Westminster Abbey memorial service was the grand tribute that Stirling Moss deserved


It was a venue for racing royalty: drivers, dignitaries and other familiar faces gathered at Westminster Abbey in a service of thanksgiving for the life and career of Sir Stirling Moss

Stirling Moss 1955 Mille Miglia winnign Mercedes 300 SLR outside Westminster Abbey

The car that carried Moss to his greatest victory: the 1955 Mille Miglia-winning Mercedes 300 SLR outside Westminster Abbey

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A packed Westminster Abbey, in all its pomp and circumstance, was precisely the send-off The Boy deserved – even if it has come so late. Quite what Sir Stirling Moss would have made of such a grand service of thanksgiving, held on a bright and sunny May Wednesday in London, is quite another matter. I suspect he would have been nonplussed and somewhat embarrassed.

But as one of England’s greatest ever sportsmen, the rousing service that played heavily on Moss’s deep sense of genuine patriotism that drove him through his racing career allowed his family, many friends and British motor sport as a whole to come together and express the kind of fitting tribute that just wasn’t possible when he slipped away from us on April 12, 2020, when that dreadful pandemic still held us all in its cold grip.

Sir Jackie Stewart gave a heartfelt and personal tribute to a congregation that predictably included plenty of familiar faces, from Damon Hill and Christian Horner, to Rowan Atkinson and Sir Steve Redgrave.

Stirling Moss helmet with Monaco Grand Prix trophy and BRDC gold stars are carried into Westminster Abbey at the memorial service ti the late racing driver

Moss’s helmet, 1961 Monaco GP trophy and BRDC gold stars are carried into Westminster Abbey

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The service began with a solemn procession down the Abbey’s central aisle, so familiar from royal weddings, funerals and coronations, but this time led not by the sovereign’s sceptre, but by that familiar white Herbert Johnson peaked helmet, presented proudly on a blue velvet cushion, along with his trophy for winning the Monaco Grand Prix and his precious British Racing Drivers’ Club Gold Stars. Sir Jackie walked among the dignitaries that followed, including a double dose of HRHs from the royal household: The Duke of Kent and Prince Michael of Kent, both of whom have their own personal histories of support and enthusiasm for motor racing.

Sir Jackie spoke of his friendship with Stirling, and how it survived their differing opinions on the safety drive Stewart embarked on during his own career. And he raised a laugh in recounting his own ‘Who do you think you are? Stirling Moss?’ story, when the Scot was stopped by a London bobby for speeding around Hyde Park just after he’d been crowned world champion. “When I showed him my ID there was silence, before he said – excuse my French – ‘shit’.” Trust a racing driver to lower the tone in such an illustrious house of worship!

Simon Taylor also gave a tribute, touching upon just a few of Moss’s greatest feats and offering a firm reminder that the old ‘fastest driver never to win the F1 world championship’ tag always misses the point. Simon also paid tribute to Lady Susie too, Stirling’s devoted wife, who died last year, unable it seems to go on without her beloved.

Jackie Stewart addresses the congregation at Stirling Moss memorial service in Westminster Abbey

Sir Jackie addresses the congregation

Prince Michael of Kent and the Duke of Kent at Westminster Abbey memorial service for Stirling Moss

Prince Michael of Kent and the Duke of Kent

Pleasingly, we got a mention too. The service was conducted by the Dean of Westminster, The Very Reverend Dr David Hoyle, who revealed his solicitor father was a regular Motor Sport reader when Moss was in his pomp. The Dean admitted he knew little of the world of motor racing, but felt certain his father would have approved of the display of Moss-related racing cars that glinted in the sun outside the great West door. As it surely had to, Mercedes sent over ‘722’, the 300SLR in which Stirling achieved perhaps his greatest racing feat in conquering the 1955 Mille Miglia, in partnership with our own Denis Jenkinson hunched in the navigator’s seat. Now officially ‘retired’, letting rip with a blast from that rasping straight eight wasn’t on the agenda this time. The only pipes that sang belonged to the Abbey’s magnificent organ, and those of the Special Service Choir of Westminster Abbey.

Before the blessing, the congregation stood one last time, for a hymn that rarely fails to raise a goosebump or two (if you are English). Jerusalem at full volume at the heart of London’s most illustrious house of worship… Stirling would surely have loved that.

But the final word from the service should go to the great man himself. His son Elliot, the driving force behind this tribute – and with very passing year increasingly a true chip off the old block in appearance – read a personal letter penned to him by his father, which somehow gets to the heart of Stirling’s approach to life and motor sport.

“The stars, to me, symbolise all I ever wanted to achieve. Look at the stars, my son, and know you can do it too. They will be different stars for something quite different but just as important and precious – to us both – as mine. But take time out, also, to consider the helmet and be reminded that everything worth achieving comes at a cost. If you are lucky, you might never get the bill. But don’t bank on it. Before you start, be sure you are willing to pay the price. I was, and I did, and I have no regrets.”

Elliot Moss with his daughter Stepahnie in the 1955 Mille Miglia winning Mercedes 300 SLR

Elliot Moss with the next generation: his daughter Stephanie

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