Interview: Leo Sayer – Part 2
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. If you ask for his opinion of F1, you will be there for hours. His simple answer should be one of his song titles: “I Can’t Stop Loving You”…
He is one of the few people to 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! Here Leo talks about a teenage motorcycle courier who went on to become a good friend and world champion, and the self-obsessed world of Formula 1 where the boundary is the paddock fence, and beyond that fence is the real world
Racing is a small world, and when a teenaged motorcycle courier delivered some urgent equipment to Leo Sayer’s recording studio in London in the mid-80s, Leo had a double take at the eyebrows under the guy’s crash helmet…
“I had a picture in my studio,” recalls Leo. “I was waiting for some equipment, and this young messenger turns up with it on his bike. He didn’t take his helmet off, just came in for me to sign for it. He saw the picture on my studio wall – it was of Graham Hill – and all he said was ‘nice picture’.
“I kind of looked at his eyes, these dark eyes underneath the visor, a bit like my mate George Harrison, dark, shrouded eyes. He was looking at the big poster on the wall in the entrance to my studio. It was Graham… his dad.”
Yes, post Haberdashers’ School, pre-racing, Damon Hill was one of those nutters that sped across London on motorcycles delivering urgent packages trying to raise a budget to race first bikes and then Formula Ford. Leo reconised the eyebrows straight away.
“I said to him, ‘You’re Damon aren’t you?’ He answered, ‘How did you guess?’ He took his helmet off and it was Damon. I kind of recognised him and he said – stating the obvious: ‘That’s my dad.’ All I could say was: ‘Absolutely blinding.’”
From there the guys got chatting. Whoever was next on Damon’s urgent delivery list was going to have to just damn well wait!
Leo continues the story. “Damon said, ‘I heard you are a motor racing fan but I didn’t believe it much.’ I said, “Well, it’s great,” and then told him about the encounter I had with his dad, which was extraordinary. Graham Hill was driving a Lotus. It was at Brands Hatch, I can’t remember the year. He spun off after about 11 laps or so right in front of me. He climbed over the barrier because he dumped his car right there. It was at Druids, and he clambered off to be, well his usually grumpy and sulky self – he was a very bad tempered man.
“I followed him. Quite honestly, I was 20 years old or so, and this just shows what a sheltered life I’d lived. When he threw his helmet into the back of a Ford Zodiac that he found at the top of the hill, I said, ‘Mr Hill, Mr Hill, can I have your autograph?’ And he told me to f**k off!! I’d never heard any language like that [laughter]. It was a real baptism of fire. He just shut the door and drove off.
“You can learn a lot from motor racing drivers I think. There is a right time and a wrong time to approach someone, as a fan or a writer. But if you are the guy in the spotlight you have to respect that sometimes others have a job to do too.
“It’s like in football, isn’t it?” he continues. “It’s a bit like approaching Sir Alex Ferguson after the referee has served a decision against him.”
Leo’s rock world and the racing worlds may, to us, seem to be poles apart, but really at the end of the day, it’s entertainment for a fan base, a small travelling circus that puts on a show – and people trapped in their own worlds.
“I think the amazing thing about motor sport is the people involved in it,” Leo continues, “all the way from the photographers, the journalists, the teams – everybody becomes terribly single-minded and not very worldly outside of it.
“It’s a marvelous world-within-a-world and yet it doesn’t really serve up much objectivity about itself, which I think is kind of extraordinary.
“It’s a little bit like asking a NASA space pilot to sew a badge with a needle on a shirt. It just can’t be done. “
Very special thanks to Leo Sayer, and there is still plenty more where that came from to put a smile on your face through the year, so keep coming back.
Photos The Cahier Archive http://www.f1-photo.com/. Getty Images. Himbletonian. LeoSayer.com