Step forth and judge me, for I am a hypocrite. Only recently was I guilty of passing a book shop and questioning the thought process of the vast crowd gathered outside, waiting impatiently to get the latest biography or cook book signed by the author. I couldn’t quite see the point; a two-second meeting with the author while they scribble over your new book and shove you to one side for the next punter. Hadn’t these people got anything better to do?
I digested my slice of humble pie whilst queuing outside a branch of Waterstone’s, waiting impatiently to get my latest purchase scribbled on. More than that it was an opportunity to have a two second meeting with the author, an author who just happened to be the Formula One World Champion of 1992: Nigel Mansell. Cue giddy excitement.
I waited alongside fellow ‘Mansellites’ and watched the throng of people walk by, many surely wondering if we hadn’t got anything better to do. I hadn’t.
The man himself sat at a small wooden table, smiling politely as each well wisher shoved his book under his nose and congratulated him on his successes. In the queue, hushed tones repeated the words “he’s grown his moustache back!”. Cue more giddy excitement.
The queue folded back on itself several times and I edged nearer to the door, nearer to Nigel. Then panic; what would I say to him!? My habit of saying something stupid to famous people is well known; I once blurted in a high pitched voice “I like your hair!” to Diana Vickers, she who finished fourth on the X-Factor some years ago. I made a fool of myself and she hadn’t even raced in Formula One, let alone become champion. I couldn’t tell Nigel Mansell that I liked his hair, I have no opinion on his hair whatsoever, I couldn’t lie to him.
I was next, caught off guard still thinking about Diana Vickers and wondering if she remembers me. I stepped forward nervously, should I bow or curtsey or something? Nigel said “Hello”, I said “Hello Nigel”. A good start I thought. His hair looked fine but I resisted the urge to comment.
In a flash, my rendezvous with Nigel was over. My new book was now worth a couple quid more and I walked away with a grin; I had met a hero, shaken his hand, cheekily suggested it was time he made a comeback – again – and not mentioned anything about his hair or blurted anything equally ridiculous. At no point did I drop to the floor and scream “I’m not worthy, I’m not worthy”, although I felt such an act wouldn’t be out of the question.
I left, clutching my book proudly as I overheard two men passing the shop window. “Who’s that?”, one asked the other. “Some old guy signing a book”, replied the other ignoramus.
I almost felt deflated; ‘Some old guy!?’, I thought. ‘That’s Nigel Mansell! He’s even grown his moustache back!’.
Lewis Hamilton may be all the rage at the moment while few people dislike Jenson Button and ask most fans to name their favourite British champion and I’d bet a signed Nigel Mansell autobiography that most will offer the name James Hunt. But it was Mansell who represented Great Britain during the most ferocious and visceral era Formula One has ever known. During which time he won races, raced wheel-to-wheel with the likes of Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost and Michael Schumacher. His admirers, myself very much included, see him as one of the finest attacking drivers in the history of motorsport. His critics thought of him as fiery and impetuous, capable of brutality; a risk taker. His rivals speak of him with respect, the kind that is tinged with fear – the Italians referred to him as ‘Il Leone’, The Lion, not solely because he raced with true heart but because of his ferocious abilities at the wheel of a racing car.
Through heartbreak, Mansell became the people’s champion; a blown tyre at the Australian Grand Prix of 1986 saw him lose the world title, but win the hearts of many. Later, through utter domination he became World Champion. He even conquered America…Diana Vickers hasn’t come close! Just ‘some old guy’? I hardly think so.
An entire Formula One season can pass before I finish reading a book, so distracted do I get by televised motorsport, the allure of food or the amusing antics of my neighbour’s cat, so I can’t pass a fully formed judgement on ‘Staying on Track’, Mansell’s book, just yet. It is sure to be a thriller, mirroring the career of the man himself. Buy it.