by Princess Ceril Birabongse
Published by Veloce, £9.99. ISBN: I 901295 48 6
“People were becoming intrigued by the idea of a rich oriental prince arriving in his Rolls-Royce or Bentley, dressed in Siamese silk overalls dyed specially to match the colour of his cars, and receiving pit signals in Siamese.”
The words are penned by Princess Ceril Birabongse, for over a decade the wife of Prince Birabongse of Siam, the grandson of King Mongkut of The King and I fame, and in the 1930s one of the most charismatic racing drivers in the world.
The daughter of London socialites, Ceril met Bira at a party when she was aged just 17. Her book traces the turbulent years that followed that meeting, when the Prince juggled his burgeoning racing career with his fervent courtship of the young British girl.
A mixture of first-hand account and fascinating personal letters written to Ceril by Bira, his greatest friend, cousin and team manager `Chula’ and other members of their entourage, the book is a revealing insight into the privileged lives of London’s high society during the inter-war years. Of greatest interest to the MOTOR SPORT reader will be Bira’s frequent letters to his sweetheart penned from circuits across the globe, often on the morning of, or straight after, a race. His description of his voiturette victory at Monte Carlo in 1936 illustrates perfectly the young Prince’s modest attitude to his increasing success:
“… three laps before the finish the erratic Villoresi came up behind me again. When I looked in my mirror I saw him mounting the sandbags and his two front wheels lifted up like a circus horse. I came flashing by for the last time with everything ready to receive me… and the crowd! The chequered flag came down and I won! Dearest, in spite of all this dream you can rely on me that I am just your dearest Bira and nothing else.”
First published in 1992, this revised edition is illustrated with a selection of the Princess’ private photo archive. While no blockbuster, it comes comes recommended to those with memories of pre-war racing or who wish to know about the amateur racers who made the sport what it is today.