Malcolm Folley, whose work appeared for almost 40 years in national newspapers before his retirement as chief sports reporter of the Mail on Sunday in April 2014, reveals how his passion for the Monaco Grand Prix requited his love affair with writing.
Having left my privileged role after 22 years with the Mail on Sunday, I had grown accustomed for the first time in my adult life to living without copy deadlines or editorial pressures.
It is to be assumed that those who knew me best, those who roamed the world to be reunited at Olympic Games, or major tennis championships, or Formula One races, never imagined that a resting pulse rate would be actually good for my welfare.
Those who witnessed the freneticism, the angst, and the competitiveness that was displayed through a typical working day whispered quietly amongst themselves that retirement and Malcolm Folley were not compatible in the same sentence. Who could blame them?
My final two diary assignments for the Mail on Sunday were the Winter Olympics in Sochi, and The Masters at Augusta; a fortunate man, to the end. Then, after the noise and excitement of 40 years: silence. No calls. No planes to catch. No people to trace. No frantic approaches from the news desk.
I took up golf, weathering the handicap of an atrocious swing. With my wife Rachel, we travelled to Australia and New Zealand, to the United States and the Caribbean, and we spend endless weeks at our little home in the vineyards near Bordeaux. Newspapers were still part of the fabric of each day, but absorbed on an iPad for pleasure rather than scoured for storylines.
I missed the camaraderie of the old game, and I missed writing; but I definitely did not miss a world of journalism where websites await to devour a torrent of words – often without proper scrutiny – day or night.
Where were the after-deadline hours at the bar, spent with great travelling companions and friends like Ian Wooldridge, Patrick Collins, Jim Lawton, Jeff Powell, Charlie Sale, Jim Mossop, Andrew Longmore, and more recently Paul Hayward and Ollie Holt, Bob McKenzie, Kevin Eason and Jon McEvoy, that humanised long days at Olympic Games and refuelled the desire to deliver compelling copy the next day?
Then an idea to write a book – my seventh – manifested itself in a moment of idle day dreaming. Formula One had been integral to my reporting brief for most of my career; and the drivers had never ceased to fascinate. If there was one race that presented the beauty and the glamour, the thrill of Formula One, and its incumbent risks, it was the Monaco Grand Prix. Its harbour, and its casino, its tunnel, and its narrow unforgiving streets, reeking of unashamed wealth, have not changed in over half a century.
So, I shook the cobwebs from my contacts book and made some calls to men and women within Formula One with whom I’d not spoken with for what seemed an age. It was humbling, as well as gratifying, that men such as Niki Lauda, Sir Jackie Stewart, Nico Rosberg, Ross Brawn, Damon Hill, David Coulthard and Martin Brundle, to name but a selection, agreed to share with me their time and memories from the most prestigious motor race in the world without condition or favour.
This can be put down to their own immense affection for the Monaco Grand Prix. The result is: Monaco – Inside F1’s Greatest Race (Century £20). It is not a conventional history of the race, but rather stories from those who helped shape its place at the heart of the World Championship.
In the midst of the narrative is the most extraordinary Formula One race of all time, the 1996 Monaco Grand Prix when just three drivers finished: Olivier Panis, David Coulthard and Johnny Herbert. Panis makes a compelling witness to his part in history.
It produced a year when I fell passionately in love with writing, and story-telling all over again. The elegant and stylish jacket from Century has already won universal approval; it remains for others to decide if this is a book that can be judged by its cover.
This book is the culmination of an enviable and unexpectedly rich journey. At 23, I had joined the Daily Express in 1975, the home of journalistic legends Desmond Hackett and Peter O’Sullevan. I was invited, in order, to move to the Mail on Sunday, to the Daily Mail, as tennis correspondent at a period when McEnroe and Connors, Evert and Navratilova were global superstars, and back to the Express, before returning to the Mail on Sunday in 1992.
Due to the unwavering faith of a succession of sports editors – including Ken Lawrence, Tom Clarke, David Emery, Roger Kelly and Malcolm Vallerius – I was fortunate to be allowed to pursue what I always regarded as the purity of our business; coercing sportsmen and women to divulge facets of their life they had previously zealously guarded.
Timing was an essential element of that quest. For example, I met Monica Seles at her home in Florida months after she had been stabbed on a tennis court in Germany playing against Steffi Graf. Then there was the time Mike Tyson granted permission, eventually, to my presence at a senior high school in Ohio when he talked to a mixed audience about his relationship with women while on parole as a sexual offender.
If ‘Monaco’ is to be a final run into print, then it is a suitable finish of a memorable marathon
Michael Schumacher offered a defence, at home in Germany, against the charge of becoming Formula One World Champion by deliberating obliterating the challenge of Damon Hill in the final race of the year in Australia. Schumacher’s protestations seemed insufficient to prove his case should be exempt from prosecution.
And most extraordinary of all was to drive all day and night from a golf assignment in St Louis – after a 12 hour search for a rental car – to arrive in New York in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers that will be forever known by the arithmetical shorthand: 9/11.
Those dark and sombre days, yet, perversely remembered as much for the manner people rallied together at a time of unthinkable tragedy, form part of a formidable library of gilded stories from a career that was unimaginable to a teenager covering flower shows and writing obituaries on the Sussex Express and County Herald.
If ‘Monaco’ is to be a final run into print, then it is a suitable finish of a memorable marathon.
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