Ciao Stirling – the inside story of a motor racing legend

by Gordon Cruickshank on 10th October 2019

Ciao Stirling is a revealing insight into Sir Stirling Moss throughout his career, from his secretary turned confidante, Valerie Pirie. Gordon Cruickshank reviews the book

Stirling Moss

Photo: Motorsport Images

When you’re 17 and your very first secretarial job is working for the great Stirling Moss at the height of his career, it must be seriously daunting.

But Val Pirie quickly learned to give as good as she got from the impatient, demanding racing ace, and soon became indispensable to his lifestyle.

Pirie became travel organiser, chauffeur, house build overseer and racing team manager, and more importantly his confidant and friend. Sixty years on, here is her riveting memoir of working with, socialising with and, frankly, putting up with the man who 57 years after his mainstream career ended remains Mr Motor Racing.

Anyone who has had dealings with Stirling will recognise the man she portrays – angling for discounts as he equips his gadget-laden new house, splitting a restaurant bill into ‘who ate what’, cramming in as many events as possible, and always rushing, rushing to the next venue, whether a race or a date in a nightclub.

What this frank and sometimes funny book also shows is Stirling unwinding, off-duty, looking after others in his circle. While bickering about petty cash he lends money to friends and pays for a holiday for Val to recover after a car crunch. (She notes casually that “Fangio and Jim Clark both winced” when she admits the crash, expecting Moss to explode.)

You can read exclusive extracts from the book in the November 2019 issue of Motor Sport.

Pirie often collected her boss from the airport (because he’d lost his road licence, again) and the late-night Chinese meals when Moss dissects his last race and computes possible improvements on scraps of paper are telling.

Over the years they became very close, though never ‘an item’; instead Val was one stable element in Moss’s urgent life, whether supporting him when his marriage broke up or fending off the press.

One of the most famous men in the world, he was hounded everywhere, and there’s a tale of him adopting a false moustache and glasses to visit an exhibition.

Life in the office was rarely calm. In fact, she resigned frequently, but as he relied too much on her to let her go she remained a key part of his inner circle.

She also sat by his bed talking to him for hours to rouse him from his post-accident coma, and relates that his first word was not “Mum” as reported, but “Bastard”. It’s the sort of human detail that makes this absorbing memoir a fascinating and illuminating picture of a great man.

Read exclusive extracts from Valerie Pirie's memoirs in the November 2019 issue of Motor Sport on sale now

Valerie Pirie, Published by Biteback, £20. ISBN 978-1-785-9063-9

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