July 01 2013
On Friday morning I work from home – it’s a pause before taking the
Eurostar to London. The train is my favourite way to travel; it sets the perfect
mood for inspiration. I owe many of my ideas to contemplative, reflective journeys
First stop of the day is an interview with journalist and writer Jamie Goode. Sometimes seen as provocative or controversial, he has a style that I appreciate: astute, precise and stimulating. I then visit Tate Modern, where I experience a puzzling retrospective of Ellen Gallagher’s work – food for thought that I will need time to wrap my head around.
I stay at the Connaught, where I am greeted by a pair of butterfly paintings by Damien Hirst – a real treat. The hotel is quite glorious, with a tremendous combination of luxury and cosiness that is so British. I start by spending an hour chatting in the heat of the kitchen with chef Hélène Darroze, a proud autodidact. Her cuisine is true to her origins in the southwest of France. She’s walking a tightrope when it comes to finding the evasive balance between tradition and innovation. Our friendship has grown over many years, especially since she loves Dom Pérignon and I’m quite partial, to say the least, to the fruits of her talent and creativity. We both entertain the fantasy of pairing Dom Pérignon Oenothèque 1973 with little birds.
Ross Lovegrove and his wife join me for dinner. A world-renowned designer, he talks about his recent collaboration with Renault on a brand-new electric concept car, the Twin’Z. Ross is deeply committed to environmental issues, in particular renewable energy. I feel fully in tune with him on this topic, because of my own connection with the world of nature. Ross is enthusiastic, and a true visionary. We attain a moment of pure harmony – thank you, Ross and Hélène.
On Saturday morning I head off to Silverstone for the Formula 1 British Grand Prix, invited by Frank and Claire Williams. I have been following Formula 1 since my teenage years and Sir Frank Williams embodies the British fighting spirit – his whole life is exemplary, especially in the face of difficult circumstances. Although he is currently handing over the reins of his team to his daughter Claire, he is still present and active. I can only aspire to remain as engaged as he is when I’m his age.
He recently told me that his racing team was about to celebrate its 600th F1 Grand Prix. We came up with the idea of honouring this event with vintages of Dom Pérignon matching the seven driver championships won by the Williams racing team. The party, with select guests close to the history of the team, takes place on Saturday night in the presence of champions Nigel Mansell and Damon Hill. I am fascinated by this confrontation of memories.
Damon Hill, the son of an F1 champion (the only father-son duo to do so), is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met; an aura of self-confidence and integrity emanates from him. His personal story sounds like a novel in which nothing goes easily. I also have the chance to speak to his wife, Georgie, who is closely associated with all of her husband’s achievements. I take my leave hoping to meet them both again soon.
My first impression of the Grand Prix itself leaves me with mixed feelings. I have trouble understanding the action happening in front of me, as there is little correlation with what I am used to watching from home. The event only manages to fulfil my expectations after I have gone down to the starting line, walked amid the cars and been close to the drivers in racing gear.
I watch the game of money and egos going on with a sense of disbelief. The rules of the sport, which used to be so simple, now confuse even the specialists. I am also perplexed by the lack of concern for environmental issues. Despite everybody’s goodwill and hospitality, I am surprised to experience a certain detachment that I cannot seem to fully fight off.
After the race I leave with Richard Beaumont, the head of Dom Pérignon UK. We sip an ale on the sunny terrace of The White Horse, a traditional pub in Silverstone village. I start chatting with some local people sitting next to our table, who are all very proud to host such a major event. This connection brings me back to reality – I’m truly thankful to them for that.