F1 ICONS: Damon Hill on his father, two-time world champion and triple crown winner Graham Hill
In the latest instalment of our F1 Icons series, 1996 F1 champion Damon Hill talks about his late father Graham Hill – five-time Monaco Grand Prix winner, two-time Formula 1 world champion and the only man in history to have won motorsport's triple crown...
I think there were two Graham Hills. I was talking to some of the original BRM mechanics the other day and one of them told a story about my dad being quite prickly. And if you speak to some of the journalists, I think they would say the same.
He had a fairly short and dismissive tongue on him if he didn't have time for you when he was working. But when he wasn't working, he was gregarious, and he was a giver.
He was someone who added to the party, and he had a good sense of humour, made people laugh, but he was professional as well. So he wasn't a clown, but he wasn't afraid of doing the absurd.
Who was he as a father? He tried to be tough, but I think he rather let himself down by his example. He professed diligence and hard work, and all the rest of it, but then he was too keen to muck about, so he’d always bring us to tears when he read the school report – but he didn’t mean to! We took it too seriously.
But there was a lot of love there. He was someone you would do anything for. I would – but willingly – because it was always for a good reason.
I was exposed to his world from birth – and of course I couldn’t really remember much of this – but at my christening was Stirling Moss, Bruce McLaren, Tony Brooks, Joe Bonnier, ‘Taffy’ von Trips, and excuse me if I've forgotten anyone else apart from my dad.
I suppose one of the things that stuck was when my dad won the Indianapolis 500, because when he became Formula 1 world champion in 1962 I was only two years old and I don’t remember that at all, obviously.
I remember the kerfuffle when he won at Indy in 1966, the stuff that came with that, because when he returned, my mum got all the bunting out. There was a party in the back garden, and there's a picture of me pushing Jim Clark on my toy plastic tractor (see below). And then Jackie Stewart used to come to our house and stay in our house. And he says I used to keep him up all night annoying him.
The first time I can honestly say I remember watching my dad in a Grand Prix on the telly was in 1969. It was in black and white, when he won his last Monaco Grand Prix. And I remember my mum coming out when I was playing in the garden with some friends of mine and she said: “Come in, daddy’s winning the Monaco Grand Prix!” So, I had to come in and watch him go around the last few corners and wave to the crowd.
It was weird being at school. You know, when you talk to other kids and you'd say, well, “What does your dad do?”
And they go “Oh, I don't know, I think he's an accountant,” or he does something like that. So, it was a bit odd, because you don't know whether some people are annoyed by it. One of the things I do remember was that the teachers were well aware of who my dad was – but you’re conscious that you’ve not got special status, it’s just that there is an awareness that you are involved in a world that is out of the ordinary.
Motorsport isn’t a career path that they teach you at school. Certainly not then, anyway. And so, when I left school I remember the headmaster saying to me, “I hope you're not going to waste your education on motor racing.”
I thought, well, I like physics, and motor racing really is just physics, so it was a bit of a shame for my headmaster to say that. But I did waste my education on motor racing, apparently. Anyway...
I think it’s quite easy to pick my dad’s greatest achievement. He won Monaco five times, and you can’t do that unless you've got some sort of special talent.
He probably thought he wasn’t naturally gifted, so he felt he had to work even harder. He was determined and dogged – I think that’s a good word to describe him. He just didn’t give up.
In 1993, when I was racing with Williams at Monaco, Ayrton Senna beat my dad’s [Monaco wins] record and I said to him, “I think if my dad was here, he would be absolutely delighted to congratulate you on beating his record, because it stood for such a long time.”
And then after that, he’s still the only man to have won Indy, Le Mans, and the F1 World Championship. A unique distinction.
I do remember that day he passed away, November 29, 1975.
Sadly, I was with my sister, and we were watching a TV newsflash. Even though they didn't mention any names, I worked out that it was my dad.
He was supposed to be coming back that night, flying back in his own plane from Paul Ricard. And he didn't make it. It was freezing, foggy, and somehow something went wrong, and he hit a bit of high ground, hit a tree and then the plane came down. And that was the end of that.
It was very much a shock for everyone. A massive shock, because he'd just retired from racing, and everyone expected him to live for a long time and run a team. And it didn't happen.
So, it taught me a lesson, which is, you can't really count chickens that haven’t hatched. You can’t really expect life to go the way you want it, just because you want it to.
Pack in as much as you can while you can, because you never know what's around the corner.
We weren't really given any help with that, because in those days they didn't have things like grief counselling. I suppose your grief counsellor would have been the priest, you know, and they wouldn't have been around much longer than one day.
I had to go through trying to work out what's just happened as a teenager with my mum being left without a husband and our whole life circumstances changing. And a lot of the time it wasn't talked about. It wasn't really gone into in any detail and latterly when I stopped racing it all sort of came home to roost, and I felt I had to go and talk to someone about how I felt.
I'd bottled up quite a lot of anger and grief, I think, because grief sort of turns to anger in a way. I also had quite high anxiety about something happening, which is a kind of legacy really.
Now we have the opportunity to talk to people; there are quite a lot of professional people out there who can help open up discussions about your feelings in private. Unfortunately a lot of people do this publicly and expose themselves to unkind people who haven't got the same qualifications or empathy to give advice – or they're being just cruel.
So my advice is not to open up to just anybody. You have to go to a professional person, or someone you feel comfortable with. Nowadays, we have a better understanding of what we are as human beings. We are a bag of emotions. We're a bag of memories. We're a bag of experiences that have been unresolved, unexplained, and we need explanations.
And when we get an explanation, it's incredible how much it relieves that energy, releases that feeling that you’re locked in or tied to something, and you can kind of let it go.
I have great affection for my dad. He seems to come across in everything I see, as everything I remember him being, so I think his legacy is in keeping with his personality.
I think he was authentic, and I think he was an inspiration for a lot of people – his attitude to life and the way he conducted himself and his bravery as a racing driver. He lost a lot of friends, just like Jackie Stewart did. It was a brutal time to go racing.
To get yourself in a racing car in those days and keep a smile on your face was quite something.