The greatest party that never happened...

”Imagine this: your greatest heroes and closest friends, both past and present, brough together around a dream dinner table letting the conversation – and stories – flow. Who would you chose? Well, for me, it’s a guest list of some of the most wonderful people I’ve known – and one I’d have liked to have known…”

JUAN MANUEL FANGIO Five-time champion, the ultimate driver and gentleman

He was my hero. I saw him racing, and then I got to know him even though we never spoke the same language. Fangio carried the sport of motor racing well beyond his driving skills, with a dignity and style like no other.

His funeral was colossal, in a little town in the Pampas. The whole country was in mourning. I know that happened for Senna, but not in the manner it was for Fangio, so many years after his career — I mean, he didn’t die as a racing driver like Senna, he was 84…

I’ve always said one of the most important things I’ve ever done is carry Fangio to his last resting place. When we carried the coffin into the town square from the museum, where he was lying in state, the whole place was packed. And when we came out there was absolute silence. Then someone started to clap, and everybody in the place suddenly applauded. It was an amazing experience, everybody was affected by it because it was so spontaneous, there was no choreography involved.

It was quite a long way to the cemetery, where he was buried in a family tomb. We had to carry the coffin a minimum of 300 metres and it was not easy walking. I had forgotten it was their winter and I didn’t bring a coat. Luckily it was a good day, but it was cold. Kids, everybody of all ages, just wanted to touch the coffin. And then there was his illegitimate son, beautifully dressed in a camel-hair coat — and the family wouldn’t let him in the tomb. When everybody dispersed he was still there. I knew who he was because somebody had pointed him out. He was standing there alone — and I took him into the vault because the family had moved off.

Fangio, for me, was the ultimate driver. He didn’t come to Europe until he was 39. And yet he accomplished everything that the sport should reflect: the way he was, his way of living.., the way he drove racing cars. I saw him race at Silverstone and Aintree, where I attended practice but not the race in 1955, the year of Mercedes domination. In those days anybody could get in the paddock, and there he was as stylish as hell — with a coat over the shoulders, no arms through the sleeves!

PETER USTINOV Actor, writer, satirist, gentleman and friend

I got to know him very well because he was a great enthusiast of motor sport. When Helen and I went to live in Switzerland he lived in the next village. He came for dinner a lot, and the boys loved him.

He was the ultimate conversationalist. Peter was a very keen observer of the sport, did the gramophone record The Grand Prix of Gibraltar, spoke something like seven languages and was so modest.

He was a great man. Being an enthusiast of the sport, he would have been a reader of Motor Sport. He did an impression of me commentating in America! That was his party piece when he came to the house — and his dog impersonations were unbelievable. He could imitate a dog — any dog — immediately. And he could talk about any subject. He was such a learned man, and carried huge influence wherever he travelled.

In the world of dinner parties Peter Ustinov would have been in pole position — whether it was with royalty or whether it was with petrolheads. He never changed, whoever he was with. IN)

KEN TYRRELL One of the most important people in my life

Ken was he most down to earth person I have ever known: totally practical, not scholastic in any way. But probably one of the best motivators of people, and by that one of the great leaders in our little world of motor racing. And he knew he was in a little world, and that outside of that little world was not his. So he kept to what he knew.

You wouldn’t get a lot of big conversation, although he would talk politics and of course cricket. I remember once at Brands Hatch, a circuit I hated because it was so bumpy and none of my cars ever worked there (the only one that ever did, for me, was the Ferrari P4 I drove in 1967 and that was purely down to Mauro Forghieri. Every other car, whether it was a Tyrrell, whether it was a March — God strewth — or a Matra, I never felt comfortable). On this occasion, I came round and was going on and on about this car, having only done a warm-up lap. Ken gave me one of his ‘froth jobs’. He got hold of me and said ‘you think you’ve got trouble! England are such-and-such all out!’ What? What’s that got to do with it?!

I’d describe Ken as a long-term man. Look how long people worked for him. He was so loyal to his people and despite keeping to what he knew, he loved conversation. So for him to be at dinner with Ustinov or David Niven, he would have loved that. He would have been in awe of them, but he would’ve wanted to participate — and he would have interrupted!

GEORGE HARRISON So much more than just a Beatle…

One of the great enthusiasts, one of the nicest men. He also had one of the biggest brains that I’ve had the pleasure of being around. People might say ‘you can’t be serious, he was just a singer in The Beatles’. But with his worldly knowledge and his beliefs, he was very articulate. He was a great one for colouring pictures of life. He could really graphically describe something, it was like you were seeing a picture in front of you that someone like me could understand, perhaps outside of my normal ability.

The times we had together were… fantastic. I took him up to Hamilton Island, which is one of the Whitsunday islands off the Great Barrier Reef. We’d just go and sit by the water and watch the huge tides they get there. And we’d sit for hours talking, often about things in which I wouldn’t usually be interested with anybody else. He had a huge span of interest.

George was very religious, but he didn’t go to church. But of course he went to India. And when he found somebody he liked he really embraced them. The great sitar player Ravi Shankar, for example, was almost a god to him.

His love of cars was deep. Jody Scheckter was a good friend, Emerson Fittipaldi was a good friend, Damon Hill he helped financially to get a drive. He was an incredibly loyal person. When he had that dreadful thing happen to him in 1999, when he was stabbed in his own home, he was so emotional and was very vulnerable. He phoned me and said he couldn’t stay in the house, saying ‘Jackie, you know all the hotels in London, I thought the Grosvenor House would be good because I’ve been there with you’. I told him ‘you can’t go there because that boxer who bit someone’s car [Mike Tyson] is living there and there’s media around all the time. You can’t go there, George’. And he said, ‘Oh, can I come to your house?’ So he, Olivia and Dhani came to live with us for a little while. He was a gentle man and to be violated in that way was a terrible thing for him.

His driving was not great! We did the Gunnar Nilsson tribute with Fangio at Donington in 1979 and I’ve got a picture that he drew of us with two speech bubbles. He was driving Stirling’s Rob Walker Lotus 18 and is ahead of me going down the Craner Curves. My bubble is saying, ‘Jesus, I got him the drive and now he won’t let me past!’ He’s saying, ‘well, I’ve got Jackie Stewart behind me — and he can’t pass!’

First and foremost he was a great friend, and I loved his music. I met him in 1966 at Monaco. The whole lot of them came. I got on really well with him, and with Ringo who is also a really nice man. Paul was very alive and physically active in his descriptions, and Lennon was obviously brilliant, but he was there but not really there, if you understand what I mean. But George was a big hard-core enthusiast.

George has a big place in our lives and not just mine and Helen’s: he taught my son Paul to play the guitar…

FRANҪOIS CEVERT The racing driver I was closest to

I was very close to Jim Clark, but it was different with Franҫois because he was my team-mate. At race times I was never with Jim, whereas with Franҫois we were almost living together, travelling together and racing together. So he was very close. And there was a great family factor because there was his brother Charles and his sister Jacqueline, who eventually married Jean-Pierre [Beltoise]. Everybody loved her, including Jimmy.

Franҫois was like a sponge. He just wanted to take in everything because he was coming in from Formula 2, he knew he didn’t know much and he wasn’t that quick to begin with. I think it was Zandvoort where I had him follow me round. Ken asked me to do it. I kept the pace and got faster and faster, and he got faster and faster because he was staying with me. He found something like four seconds, and you’ve never seen such an effervescent face afterwards. He kept on learning, and he never stopped.

Sometimes he could have been quicker than me, but he wasn’t quick all the time. Still, it would have been very easy to see him beating me several times in 1973, and had he done I wouldn’t have minded at all, because I knew I wasn’t going to be doing it any more. When he won the American GP in 1971 no one was more happy than I — well, maybe Ken.

He was with Brigitte Bardot for a time. Can you imagine? I remember him arriving at the Paris Motor Show and he had a long coat with a fur shawl collar, and he had Brigitte on his arm. What a winner! And he hadn’t really hit the big time then. He was in F1 but he hadn’t really hit the jackpot — then again, maybe he had! That would have been an interesting story for the dinner party…

Franҫois (with Bernard Cahier, far left) had a genuine, spontaneous charm. A very good physique, he really trained hard. And he played the piano beautifully. He could play anything. When he had his accident with Jody Scheckter in Canada, he hurt his ankle. Helen and I were intending to go to Bermuda, and Franҫois came with us, but we went to Niagara Falls first and then went on to New York for one night. Helen and I went to see a guitar player, I think it was Santana, who was playing at the Plaza. Franҫois had something else to do…

I had been carrying him everywhere on my back, like a child, because of his leg. We had travelled down in a Galaxie that Ford had given us and he was on the back seat with his leg out.

In Bermuda we had a two-bedroom apartment and every night we’d go to the Ocean Reef Club, and he would play the piano. The place was full of very old people, pretty dead! But when he played the whole place lit up. His piece de resistance was Beethoven’s Pathetique. He wooed them all, and then would go into some ragtime thing. Remarkable.

MARK McCORMACK IMG founder, my former manager and the inventor of modern sport

Certainly the most dynamic man in sport. There was nobody who put sporting events together like Mark did. He simply owned golf, tennis and skiing because he picked up all the major players.

First off he signed Arnold Palmer, then Jack Nicklaus signed up with him and then Gary Player — the big three. In tennis he took on Rod Laver, and later Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe — and he made all of these people hugely rich. There used to be only the big tournaments, in Paris, Australia, Wimbledon and the US Open. But now there are tournaments all over the world making up a year-long season.

In skiing, he took on Jean-Claude Killy in 1968, the same year he took me on. That was the year Jean-Claude won three gold medals in the Olympics in Grenoble. Can you imagine today one man winning the Down Hill, the Giant Slalom and the Slalom? One of the great achievements in world sport. Then Mark began a World Championship of skiing and signed all the big guys.

He picked me up. It was expensive, but I’d read Arnold Palmer’s book and I knew I needed someone of this quality, and it just so happened that we came together. The other twist was that Mark said, ‘I’m going to give you someone to look after you. He’ll be your bag man, he’ll be whatever you need him to be.’ And it was Martin Sorrell — his first ever job. We’ve stayed friends ever since.

It was Mark who found Tiger Woods as a kid. He represented Nick Faldo and Colin Montgomerie in the UK, he had Lee Trevino, Payne Stewart — everybody who was big he had, in almost every sport. He was the best-connected man, and was fastidious in everything he did.

His big thing was stealing hotel room keys. He had a wall with all the keys from every room he’d stayed in hanging from it. No use today — hotels don’t have keys!

Not many people know that Mark was a wonderful table tennis player. You’d go to his house and he’d say to the kids, do you want to play table tennis? I thought I was quite good at Ping-Pong — until I played him.

Mark created professional sport as it is today, and he created the agent in the fullest sense. He wrote the book.

KING HUSSEIN OF JORDAN A royal confidante – and petrolhead!

He had the biggest brains of any man I’ve known. He was one of the two people in my life I’ve used for counsel when I’ve had serious doubts over aspects of my professional and sporting life. And he was always available: I find the more successful in business a person becomes, the easier they are to reach.

King Hussein loved motor sport and actually he was a very talented driver. There was a hillclimb course in Jordan and he held the track record. He also had a love of flying, both fixed wing and helicopters.

This enormously worldly man had such charm, the best-mannered man I’ve ever met and he was an excellent conversationalist. He would have been a perfect guest at such a dinner party.

DAVID NIVEN Not to be confused Graham Hill!

A great raconteur and an attractive man in every respect. He never acted in his life! It was like Sean Connery: in every role he played, it was he. The voice never changed, the act never changed.

David was a wonderful charmer with the girls. I heard a line from him and I still use it to this day! An attractive girl with everything in the right places would come in and he’d say, ‘how did an ugly girl like you get into a place like this?’ If they were models, they didn’t know what to say. They didn’t know whether to be insulted or see it as a joke, but he’d suddenly get around them! Helen was always called ugly — ‘hello ugly’! He’d do it in an airport, and everyone would turn and there would be David, immaculately dressed…

He had a house just outside Gstaad and what I think was the most beautiful house in Cap Ferrat. We used to go there for dinner and he always had good dinner guests. Not because they were famous, but because they were interesting. Just the most wonderful man.

JIM CLARK Two-time World Champion, Indy winner and so much more…

I’d have him here because he was one of my best friends. Jimmy would have been shy at the dinner party, but he would have been a good listener, and he would have enjoyed being in that company.

He would have loosened up with Peter and David. You would have had to put him between those two to get the best out of him. Ken would have loved him of course, and so would George. That’s a big part of it — they would have loved Jimmy to be there. Just imagine the conversations they would have had…

LEONARDO DA VINCI The Jim Clark of art, science and mathematics…

A dyslexic. I use it all the time! Einstein was one too, but I thought he might be a bit heavy for the dinner party!

Leonardo da Vinci I’m sure would have had a lot to offer. Peter could have spoken to him fluently, and he could have drawn things on the tablecloth. And as the dinner party would be in our home, we’d save the tablecloth…

Da Vinci was one of the great creative men in the world. But wait — I’ve just had a thought. The only thing I haven’t got on my guest list is a woman. Maybe I’d have Princess Grace, or even the Queen… But I’ll stick to who I’ve got. Leonardo da Vinci, in this company, would add something extra.