motoring product, where he was a special guest. The product was so dull only a couple of journos turned up, and after he’d done the speech he was paid for saying how great the product was he stuck around for lunch. I remember asking him whether, given the choice, he would have wanted to be a driver in any other era of motorsport – he seemed to think his own era was the best…”
“I grew up quite a while after Sir Stirling Moss had stopped racing, yet his was still the name in general currency for references to motor sport. Therefore I consider myself fortunate to have seen him drive at various events, and extremely fortunate to have met him three times.
“The first time was at some club or corporate gathering that I chanced across at a pre-restored Goodwood circuit. Moss and Tony Brooks were obviously the star attraction and were taking the 15 or so punters around the circuit for hot laps. I dashed home, banged out 3 very quick drawings and dashed back. Both men were very considerate, taking a moment from their professional duties to sign my pictures and I recall we had a short, friendly chat before I thanked them and made my exit. Although it was so long ago I still remember the feeling of having been completely at ease in their presence, there was no sense of ego or preciousness about them at all. Of course this immediately elevated both even further in my estimation.
“The second was at an almost deserted circuit, with plastered leg and crutches just after he had broken his leg falling off his moped. Me being me, I wandered up and struck up a conversation; asking what was going to happen as driving the Mercedes at the Festival of Speed in a few weeks time was being touted as one of the star attractions. His reply was ‘Well, I’ve been thinking about it and if I ask the doctor to reset my knee at a different angle I think I can twist in the seat and get down on the pedal’. I’m pretty sure we both laughed, I’m also pretty sure he was quite serious. It honestly felt like I’d simply bumped into a vague acquaintance and was stood talking about the weather, not being granted the rare opportunity of a private conversation with a hero.
“The last time was at the 2016 Goodwood Revival when, even then, he clearly wasn’t well. I had been ‘dropped in it’ by, at a moment’s notice, having to take over an afternoon of interviewing Derek Bell, Brian Redman and Sir Stirling in turn. Obviously I didn’t mind in the least but, having an hour or so with each and being completely unprepared, I was flagging a bit when I came to Moss. Thankfully Simon Taylor was with him and when he saw I was struggling started feeding questions along the lines of ‘Perhaps you’d like to know Sir Stirling’s view on…?’ I can’t have made a very good impression but he still carried gamely on and treated me with courtesy and patience until Susie, wife and guardian angel, whisked him away so he wouldn’t get too tired.
“Ninety’s not a bad age at all, its rather formidable when you consider the crash in 1962 came so close to killing him. For me Sir Stirling Moss was a legend growing up, one of those detached other worldly people you speak of excitedly or occasionally see on television leading an impossibly glamorous life – a hero. As I got know him, just a little bit, he became approachable, human, grounded and, perhaps most importantly, a thoroughly nice fellow. He remains forever a hero. RIP.”