Interview: Sir Jackie Stewart

My grandfather was a gamekeeper, so I was brought up with a rod and a gun,’ says Sir Jackie Stewart, F1 World Champion in 1969, 1971 and 1973, winner of 27 grand prix (a career record at the time) and one of the top 10 drivers of all time. And as if the world of the podium were not enough, he made a hugely successful international business career, and went on to build Stewart Grand Prix in 1997, starting an F1 team from scratch that managed to secure second place at Monaco in only five months, and won a grand prix in less than three years. It’s an extraordinary transition for the ‘wee lad from Dumbuck’. He left school at 15 with no qualifications, and served petrol in his father’s garage at the junction between Loch Lomond, Glasgow and Helensburgh, but ended up as a shooting star in all senses.

The young Jackie Stewart made his first name in clay- pigeon shooting, representing Britain at 19, and shooting 100 straight time after time. ‘The University of Shooting served me well. The Scottish Shooting Team was a 30-man team. In those days, 23 of them were gamekeepers or farmers who lived with a gun in their hands. The etiquette was very strict. My grandfather, for example, would never wear a cap out shooting, but a soft hat, because he was head keeper, not an under-keeper. Such things were not merely affectations, but manifestations of underlying order and respect. I was brought up knowing what those real values are, and what good manners are. ‘When I became a success in racing, I got invited to many private shoots. They’d heard, usually distantly, that I shot. It was a matter of: “Oh, let’s have Jackie Stewart. He shoots, doesn’t he?” I think they thought I’d turn up in racing overalls with a Winchester 5-shot pump gun. They were rather surprised that I knew the difference between a cock and a hen.’ Sir Jackie began fishing aged nine with a spinner in the Spey. ‘We had long holidays near Aberlour. It was a magic place.

The best times were the last two weeks of May, standing in a fast-flowing river, when the fish would come up still with the sea lice on their fins. And I have to say,’ he says, laughing, ‘I’ve never fished for anything else but salmon.’ As a young man, he went stalking three or four days a week, ‘only for poor stock. I’m proud to say that I’ve never shot a royal in my life’. Sir Jackie an astute businessman is confounded by a Government that has ‘no understanding of country life or its economics. If you took out country sports and the agriculture created for them, the economy would be devastated. It’s difficult for an urban society to appreciate this. But listen to the ghillies and keepers: they’re wise people whose understanding goes far beyond the slick and superficial. Their values,as did those of my parents, created strong foundations for me.’

And perhaps it’s those foundations that led Sir Jackie to one of his greatest achievements, cementing his knighthood, as champion of the crusade to make motor racing safer. Standing up to hostile vested interests, Sir Jackie initiated the boycott of the world’s two most prestigious circuits (the Nürburgring and Spa-Francorchamps) and instituted the measures that have obviated many deaths. ‘Between 1963 and 1973, we lost 57 drivers. In one year alone, we lost a driver every single month. F1 drivers today have no idea what that was like. To go through that, to accommdate the grief, to assist those most grieved the wives, the children, the parents is something of which other sports cannot conceive. Racing is still dangerous: Concorde took off at 250mph and we’re driving close to that. But now we have the highest levels of risk-management, it’s more than 13% years since a driver was killed.’ Small wonder that Sir Jackie’s autobiography is entitled Winning is Not Enough. ELUNED PRICE ‘Winning is Not Enough’ is published by Headline, £20