Sad to hear the news that F1’s foremost commentator Murray Walker has died. They’ll be lots of great tributes so I won’t try and compete. But I thought I’d share a memory.
At my mobile network company Cellnet (now O2) we were heavily involved in motorsport sponsorship in the early days so we came across Murray a few times. One event was nothing to do with our activity. For some reason our joint parent company BT sponsored a weekend’s F1 clay pigeon shooting event at Gleneagles (actually I now remember they had a mobile phone deal with the event host Jackie Stewart and he’d cajoled them in) and they’d invited us to get involved ie cover some of their costs. Umm. The reality was not much benefit marketing wise but for a fledgling motorsport sponsor it was a decent chance to make some great contacts. We could have two attendees, which turned out to be Carol and I (thanks Brian!) and I’d been led to believe one of us(ie me woo hoo) would be doing some shooting alongside the members of an F1 team. Cool.
So we all met up at Heathrow and it was my first meeting with the Marketing head of BT Mobile, S, who was a tremendous chap and who’d later become my boss for a time at Cellnet. And I have to say one of the v best in a cluster of crap bosses. With him was his wife J and their beautiful baby daughter Katie. We hit it off as a family group straight away. Which was just as well because all around were F1 people. And they weren’t terribly talkative. Quelle surprise.
Quiet flight, where we took the chance to get on with S&J. We got off the plane at Edinburgh airport and boarded a coach to take us up to Glenagles. Loads of F1 guys in the first few seats so we took a decision to sit with S&J and the baby on the back two row of seats with all the baby gear. Good choice because it filled up quickly before us. Then Murray W and Benetton driver Alessandro Nannini clambered to the rear and joined us on the back two rows.
It was a quiet start to the journey until we started to cross the Forth Bridge then Murray turned to Nannini and said ‘Sandro this is the greatest piece of road engineering in Britain, have you anything to tell these lovely people (ie us) if you have anything to compare with it in Italy?’ It was a challenging little question which Nannini couldn’t reply to immediately. But after a few moments thought he said in broken English that there were many fantastic bridges in beautiful Italia but none we’d probably heard of. He asked us if we were civil engineers. No of course not, said Murray, just team sponsors. No worries he said and started chatting away ten to the dozen. We had a very illuminating and amusing chat for an hour or so with an F1 driver and major BBC commentator talking about nappies, babies F1, Scotland, bridges, Italy, tyres, shooting, the Highlands, golf etc.
You know what, once he started a conversation Murray was happy to sit to one side, then see how things developed. And the same thing happened over the weekend time and again. He was a great conversation opener. He never tried to grab the spotlight. He knew these F1 guys closely but, if he liked you, he just wanted to open a chat.
I loved him for this.
Here’s a thing though; it became v clear over the first few moments of the shooting activity day that our role as sponsor was simply to watch the team, not participate. V annoying, frustrating and boring. The weather was also appallingly bad too. We’d have to support them from the sanctum of the Gleneagles Hotel spa. Rested we attended the dinner and it was just unbelievable as we were the personal guests of the Tyrrel F1 team. The great Ken Tyrrel was across from me and we chatted non-stop all night. We had a proper fab night with the ream..
Later, after C had headed to bed, S and I went downstairs to check out the snooker tables. Who was playing? Only Mark Knoppfler. He and his partner were taking forever to complete their table and after a lot of huffing and puffing we suggested a re-rack. Fuck off was their 1.15am reaction. Hey ho. We beat them on the re-rack.
I think Murray would have quietly appreciated this front row challenge. What a fucking spokesman