Everybody who knows anything about motor racing knows the name of Stirling Moss, the first real professional motor racing driver. During the twelve years that he raced, he was runner-up in the World Championship four times, often driving inferior cars, but he was never the winner. He also championed the cause of the British motor racing industry, often preferring to drive a British racing car whenever possible.
On his 90th birthday, we chatted to Val Pirie, the author of the newly-published book Ciao, Stirling, which offers a new insight into the life of his extraordinary man, and their close friendship.
Read on for more!
Hello, Val! In your own words, tell us what your book is about.
No-one knows what Stirling was really like when he wasn’t racing, or what he did after the accident that put him out of racing. There is a plethora of books about his racing, but nothing about his life behind the scenes, or what he did after he had to give up the only way of life that he knew. He had few real friends and unfortunately, most are now no longer around.
Stirling is one of the nicest, most honest people in the world but he has always been rather shy and no-one can appreciate just what a kind, caring, yet sometimes infuriating person he is!
We all have our foibles, and Stirling is no exception. He has chosen his few friends with care over all the years that he has been in the public eye. He is a private person and I only hope that I have done full justice to my best friend and mentor.
What made you want to write the story of what Stirling Moss is like?
None of his family have fully understood why we were - and are - such close friends. We have stuck up for each other through thick and thin, and continue to do so.
He is my best friend and I felt that people should know about him as a person.
When I first joined Stirling Moss Ltd, there were two camps: Moss and Hawthorn. (i.e. those who thought Mike was the greatest and did not like Stirling and vice versa). They were liked and loathed in equal measure and I wanted to put the record straight because no-one, apart from Stirling's friends, actually knew the real Stirling Moss and what made him tick. In fact, when people used to accost me and say that they didn't like Stirling Moss, I would always ask them if they had met, or knew, him.
They hadn't and didn't!
What was Stirling like to work for?
A perfectionist! What else can I say? Living up to the expectations of a perfectionist is always difficult, particularly when you were supposed to be a mind reader - even though one was 'never paid to assume'!
To say it was a challenge would be quite an understatement!
What was your favourite part of the job?
I didn't look at it as a job: more of a rollercoaster.
One had to be prepared to do anything at the drop of a hat. This certainly taught me to look after my own affairs later on in life, but it also made me into a workaholic, which I still am today as an octogenarian!
What’s your favourite anecdote about working for Stirling?
There are several, because we rushed around all over the place as the job took on different aspects but I suppose doing things on the spur of the moment were the most memorable, because Stirling normally used to plan ahead with the utmost detail. Acting off-the-cuff was unusual! The only time I had to sign his name on official documents, along with him signing a similar stack of documents, simply amazed me, as did 'hitch-hiking' in the East End of London and acting like naughty schoolchildren afterwards, the driver being completely unaware of who he was transporting, were the first to spring to mind but there are many others mentioned in the book.
What’s your writing process like? How long did it take you to write the book?
It actually did not take me very long in terms of writing but, because I am such a busy person, it took longer than I would have liked. It probably took longer dealing with the publishers!
I first started writing it on my knee when I was travelling. I even scribbled around the type on the front pages of newspapers, which I then transcribed onto a document when I had time!
Writing about things that happened so long ago, when things - and London - were so very different was great fun. As were the people of the day. London was like a village, which is more than one can say of it today. According to Stirling, though, it is still the centre of the world!
Are you planning on writing another book after this?
Yes, but not a biography.
I have had the outline of a children's story in my mind, which my daughter has been asking me to resurrect, for ages and I have thoughts about another fiction book as well.
It is difficult to know which one I will pursue first or whether either will be printed but it is good to keep one's mind occupied and one's fingers doing something other than housework!
Do you still watch motorsports?
Only if I have to!
Thank you, Val!