Sir Jackie Stewart: ‘In another life I would have been a Beatle’
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
My personal style signifiers are Douglas Hayward suits and George Cleverley shoes. The highest part of my racing career was the ’60s and ’70s, which was a fantastic period for music and fashion. At that time I was a little bit – what would I say? – colourful, and I always had my suits made by Doug in Mount Street (he’s sadly no longer with us). It was more than a tailor’s establishment, it was where everyone met up. Michael Parkinson went there, the Rothschilds, Ralph Lauren. Doug got me into George Cleverley, and I must have about 40 pairs of his shoes. Luckily I’m the same shape and the same weight for my shoes and my suits – I’m still wearing them, so it’s been a long-term relationship.
The best car I’ve ever owned was a red ’60s E-type Jaguar. It was the most beautiful car in the world, and probably still is. Sir William Lyons created it and almost destroyed the Italian designers because it was so beautiful.
The place that means a lot to me is the Western Highlands of Scotland. Most of the time I live in Switzerland and my home there overlooks Mont Blanc and Lake Geneva, and it’s beautiful. But the Western Highlands have no competitor. When it’s up, it’s the most beautiful, and when it’s down, it’s the most threatening. Every year I still go there, usually with my sons, and just drive from the top to the bottom.
And the best souvenir I’ve brought home was a Rolex Daytona watch that I was given when I won the Monte Carlo Grand Prix in 1971. That was a big deal for me. I still have it. The other was when I did well at Indianapolis in 1966 [Stewart had to retire from the lead with nine laps to go], and the Texan, John Mecom Jr, who owned the team I drove for, was so pleased with my position on the grid that he took me to Houston and bought me a solid-gold Rolex Day-Date. I’d never had anything like that in my life at that cost, it was crazy.
The last thing I bought and loved was an evening jacket. I had an accident with my normal one. I was at Geri Horner’s birthday party, and there was a candle behind me and I didn’t see it, and it burned the backside of my velvet evening jacket. So I’ve just had a new one made by Anderson & Sheppard.
The best book I’ve read in the past year is my autobiography, Winning is not Enough, from 2007. I had never read it. I was amazed because it’s got such fantastic memories and such people in it: Queen Elizabeth II, Sir William Purves, who was the chairman of HSBC, Jim Clark and Graham Hill. As I finished it, I was several times ready for tears. I’m dyslexic and don’t read a lot – I couldn’t tell you how many books I’ve attempted to read. Alistair MacLean was a good friend, and I used to read his books. He would give me large-print editions.
The best gift I’ve ever been given was from Ken Tyrrell, when I retired from motor racing. He gave me the Tyrrell that I won my first world championship with. It was a terrible car. He said that I used to say it was like a heap of shit. So at the end of my retirement event, he said, “This is my gift to you. I know it’s a heap of shit, but it’s the best I can give you.”
My favourite song is “The Long and Winding Road” by The Beatles – of course, the winding road was part of my life. Elton John is still a favourite, and so is Pink Floyd.
In my fridge you’ll always find Mars bars.
I’ve recently rediscovered a photograph of my father. In it he’s a mature man and I think he’s just about to put his pipe down, by the looks of it. That’s my little treasure. He had a garage. My mother was the best driver of the family, but without my father there wouldn’t have been the garage. It was small and modest, but it produced my brother, who was a racing driver, and then myself. It is still in existence at Dumbarton, and I go in there every time I’m up there.
I have a collection of paintings by the Scottish Colourists, who all came out of the Glasgow School of Art, where my mother went too. I’ve also got a Landseer of Sir Walter Scott, which is a very big picture. It’s worth more than all the others put together.
I couldn’t do without my dogs. I’ve got two Norfolk terriers, Jack and Jill. I’ve had dogs for most of my life, and of course I’ve lost them, as I have my driving friends. They’ve never been forgotten and neither have my dogs. Today I get enormous strength and love from my dogs.
My style icon is King Hussein of Jordan, who I think was the greatest man I’ve ever known. And the other is unquestionably Queen Elizabeth II. The most impressive, nicest woman I’ve ever known. She came to this house [in Buckinghamshire] many times for lunch. George Harrison would be number three. He had the most wonderful brain, way beyond what people realise in that man.
I’m fussy about looking after myself and keeping myself in good shape. In the mornings I stretch for about 45 minutes. And once, sometimes twice, a year I go to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, because I think preventative medicine is better than corrective.
My biggest challenge today is to find a cure for dementia. My wife Helen was diagnosed eight years ago. I’ve got this charity called Race Against Dementia, and all over the world we’re bringing on board young PhDs and young professors from the very best medical universities to research a cure. raceagainstdementia.com
My favourite room in my house is the drawing room. When I bought the house, it was only half the size it is today. I did away with a swimming pool in order to extend it. It’s got good art in it and memorabilia. It’s very personal, and Helen loves it too.
The moment that changed everything for me was when I was told I was dyslexic [Stewart is president of Dyslexia Scotland] and that I wasn’t stupid or dumb or thick. My school life was the most unhappy time of my entire life. In a funny way, when you’re dyslexic you think outside the box, and you don’t think like the so-called clever folk. And a lot of very clever people are dyslexic because they are thinking in a different zone altogether; that’s the story of my life, for sure. Churchill, Einstein and Leonardo da Vinci were [reputedly] dyslexics; Steven Spielberg is too.
In another life I would have been a Beatle. I love music, but I don’t play myself. It’s a fantastically creative, enjoyable, pleasure-making, sometimes sad-making communicator. I’m friendly with the violinist Nicola Benedetti – to see her playing her violin like that is just a joy. Or Sinatra – I thought he was fantastic, and got to know him.
The best bit of advice I’ve been given was “under-promise and over-deliver” – from my father.