Probably not the next blog that my followers were expecting…. Much earlier in this trip, back in Australia, I referenced the amount of reading material I had brought with me. By the time I arrive in India I need to have significantly reduced the weight of my luggage. So now I have arrived in Krabi in Thailand, the most relaxing place I could possibly imagine, it has given me the opportunity to catch up on some reading…
When I left Manchester back in mid November I spent a lot of the flight over to Australia reading SHUNT – The Story of James Hunt. I finally finished it this week – nearly two months later. It’s an epic amounting to 624 pages. Last week sitting by my hotel pool in Bangkok the American guy next to me, on seeing the size of this book, asked if I had heard of the Kindle Fire!!!
So why the interest in James Hunt? Well I have always had a fascination in him but not totally sure why. Is it because we share the same surname? It is because I remember when I was a young kid growing up watching Formula 1 and the rivalry he had with Niki Lauda? Or is it that he was an incredibly complex character? Was the fascination rekindled by the recent film “Rush” which chronicled Hunt and Lauda duelling for the Formula 1 title in 1976. I am not a Formula 1 fan. I rarely watch it on the tv. It definitely held more of an interest for me in my youth when it seemed less predictable and had amazing characters.
So to the book. Yes it’s long. At times I found it hard going. I think the editing could have been tighter – I found a number of contradictions, errors and repetitions along the way. Perhaps it could have been a little shorter. But I doubt for anyone wanting to get a real insight into James Hunt there is anything better out there.
Hunt was undoubtedly a complicated and often troubled individual. Bernie Ecclestone summed him up as “He had more facets than a diamond, which, combined with an irresistible charm, made him the most remarkable character in Formula One ever”
James Hunt died in 1993. I can’t believe its over 20 years ago. At the time of his death he was working as a Formula 1 co-commentator, alongside Murray Walker, for the BBC. He died after a massive heart attack. His heart muscles had been fatally weakened by hard drinking, smoking and recreational drug use. At the time of his death it is said he was at his happiest. He had largely gone on the straight and narrow, stopped womanising, and had a steady girlfriend called Helen Dyson. One of the saddest aspects of the story is that James had proposed marriage to Helen just before his untimely death. She is quoted as saying “I shrieked with joy when he proposed to me over the phone, and I accepted. It was the last time I ever spoke to him”,
The book is filled with some amazing stories, some of which are shocking, but nevertheless are important to understand the real James Hunt.
Some that stuck with me were…
Hunt was a womaniser. He was not faithful to any of the women that he had long term relationships with. He married his first wife, Suzy Miller, in 1974. Soon after the marriage he realised he had made a mistake and it was with considerable relief in 1976 when he discovered that Miller had begun an affair with Richard Burton whom she subsequently married.
Hunt had a lifelong fascination with budgerigars. Following his retirement from Formula 1 he took up this passion and began breeding prize budgies. There was a rather bizarre incident on a visit to a budgerigar show in Doncaster in 1989. After the show when one of Hunt’s budgies won first prize he and some of his budgerigar enthusiast friends decided to go out to a nightclub. Hunt often dressed very casually. Often he would wear jeans and no shoes for formal events and because of who he was normally got away with it. So James turned up to the nightclub wearing jeans and trainers. He was refused entry because of the club’s dress policy. An argument ensued with the doorman. A cup of coffee which the doorman was holding was flicked over him by Hunt. It could have been an accident or deliberate. The police were called and Hunt was arrested and taken to Doncaster police station. Goodness knows what the police thought about about an ex Formula 1 world champion being in Doncaster attending a budgerigar show! Well after a couple of hours he was released and not charged as the CCTV evidence was inconclusive. Hunt made a point of going to the night club to apologise. Many years later, after Hunt’s death, the CCTV footage was shown on a Channel 4 documentary about him. This caused much anguish to Hunt’s family.
After his retirement from Formula 1 Hunt began a career commentating on Formula 1 alongside Murray Walker. The two of them to begin with didn’t get on particularly well. Walker thought that Hunt was there to replace him. Over time the relationship much improved and Walker gave a very moving tribute to Hunt in a celebration of his life held 3 months after his death. Shortly before his BBC debut Hunt had a skiing accident and had his leg in plaster. At his first broadcast, in Monaco, he arrived worse for wear from drink and deeply upset Murray by resting his plaster cast on Walker’s lap for the full two hours of the broadcast. Despite all this, Hunt put on a brilliant performance in front of the microphone. Typically he would arrive for these commentaries with seconds to spare and holding a bottle of rose wine.
Several more stories I could recite but are probably not suitable for a family blog. If you want to know more buy the book or to avoid the space issues I have download it! I will be donating my copy to the library in the lounge in my Krabi hotel.