Meeting my heroes: No. 1, Jenson Button.

A pitiful tale, this; a story of nerves and sweat and stammering and extraordinary tolerance and good nature on the part of the subject.

A few years ago, I wrote a few songs with Louise Griffiths. She was on Fame Academy, you may remember. She was also Jenson Button’s girlfriend at the time and, I must say, just about the loveliest and kindest person I ever met. She would come round with gifts for my baby boy Joseph, once even arriving with a mini race suit for him. She took me for a drive in her amazing car. And once, and here comes the pertinent bit, she arranged for me and a friend (Sam Burgess, more of whom below) to visit a Formula 1 test session at Silverstone as guests of Jenson and Honda.

There would be very little I could place ahead of this as a day out, conceptually. It even happened to be a full test session, with such as M. Schumacher, M. Hakkinen et al in attendance. We arrived first thing in the morning, bristling with anticipation, clutching our passes. Sam, of course, is even more obsessed with this sport that I, and had been following Jenson since karts, I think, and at least since Formula 3. We parked and made for the Honda garage, where we stood as JB was wheeled into his box, backwards. Deep in conversation with his engineer, he broke off having spotted me, and came over to say hi. Introduced us to his PA, told us to ask her for anything, and that he’d see us at lunch. Then he went back to work. A gentleman.

So we spent the morning blissfully skipping from corner to straight to corner, watching the world’s greatest drivers sliding and fizzing and sweeping and blasting around the historic track. Lunchtime came, and we were delivered to the Honda catering unit, where we were joined by Jenson and a small huddle of mechanics.

This is where the trouble started. Jenson sat next to me. He was dressed head to toe as Jenson Button, with Jenson Button’s face, and even Jenson Button’s speaking voice, which he used to address me. He tried so hard, bless his heart. He asked about what we’d seen, where we’d been on the circuit, told a couple of light-hearted anecdotes, told us some technical stuff, asked me about me. He tried everything, but was every time met by a terrified grunt, a stammering monosyllable, a jumpy squeak. I had, in the first three minutes, bolted my food down and I sat there with nothing on my plate, sweating and shaking as everyone else casually toyed with their lunches, swapping stories and leaning back in their chairs. I had become so hot that I desperately needed to take off my coat, but I didn’t have the confidence to stand up, so I sat there, sweating all the more. I eventually ground Jenson down to silence. I had sapped the life out of him.

The afternoon passed as had the morning. It was enthralling stuff. Watching Massa, the young apprentice, following Schumacher through the Maggotts/Becketts complex; seeing Jenson’s Honda twitch terrifyingly as the winds crossed the Hangar Straight; watching Mika come on the power in exactly the same point lap after lap, like clockwork. We were privileged. 

Jenson, to his credit, greeted us with a smile as he stepped from his motorhome to say goodbye to us. It had been a productive day, said he. It had been a wonderful day, said I. I think we both chose to forget about lunchtime, and with the end in sight were able to relax a little, which was a huge relief, obviously.

They say never meet your idols, as they can only really disappoint you. I found the opposite here; he was humorous, kind and utterly lovely. A proper hero. Makes it even worse, somehow.


~ by tomcawley on October 26, 2008.

One Response to “Meeting my heroes: No. 1, Jenson Button.”

  1. I feel your pain! I find myself in the tricky situation of writing about my heroes – jazz ones – and then being offered the chance to meet them, and suddenly finding myself in two minds. Yes, I would love to meet them, but in what context? As a journalist suggests a business meeting and not really indicative of what I would like the meeting to be; as a fan reduces me to that speechless state you so acurately describe. My happiest meetings have been as a festival volunteer/driver where I could meet them neither as journalist nor fan but just as helper/nobody. Yep, that never-meet-your-heroes thing really is a double-edged one. It’s not really that they will disappoint you; it’s that you will disappoint yourself.

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