Interview: Leo Sayer – part one
Leo Sayer. Grammy winning, multi-million, platinum album-selling singer and recording artist needs little introduction, so let’s take you to the other side of Leo. He is a Formula 1 fan. No, I’ll correct that, he is a fanatic, much more than a friend of F1, and has been for years – since 1962 at least. He is one of the few people that have been granted a lifelong F1 pass by Bernie Ecclestone. The love he has for his music transcends to racing – and he knows his stuff – trust me! I first met Leo 20 years ago at a pub lunch with James Hunt and Ken Tyrrell. That in itself is a story (for later). This chat with him in Australia, his home now, started out as a 20-minute interview. Three hours later (and with a lot of stuff that can never be published!) I had some outstanding and unknown material, from a guy who has a passion for racing more than many involved in it today. Here is just the first part of it. Leo, Stirling Moss, Jim Clark… Read on! He sure has a thunder in his heart.
First question: What’s the best race you’ve been to?
Oh my God, that’s a really good one. I’d probably have to say when it was my 40th birthday. I was at Monaco and Bernie allowed me the luxury of a ride in the historic cars that take the drivers on a presentation lap. They stuck me in the back of this Maserati sports car and I did a lap of the track for my birthday, and they were playing my records – that has to be the best one doesn’t it? We went all the way round the track, it was glorious, with all the crowd applauding and everybody saying: “This is the great Leo Sayer,” and all that kind of bullshit!
But I think the best race that I ever saw, was Ayrton Senna’s first victory in the Lotus at Estoril in 1985. I remember standing with John Barnard at the fence and we both said, “I think we should pinch each other because we’re seeing something special here.”
You’ve just stolen my next question! Have you ever had an F1 ‘pinch yourself’ moment?
Well, yeah I think that that was the moment because I think that it was delivered with such great aplomb. But I will go further back as a retro memory. Stirling Moss had his crash right in front of us in 1962. I was a kid standing there with my dad at Goodwood.
Wow… Really? I didn’t know you went back that far in racing?
My late dad was a great motor racing fan. He tried to ride motorcycles and race them but he wasn’t very good! He had a Douglas and this was in the period after the war. It was a pre-war bike, but he took it out of mothballs and managed to race it a couple of times at Goodwood. He was absolute crap, finished near the back, but I am so very, very, proud of him. It was that kind of ‘have a go’ spirit.
He was an engineer, we were born in the grounds of a hospital, and they had all of the machine tools and the lathes that could get the bike back in order. He and his mates, they rebuilt the bike so he could go racing with it. I never actually saw him race, because he wouldn’t allow us to go to the circuit. I think he was probably in fear of something happening.
But he took us to Goodwood a couple of times when I was a kind of kid. In those days you weren’t actually supposed to get into the track because under a certain age they wouldn’t even let you in. But he managed to – probably because of his racing licence – smuggle us in.
Stirling went into a coma. I was 14. I went into a mental coma as well, I couldn’t speak to anybody because that was… he was my hero, well him and Jim Clark. I’d really got the bug by then.
What did you do next to further the bug?
When I was about 17 and at art school in Worthing, Tony Rudd ran a place called Rudd Speed. It was a garage; it was Rudd Speed’s Lotus Cortina, the saloon cars. And in those days the Formula 1 guys used to drive saloon cars and race those as well as… So if you went to an event, the star drivers were supposed to race in all of the events, which is quite right really, all the support races and everything.
Jim Clark was driving a Lotus Cortina, and of course and quite an ace at it. They had an Open Day at the garage one Saturday. I was just staring off at art school and I went down to the Open Day and it was a shitty kind of April rainy day – nobody turned up. The consequence was I got a chance to talk to my hero. He was actually very nice and he talked to me for all the two hours that he was there. I kept tossing him questions and he kept answering. It was wonderful. So I got to… I guess I kind of got to know Jim Clark.
It is a great story for a boy. You so rarely meet your heroes. The race fans these days don’t even get near them. You only get it if you’ve got the esteemed pass like I get from Bernie, which I’m very thankful and glad of but I still get my pit lane pass every year.
But, yes it is a bug!
Very special thanks to Leo for a massively entertaining three hours. This is just a fraction of our chat, and for his personal pictures. Coming soon, stories of George Harrison, Nelson Piquet, Elton John, Muhammad Ali, Bernie, and a brilliant Damon Hill one, so keep coming back!
Images: The Cahier Archive