James Hunt


James Simon Wallis Hunt born August 29, 1947, Belmont, Sutton, Surrey, England, UK —died June 15, 1993, Wimbledon, London, England, UK.

James Hunt was not known for ­behaving ­appropriately. But never was he more outrageous than in the last two weeks of October 1976, when he was in  Tokyo ­battling Niki Lauda for the title of ­Formula One world motor racing ­champion. His preparations were unconventional, to say the least. He had spent the two weeks leading up to the race on a round-the-clock alcohol, ­cannabis and cocaine binge with his friend Barry Sheene, who was world motorcycle champion  that year. While Jackie Stewart famously abstained from sex a week before a motor race, Hunt would often have sex minutes before climbing into the  ­cockpit.

Life in the fast lane: Hunt with glamour model Susan ShawLife in the fast lane: British F1 driver James Hunt with  glamour model Susan Shaw. He slept with more than 5,000 women in his  lifetime

He had a gigantic appetite for sex. Physically, he was unequalled even if, emotionally, he was, ­perhaps, an amateur. In Japan, his playground of choice was the Tokyo Hilton, where every morning  British ­Airways ­stewardesses were dropped off at ­reception for a  24-hour stopover. Hunt unfailingly met them as they checked in and invited them to his suite  for a party — they always said yes. It wasn’t unusual for him and Sheene to have sex with all of the women, often together. But, as Stirling Moss, who used to carouse with Hunt in Monte Carlo before he was married, said: ‘If you looked like James Hunt, what would you have done?’

British Formula One driver James Hunt shortly after marrying model Suzy MillerHigh sex drive: Hunt shortly after marrying model Suzy Miller, no one watching Hunt that week in 1976 would have believed he was ­preparing for the race of his life. At the circuit, he had been behaving bizarrely — at one point dropping his overalls and urinating in full view of the crowds in the grandstand. The ­spectators, many of whom had ­powerful binoculars trained on him, applauded once he had finished. He waved back. Even on race day, his mind was on other things — and he didn’t care who knew it. Nothing could have prepared Patrick Head, now co-owner of the Williams F1 team but then a young car designer, for the morning when he inadvertently walked into the wrong  pit garage. He found Hunt inside, with his racing overalls around his ankles, cavorting  with a Japanese girl. Hunt laughed when he saw the interloper, who left, not  quite believing what he had seen. A few minutes later, Hunt left the garage and went around the side to carry out his pre-race ritual of vomiting — the result of extreme nerves ­combined with overindulgence. Finally ready for action, Hunt went out to drive the race of his life… he won the 1976 world championship, beating his nearest rival by one point. The televised action was seen by more than 30million people around the  world and his victory signalled a huge celebration. It was 24 hours before he was due to return to Britain and, in the interim, Hunt drank himself silly. At a British Embassy reception in his honour, Hunt was so drunk that the  ambassador hesitated to let him in. The return flight on Japan Airlines had been block-booked by F1 boss Bernie  Ecclestone’s travel company and was the scene for a riotous 12-hour party that  drained the plane of alcohol. When Hunt arrived back at Heathrow airport, 2,000 fans were waiting to greet  him. He staggered down the steps of the aircraft, drunk, into the arms of his  mother Sue and his beautiful, long-suffering girlfriend Jane Birbeck.
James Hunt and his wife Susie meeting actor Richard BurtonFamous friends: Hunt with his wife Suzy. The couple  would later divorce and she would go on to marry actor Richard Burton (right). She had been seeing Hunt for nearly a year, but had no idea he’d  bedded 33  British Airways ­hostesses and countless young ­Japanese fans during  his two-week stay in Tokyo. But ‘bedded’ is probably the wrong word — there was rarely time to get them into bed, such were Hunt’s demands. He took his women ­whenever and wherever he could and slept with more than 5,000 in his lifetime. The world championship win  capped an ­extraordinary year for Hunt, during which his personal life had gathered as many newspaper column inches as  his race successes. At the beginning of 1976, he had been married to the ex-model Suzy Miller. (But after Hunt’s antics they split up and — as I’ll explain — she went on to swap one hard-drinking, ­womanising husband for another in the form of actor Richard Burton.) Hunt and Suzy had met in Spain in 1974. She was a striking woman — a ­willowy, small-breasted blonde — not classically beautiful, but her looks, presence and effect on people were similar to the late Princess Diana’s. She captivated everyone she  met.

James Hunt with wife Suzy

Drifting apart: Hunt expressed his regret at proposing to Miller, a year younger than Hunt, she had spent much of her childhood in southern Rhodesia with her ­expat parents, her twin sister, Vivienne, and  brother, John. Hunt and Miller fell into easy ­conversation and, a few extraordinary weeks later, he proposed. He wanted Miller as his ­girlfriend, but was sexually attracted to other women. Miller, however, was ­perfect for ­parading as his partner. She added a great deal of value to him — and he knew it. So he resolved to try to make the relationship work. The engagement party was held at his brother Peter’s apartment in London and many of the guests were surprised James Hunt was getting married. His ex-girlfriend, Taormina Rieck, had married in the intervening years since their break up and was also there. Hunt was still close to Rieck and had  attended her ­wedding the year before. Now, Hunt stood before her ­confessing that he didn’t want to marry  Suzy. He said: ‘I  don’t know why I’m doing this.’ To which she retorted: ‘Well, why the hell are you, you silly clot?’

Racing driver James Hunt  Playboy: Hunt had a reputation as a party animal off the  track

He allegedly told her it had gone too far and he couldn’t get out of it. She remembers him appearing weak and confused, at odds with the confident Hunt  everyone knew. There was also the problem of being faithful. Hunt loved having sex with his new fiancee, but it was over too quickly for his tastes. He was a sex addict before the term came into common usage and unfaithful to her almost from the start. Yet, for a time, he enjoyed home life and was in love with her, or so he thought, and ­undeniably proud of ­having landed her. As his friend,  the journalist Gerald ­Donaldson, astutely observed: ‘The emotional  component of a ­relationship for James was still ­virgin  territory.’ ‘I couldn’t handle the  wedding, so I got roaring drunk’ The prospect of marriage had been haunting Hunt but, seeing no way out, he  turned to drinking. For the full four days leading up to the  ­wedding, held at the Brompton ­Oratory in Kensington and ­undoubtedly  the society wedding of the  year, he was never once sober. The day of the wedding was a farce. At six o’clock that ­morning, Hunt  poured himself the first of many beers. Before leaving for the church, he knocked back a couple of Bloody Marys. By the time he walked up the  aisle, he was hopelessly ­intoxicated. Suzy smiled her way through it all, convinced it would be ­different now he was a married man — even though the  portents were not auspicious.

Racing driver James Hunt The following day, they left for their honeymoon in Antigua and, once more, the occasion proved to be ­anything but straightforward. He had  invited his newly-­married best friend, the Hesketh ­Formula One team ­manager Anthony ‘Bubbles’ Horsley, to come along with his new bride. While Suzy Miller and Bubbles’ wife had undoubtedly ­envisaged honeymooning alone with their ­husbands, the two men clearly ­preferred  each other’s company. It was an entirely selfish gesture. When the Hunts returned to Spain, things did not improve: Hunt was absent most of the time. Suzy simply wanted a settled family life, but by 1975 admitted to friends: ‘I  literally felt like a spare part. I was just there for the show.’ Within a few  months, Suzy realised the marriage was not going to work. Still, she was  prepared to give it time in the unlikely event that she was wrong. Hunt’s mother was on her daughter-in-law’s side, saying: ‘Suzy is  ­gorgeous, but I can see that for James to be married is impossible. I love  him, but I’d hate to have him for a husband.’

Racing driver James Hunt

Relaxing: The  Formula One driver was more than happy to  embrace the glamorous  temptations of the sport

Hunt soon began planning how to ditch her. He tried to explain what had gone wrong: ‘I thought that ­marriage was what I wanted and needed to give me a nice, stable and quiet home life, but, in fact, it wasn’t. And the mistake was mine.’ Facing up to the possibility that she, too, had made a mistake, Suzy also  wanted out. Yet she remained supportive and sympathetic to Hunt, which only  heightened his sense of responsibility towards her. He said: ‘I was very anxious not to hurt her. There are nice and nasty ways  to do things and I hope I can never be a hurtful person.’ The marriage dragged on for another eight months as Suzy looked for a new  partner. Hunt knew he had to get out and prayed for a miracle. That miracle arrived in the shape of Richard Burton, who was then ­Britain’s most famous actor. At the end of December 1975, with their 14-month marriage in pieces, Hunt and  Suzy Miller went to Gstaad in Switzerland for ­Christmas with friends. Gstaad was the place to be that year, a festive playground for the rich and  famous. Coincidentally, Richard ­Burton and Elizabeth Taylor were also staying  there, at a villa called Chalet Arial. Burton and Taylor had married in 1964. They divorced in 1974, but  almost  immediately got back together and, a year later in October 1975, they remarried. Just as Hunt and Suzy ­Miller’s marriage had been a fiasco, so, too, was Burton and ­Taylor’s — both couples found  ­themselves ­looking for  an exit almost ­immediately. In Gstaad, Burton first set eyes on Suzy Miller as they were travelling in opposite directions on a ski lift. Burton turned to his assistant,  Brook Williams, and asked who was the  ‘vision that had just passed by’.

James Hunt and Stirling Moss  Legends: Hunt (pictured here with Stirling Moss) won the  1976 World Championship by a single point.

He was struck down by Suzy’s sheer presence, as he would say later: ‘I turned  around and there was this gorgeous ­creature, about nine feet tall. She  could stop a stampede.’ By then, Hunt had flown to São Paulo to compete in the Brazilian Grand Prix  in the opening race of the 1976 season. Williams sought out Suzy and invited her to a party in Gstaad a few days  later and there Burton was captivated. Williams invited her to come to the house the following day and, after that, Suzy started visiting Chalet Arial regularly. The affair, which began almost  immediately, was Suzy’s first dalliance since her ­marriage to Hunt. He was 50 and she was 26 but, as Burton said: ‘She was mature far beyond her years.’  At the end of January, Burton told Elizabeth ­Taylor that their ­marriage was over. He (Hunt) was a sex addict before the term came into common usage and unfaithful to his wife almost from the start, Suzy had kept Hunt fully informed by telephone of the developing affair and to say that he was delighted would have been an understatement. In fact, when she told him Burton had invited her to join him in New York, he  replied: ‘Fine, off you go.’ After he told Taylor it was over, ­Burton summoned Suzy to New York and  their relationship developed so quickly into a proposal of marriage that a request for a quickie divorce was made to Hunt, while he was in South Africa. Hunt was delighted his wife had found Richard Burton. The two men immediately spoke on the ­telephone to arrange what they called the ‘transfer’ of Suzy. Burton offered to pay Hunt’s divorce settlement to Suzy: $1 ­million. ­Burton couldn’t believe that Hunt was so casual about ­letting go of his ­beautiful wife. Hunt simply said: ‘Relax, ­Richard. You’ve done me a wonderful turn by  taking on the most alarming expense account in the country.’

Lapping it up: Hunt swigging champagne at Brands Hatch after breaking a lap record Lapping it up: Hunt swigs champagne at Brands Hatch  after breaking a lap record

Miller, effectively, had been sold to Burton by Hunt for $1 million and both were satisfied with the ­transaction. For Hunt, it couldn’t have worked out better; he had got rid of the wife he never wanted and saved himself the divorce costs. In June 1976, the divorces of Taylor and Burton and Hunt and Miller were  formalised in Port Au Prince, the ­capital of Haiti, in the Caribbean.  There, foreigners could get divorced in a day. On August 21, Suzy and Burton were married in Virginia. Meanwhile, Hunt’s mother, Sue, told journalists: ‘I’m quite ­convinced  that whomever my son had married, the same situation would have arisen. ‘Suzy was a delight, but James is just not the marrying kind.’

Comments from Murray Walker:

 The film (Rush) features the legendary 1976 duel between Austria’s then reigning world champion Niki Lauda and Britain’s playboy challenger, James Hunt. “I can’t tell you when I’ll see it, but I will,” says the man who shared a commentary box with Hunt for 13 years after the world champion retired from racing. “What I can say from talking to people who have seen Rush is that the way the film portrays the two men as enemies is not true – they were great friends. “But they’ve taken liberties to make the film more entertaining for people who are not, on the whole, petrol heads like me.” Although he will be 90 next month, Murray still writes for F1 Racing magazine and works for BBC Radio Five Live, too. “James was a very complex character,” he says. “And I was old enough to be his father. We came from such very different backgrounds and he was interested in very different things to me.” Murray, who has been married to wife Elizabeth for 53 years, adds: “I thought James drank too much, smoked too much and womanised too much. “But I wouldn’t be saying these rather unpleasant things if he had not been a decent, friendly character inside beyond the enormous success and adulation that he had. “Women threw themselves at him and it went to his head. When he retired he was a Lloyd’s Name and when that collapsed he lost most of his money at a time he was going through a vexatious and expensive divorce. He then became a much more likeable human being.” Murray says he worked with James for 13 years, 16 meetings per year, four days at a time. Murray Walker

Murray Walker worked with James Hunt for 13 years.

“When you add that up, that’s quite a big number,” says Murray. “James was very outspoken with very strong views on nearly everything.” By a strange coincidence, he first met the Surrey-born strockbroker’s son on a day that has made the film. Murray was at a Formula 3 meeting Crystal Palace on October 3, 1970 when the blond star was in a rage after being forced to crash. “James came up to Dave Morgan on the track and knocked him down in my line of vision,” says Murray. News of Hunt’s death in Wimbledon at the age of 45 on June 15, 1993 was just as unexpected – as the pair had been working together only the day before. “We commentated on a lot of the long haul races from a studio at Shepherd’s Bush trying to give the impression that we were there. The last race we covered together was the Canadian Grand Prix. Because he had lost his money, James used to cycle everywhere because he couldn’t afford to drive. He had then gone to London to play snooker with Gerard Donaldson who had ghost written his book, but said he felt unwell.” “My wife phoned me at a function somewhere and said ‘Brace yourself, I thought she was going to say something had happened to my mother, Elsie, who was then 96. But she said ‘James has died’.

Chris Hemsworth stars as James Hunt in the film Rush
Chris Hemsworth stars as James Hunt in the film Rush

 “And I said: ‘James who?’ because I was with him only that last night and I thought James Hunt can’t have died. “He’d had a heart attack and was allegedly on his bed with his phone in his hand, presumably phoning for help. “Climbing the stairs had finally done for him.” Back in 1976, the BBC only used to cover the British Grand Prix. It was as a result of the interest caused by Lauda’s near-fatal Nürburgring crash on August 1, 1976 and his subsequent return to challenge Hunt all the way to the final race of the season – that led the BBC to start broadcasting every race from 1978 onwards. Murray was in the right place at the right time. “I got the job of commentating because of Raymond Baxter’s commitment to Tomorrow’s World and a commercial interest which clashed,” says Murray, whose main career was in advertising. “James was a bloody good driver. You had to brilliant to get into Formula 1 and mega brilliant to be world champion. He wasn’t in my opinion in the Mika Hakkinen, Sebastian Vettel and Michael Schumacher bracket, but he had more personality than the rest of them put together.”

An interview with Nikki Lauda:

Niki Lauda and James Hunt in 1977

‘James was different’: Niki Lauda and James Hunt in 1977 Photo: Hulton Getty
<!– remove the whitespace added by escenic before end of tag –>The film Rush chronicles the impassioned rivalry between Lauda and the British driver James Hunt as they battle it out for the 1976 championship. In the German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring, Lauda’s tyres lost grip and his Ferrari caught fire. He was dragged out. “Another 10 seconds and I would have died,” he says. There followed gruelling operations to remove smoke and debris from his lungs and his face was irreparably burnt; he lost half an ear. But he refused to give up. Showing spectacular strength and verve, he appeared just a couple of months later at a race meeting in Monza with, for want of a better description, a new face. Fellow drivers recoiled in horror and couldn’t look at him. But even though he’d missed races Lauda still led the championship and battled against Hunt for the title until the last race of the season. Lauda has just seen the film, which is basically his story; he was a constant companion to writer Peter Morgan and shared his memories and knowledge of the sport. He is now 64, and the scars have almost faded. “Yes, the wrinkles improved it,” he says with an almost impossible confidence. He’s comfortable with me looking right at his face. In fact, he enjoys it. This is a man who has not only learnt to live with his disfigurement but has enjoyed living despite it. “When after the accident I came out into the world and people looked at me, they were shocked. It upset me. I thought they were impolite not to hide their negative emotions about my look. When I saw the movie it let me see the story from the other side, from the point of view of other people looking at me. It helped me understand why people were shocked.”

What was it like for him when he first saw the scarring? “My then wife fainted when she first saw me, so I knew it could not have been good. As I get older the scars get lost in the lines, and, well,” he shrugs, “you just get used to it.”

It’s interesting that in the age of cosmetic microsurgery, when transformations are commonplace, that Lauda refused to have any more work done after the initial surgery to keep him alive. “I only had to do surgery to improve my eyesight. Cosmetic surgery, it’s boring and expensive and the only thing it could do is give me another face. I had the eye surgery so that my eyes could function, and as long as everything functions I don’t care about it.” Lauda has few insecurities. Born to a wealthy Austrian family in Vienna, his parents had expected him to follow into a comfortable life. He wanted none of it. “I was always being offered cosmetic procedures. See this little thing here,” he gestures to the side of his face, “this was done by Ivo Pitanguy in Brazil. He was the most famous plastic surgeon in the world at the time. He wanted to do everything. “What do you think of the stupid women who get work done all the time?” “I think it’s bad. If you have something done, people can see right away that you’ve had surgery.” The point of good surgery is that you don’t notice it. “I see it straight away,” he says.

Does he automatically find a woman unattractive if she’s had work done? “I would hate it. It means they can’t stand whoever they are. I’ve had a lot of incidents in the past where people were wondering how I looked. At least I can say I had an accident. The idea that people would work on themselves, who hadn’t had an accident – I can’t stand plastic surgery. You have to have enough personality to overcome this beauty bull and find the strength to love yourself the way you are.” But Lauda’s strength strangely makes him look really good. His eyes seem to glint even bluer when I tell him this. He says, “I’ve learnt from my life experience. I think I was much less charismatic before.” Rush portrays the young Lauda as very determined, practical and pragmatic. His personality was the opposite of the flamboyant catnip to all women, James Hunt. Actor Daniel Brühl, who played Lauda, had to have prosthetic teeth. He was known as “The Rat” for his protruding teeth, which you don’t notice now. “Marlboro was the sponsor. They put ‘The Rat’ on my visor. A marketing guy thought of it because of my teeth.” He wasn’t vain before the accident or diminished by being called The Rat, and he wasn’t diminished afterwards. He’s never counted on his looks. His psychological battle to overcome his brush with death and the subsequent injuries was one that he treated with his usual sportsmanship. He didn’t falter. Was he ever afraid? “I’ve had lots of positive and negative experiences. I don’t really have any fear.” Hunt won the 1976 championship on the last race of the season. Lauda retired from Formula One three years later but made a comeback in 1982 with McLaren, hanging up his helmet for the final time in 1985. Still fascinated with fast and powerful travel, he started airline Lauda Air, having gained his own commercial pilot’s licence. It did well for a while. But then, as he explains, “Another terrible thing was the airplane that crashed, the Boeing 767.” The Lauda Air flight crashed in Thailand in 1991, killing all 223 people on board. “I’ve been through a lot and I realise the future can’t be controlled,” he says. “I’m not worried. You can always learn to overcome difficulties. That said, I’ve always been a stable person.” Is that why he was attracted to Formula One? He wanted to test that stability? “No. Formula One is simply about controlling these cars and testing your limits. This is why people race, to feel the speed, the car and the control. If in my time you pushed too far, you would have killed yourself. You had to balance on that thin line to stay alive.” Much is made of the physical scars that remain from his 1976 crash at Germany’s Nürburgring, but it also left his lungs weakened and breathing difficult. Was there never a moment where he felt simply grateful to be alive and not need to get back in the car? “No, not one moment, because I knew how things go, I knew about the risks,” he says evenly. “They questioned me, did I want to continue? But I always thought, yes, I do. I wanted to see if I could make a comeback. I was not surprised to have an accident. All these years I saw people getting killed right in front of me.’

Lauda was married at the time to Marlene, and they had two sons together. Did having children change his desire to race, to take those risks? “No, I was very focused and continued racing, and now I am married again and have twins, a little girl and a little boy.” He talks of his Max and Mia, born in September 2009, with great pride, telling me that his wife is away, that he’s been looking after them on his own. His wife, Birgit, 34, used to work for his low-cost airline company FlyNiki, also now sold. She was a stewardess. Did he meet her on a plane? “I met her at a party and I fell in love with her. It was one of those things where you see someone and you just know. I connected with her right away because of her boots. They were a hippy type, flat boots. The opposite of the high heels that everyone else was wearing at the party. That was my first interest.” He fell in love with her because of her boots? “Yes. Then I found out she was working for me.” Is he still in touch with his first wife, whom he divorced in 1991? “Yes, very much so. She is part of our life. We have a house in Ibiza. She lives there. My old family and new family often get together. We went to a restaurant the other day, Marlene, Birgit and myself. She is an outstanding woman. When everyone is happy she is happy. We got divorced but we are still friends. Nothing has changed. What is more, Birgit is her friend too.”

Nowadays, Lauda lives a little outside Vienna. “Nothing fancy,” he says, shrugging. Does he ever get tempted to speed through suburbia? “No, but when I am stopped by the police if I go a little fast I always tell them I cannot help it, it’s in my blood. They either laugh or give me a hard time.” He laughs now; an easy, throaty chuckle.

                                                                                                                         Daniel Brühl, playing Lauda, with Ron Howard on the set of Rush

In Rush, Lauda and Hunt (played by Chris Hemsworth) are portrayed as extreme rivals who eventually come together out of mutual respect. “Yes, we were friends. I knew him before we met at Formula One [at Formula Three]. We always crossed each other’s lines. He was a very competitive guy and he was very quick. In many ways we were the same. I had a lot of respect for him on the circuit. You could drive two centimetres from his wheels and he never made a stupid move. He was a very solid driver.” The film depicts Lauda as serious, Hunt as loving to party, womanise and drink. Is that accurate? “I liked his way of living. I did a little bit of what he did. I was not as strict as I appeared in the movie, but I was more disciplined than he was. I would never drink before a race. Certainly after it; I had to. Every race could have been my last. It’s different today, but then it was a tougher time. Every race we went out and survived, we celebrated, had a party. It was a different time. With the others we would have a beer after the race and then say goodbye. That was not friendship. With James it was different. James was different.” Does he think that Britain could ever produce another driver like Hunt? “No. Today, life is different for the racers. Everything is as safe as possible. The last driver to be killed was Ayrton Senna, 19 years ago, and the improvements were so big since that. Now nothing ever happens. It’s just not the same.” And that makes it less exciting? “Maybe. But Lewis Hamilton did well in the race the other day. A little into the race his tyre exploded. He is a very good guy. A great personality.’”

What quality does he think he shared with Hunt to make them both extraordinary drivers? “In many ways he was my opposite. We both tried to win. It’s sad that he’s not here now sitting with me. He had a rough time.“He was sober and clean for four years and then had a heart attack. He died too early, too young. I wish he’d been here to see the movie. It would have been the best.” It’s been said that Lauda is not a very emotional person.

Sourced from: Daily mail, Wikipedia, Birmingham Mail, The Telegraph, and others.

6 Responses to James Hunt

  1. camerapacker says:

    Fascinating guy with a great driving talent and apptitude for life.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. camerapacker says:

    Enjoyed the descriptions and insights in the article.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Diane, Thanks for Comments, I am a bit of a Mustang nut you could say. James Hunt was a bit of a legend I must agree.

    Like

  4. Diane Rapaport says:

    The only other guy I knew to have that much sex was my Taoist grandmaster. . .Interesting blog. You must be a Mustang fanatic to have read my blog on the private Mustang/Camaro race between Jerome AZ’s chief of police and its handsome devil of a teenager (almost as handsome as Hunt by the way.) Thanks. Diane Rapaport

    Like

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