Never meet your heroes, they say. You will build them up to be something extraordinary and you’ll be left disheartened and upset when they turn out to be nothing special, or worse, a bit of an arse. So they say.
On Saturday 13th of July 2013 I met my hero. Disheartened? Upset? Not in the slightest; it was far more perfect than I could have possibly imagined and I am without doubt, a very lucky person.
Friends, family and regular readers of my writing will know of my admiration for Sir Stirling Moss and that I regard him as one of the greatest racing drivers of all time. It was with slightly teary eyes therefore, that on my 22nd birthday I read a birthday card from the man himself. My girlfriend, being as lovely as she is, had written to Sir Stirling explaining that I was a monumental fan and that it would mean the world to me to receive a birthday card from him. Respectably, he obliged. Sir Stirling had written in the card that my girlfriend had also sent him, a short message:
22, fantastic! All that time to enjoy life,
[signed] Stirling Moss
It’s my most cherished possession and will no doubt play a part in my obligation to buy an engagement ring one day but what a remarkable thing for Sir Stirling to agree to do, I had to thank him…
I bought a small Thank You card and even wrote a note inside, but it didn’t seem to convey how grateful I was to Sir Stirling. I promised myself therefore, that one day I would thank him personally.
The offer of a free ticket to the Goodwood Festival of Speed 2013 – the festival’s 20th anniversary – was perhaps the chance I needed.
The Goodwood FoS is often billed as a petrol-fuelled garden party for anybody and everybody, rich, famous, peasant or pauper. Let me tell you, the Festival of Speed is a garden party in the same way that the Le Mans 24 hours is merely a drive through the French countryside; it’s like no other garden party ever held.
I wasn’t greeted by the offer of a burnt sausage and glass of Pimms to start with, instead it was John Surtees on an elderly yet sublime motorcycle, blasting away from the start-line that was my first glimpse of what Goodwood had to offer.
Of course, Sir Stirling was in attendance too, but where?
After a brief meander through various marquees and motor homes, it was the toilets I was in search for. Leaving my belongings, including my camera, with my fellow first-time Goodwooders I headed for the facilities.
It was while jumping out of the way of a golf-buggy, escorting some VIPs, that I had my first heart palpitation; it was him! Perched on the rear seat and facing backward, smiling and waving was Sir Stirling Moss. The opportunity I had hoped for had driven up behind me and damn near run me over. But there was a crowd, a gasping huddle of admiration, and the buggy’s driver wasn’t stopping for anyone. And alas! I’d left my camera with friends; I’d have to get a picture or nobody would believe me.
Potentially, I had missed my chance.
Goodwood has more to offer than I had ever envisaged and it was while enthralled by a female guitarist performing from the roof of Goodwood House that I caught a glimpse of Sir Stirling again. The sun was glinting off the body panels of the Mercedes 300 SLR – number 658, Juan Manuel Fangio’s car from the 1955 Mille Miglia – which Sir Stirling was driving down Goodwood’s famous hill, heading for the start-line.
Naturally, and despite the sweltering heat and severely blistered feet – courtesy of some very old sandals – I ran for the start-line area, but Goodwood is bigger than I had ever imagined, too. Accidentally finding my way behind a marquee selling nothing but champagne and strawberries I was momentarily lost and worse still, on the wrong side of the track to get near Sir Stirling.
Once again, Sir Stirling had evaded me.
Somewhat disheartened, I headed for the top of Goodwood’s iconic hill, a hill which, once again, surprised me with its size – it’s a long walk up there but three ice-creams powered me through.
You pass the famous Flint Wall and head towards the woods for some welcome shade and a touch of tranquillity. Tranquil these woods are not however, for there’s a rally stage nestled in them and every minute a different off-road beast roars past with alarming ferocity.
Emerging from the woods, your eardrums having taken a beating, you’ll find the holding area after the finish line of Goodwood’s hill climb as well as the Black Rock Driver’s Club.
And there, as if waiting for me, was number 658 Mercedes, Sir Stirling still at the wheel.
The holding area atop the hill is one of very few areas of the Festival where fans cannot enter, and if I was to thank Sir Stirling personally, this was a problem.
Taking a chance, I beckoned a spectator marshal, Jamie, and explained the story of me, my birthday card and Sir Stirling. Jamie called head steward John and once again I pleaded my case for access. Remarkably, access was granted; the marshals equally as excited as I was.
I was now stood, shaking, where I shouldn’t have been, a smile from ear-to-ear adorning my face. Sir Stirling was preparing to make his way back down the hill once again as I approached.
Clearing my throat to avoid an awkward high-pitched opening line I crouched next to Sir Stirling and introduced myself – me! Introducing myself to Sir Stirling Moss, this was a big moment.
I began to remind of him of the letter from my girlfriend and the birthday card he had sent back. Sir Stirling said he remembered both the letter and the card but I was sure he was simply being just as polite and gentlemanly as I had hoped he would. But then Sir Stirling jumped in with “the card with minis and a union flag on the front wasn’t it?”
It was! Sir Stirling genuinely remembered and what’s more, it was “a pleasure to meet the person who received the card”.
A pleasure!? A pleasure for Sir Stirling Moss, my idol, my hero, to meet me!? If it was a pleasure for Sir Stirling to meet me then there simply isn’t a word for what the experience meant to me.
It was with a quivering hand that I shook Sir Stirling’s as I thanked him not just for the birthday card but for the opportunity to fulfil my promise to thank him personally.
Once Jamie, the marshal, had taken a photograph of me and Sir Stirling, I made my escape from the restricted holding area but not before my brimmed confidence and adrenalin levels saw me shake hands with John Surtees and wish him well. Well, in for a penny, in for a pound…
I had done it! Met my hero, thanked him and was in no way let down. In fact, what made the moment special was that I wasn’t just another face in a huddle of excited fans, desperate to get just a second with Sir Stirling. It was a one-on-one situation, with Sir Stirling not in suit and tie at some function but instead equipped with iconic baby-blue British Racing Driver’s Club overalls at the wheel of a unique racing car. Perfect.