Saturday, August 29, 2009

Stirling Moss

Fun with my friend, Stirling Moss
By Vi Massart
European Desk
29 August 2009

Stirling Moss, British car racing great, has been in the news lately.

I thought of reviving this blog to write something about him, but where to start?

Actually, I've been thinking of writing him a card these last 10 years but haven't gotten down to doing it.

Yes, Stirling and I were good friends decades ago -- or at least I think we were, even if we didn't often meet or see each other. In fact, we would mostly call or write each other cards in the 70s and in the early 80s and that was that. But Stirling is one of those friends who never forgot to send me a card on my birthday and at Christmas for years -- even if I didn't write back -- until I moved out of the Paris addresses that he knew then.

I was having a great time in Paris and  was travelling mostly on the Continent. London was just not in my circuit of fun. But when I did visit London, Stirling would always find the time to pick me up at the hotel, invite me to lunch or to a snack, drive me around, even go shopping with me and, generally, to just be a perfectly charming host. Come to think of it, he was with me when I bought my first Jackson5 LP in one of those stalls in Piccadily! I'd also accompanied him when he picked up rent from one of the tenants of a flat that he owned. Once, I mentionned to him that I wanted to buy a Yorkie and would like to go dog shopping. The thought of visiting kennels or dog shops probably didn't appeal to him because he asked a friend of his, Paul (the family name escapes me) who he said was another British motor sports champion, to do it with me.

There were incidents while we drove around in London that were rather amusing. Because his plate number was so recognisable -- SM1 or something like that, cars would overtake us, drivers and passengers would oggle and sometimes, would peer longer at us than necessary. Stirling, understably, got peeved and hurled unmentionnables. Thinking back, I was just a teen-ager then, so perhaps, the sight of a middle-aged British car racing champ in the company of a very young woman was sort of odd that some people became a bit rude.

Stirling isn't very tall; in fact, I towered over him when I wore heels, which was often, and it became a habit to hang my arm around his shoulders when we promenaded about in London. At the time, I hadn't really grasped the enormity of Stirling's British popularity. After all, the peak of his British car racing celebrity status occurred long before I was born, hence I really wasn't conscious of people's glares as he escorted me around. Anyway, he didn't seem to mind and never complained so I too didn't pay attention. In fact, I learned  most of what I know now about Stirling's motorsports life and about the British legend after he sent me a signed biography in paperback, "All But My Life" sometime in the early 70s, followed by a copy of "Stirling Moss, My Cars, My Career" which he sent me in 1989. All I knew until then was that he was a British motorsports champion but to me, he was first and foremost, a fun friend.

But what I remember vividly is how it amused me no end to see Stirling's impatience with bad drivers on the road. Sometimes, I just had to remind him to calm down or to take it easy and not to drive too fast. He thought many London drivers were awful and he would mutter under his breath if he felt a driver was bad. Today, when my husband, who happens to be English too, is irate, spewing expletives against a bad driver, I tell him that he's just "as bad as Stirling" behind the wheel.

There was a time when during a parade exercise of the Queens Guards near Buckingham Palace, Stirling stopped the car, jumped out, ordered me to come out and to pose for a picture by the roadside with the Queen's Guards on horseback slowly trotting behind. I obeyed and posed while he clicked away but the whole 'cavalry' suddenly stopped and the commander began yelling at the top of his voice. I was startled. I asked Stirling what the screaming was all about. He gave me a wide grin and said that the commander was barking orders at the Guardmen to stop staring at me -- I felt pleased as punch. I now suspect that Her Majesty's horsemen were actually watching him more than they were watching me.

There were a few other incidents, most of them funny; in a London restaurant for instance, or at a dance at his sister's country home that he had invited me to attend with him, or that time when I visited The Daily Telegraph editorial offices in the City which will be told in another post.

Stirling and I haven't seen nor spoken to each other for a number of years but despite a series of abrupt loss of contact (mainly my fault), I would like to think he hasn't completely forgotten about me because Stirling is not the kind of person who forgets friends. You see, almost 20 years ago, or a few years years after we last had a phone chat, I rang his Mayfair home in London out of the blue to ask if I could come over to see him. I was writing for a French newspaper and had decided to do an article on him. Stirling sounded genuinely pleased to hear from me while 'complaining' that the cards he had been sending me were all returned but agreed to do the interview without any hesitation. We talked excitedly on the phone like long lost friends, asking what each of us had been doing since we last were in touch and then quickly arranged a meeting for the following week in his Mayfair home that also served as his office. I was happy to learn that like me, he had married and that his boy was the same age as mine.

I've been on the move since, but typical Bohemian me just didn't stay in touch. That said, once in a while especially during Christmas season, I promised to write or give Stirling a call, yet somehow, never got around to doing it. Thankfully, he's been getting lots of press lately that it would be quite unforgiveable of me not to make that call or to send him that card that I've been wanting to write all these years, and there's no better time to do it than before 17 September which is his birthday.

Stirling will be turning 80 but press photos show that he's aged very well. I'm glad to see that he's still nicely "on the roll"...

Goodwood Revival: Stirling Moss's happy returns

Goodwood is ready to party with a racing icon, says Andrew Frankel

The surname Moss peppers the Goodwood record books from the opening page, littering them with entries for fastest lap, pole position and, at least 20 times, victory. Sir Stirling Moss’s relationship with Goodwood is extraordinary, eerie even. In 1948, the teenage Moss won his debut race on a proper circuit at the first race meeting ever held at Goodwood, and thereafter the two created motor-racing magic until, 14 years later, the track turned on the driver and nearly killed him. Four years after that, the circuit itself was shut, apparently for good.