It was a word-of-mouth, invitation-only affair organized by his lovely wife Susie and a friend without Stirling Moss knowing a thing about it. No mean feat, considering about 400 people attended the celebration. How Susie kept the party from her husband I’ll never know, except that all the invitees were sworn to secrecy! But people are not perfect: a word here, a couple of drinks there can often spoil a surprise like that.
Even so, Stirling knew nothing of his surprise 60th birthday party as he and Susie strolled into the sumptuous ballroom of The Berkeley Hotel in London on September 4, 1993, to a wildly enthusiastic chorus of applause from the more dignified among us and cat-calls, wolf whistles and other boisterousness from that other faction of the unofficial Stirling Moss fan club.
I could see he was taken aback at the sight of 400 shouting, whooping, clapping men and women in dinner jackets and twinkling dresses, especially as he thought he and Susie were going out for a quiet dinner with a couple of friends. But Stirling is quick at everything. He soon recovered and, as he neared my table, his face wore one of those “I’m gonna get someone for this” expressions. To make his point, he gave me a crippling slap on the back as he passed my table, as if he had seen straight through me and knew I’d had a hand in the proceedings by supplying the filmed tribute to him, which was to be shown later that evening.
Once the guest of honor had sat himself down at the top table Stirling, who loves a joke, broke into a rather suspicious grin and muttered something to Susie sitting to his right. That seemed to be the signal for dinner to be served and, apart from the odd bread roll flying through the air and outbursts of ribald laughter from a table or two, we ate and drank in relative peace. Filet de Sole Balmoral, Noisettes D’Agneau Pèrigourdine and Gateau Bon Anniversaire were washed down with some exquisite wines as I enjoyed the company of the attractive Pat McLaren, Bruce’s widow, who was sitting on my right.
But coffee had to be served sooner or later and most of us, not least Stirling, feared the worst. Things got off to a dignified start, right enough, when Rob Walker, a true gentleman and Stirling’s team boss for many years, gave an eloquent tribute to the man many of us regard as the greatest all-round racing driver Britain has ever produced. Rob said all the right things in the right way and was warmly applauded for his efforts.
The trouble started when the night’s second speaker rose to his feet and let rip. The irreverent Innes Ireland kept everyone, including Stirling, reeling in their seats with 45 minutes of gut wrenching fun, at one point describing Moss as a man with “one of those tight little arses that the girls always go crazy about!” People laughed until they ached, so much so that many were relieved when Innes called it a day and toasted Stirling’s health with his customary glass of whiskey. It was a wonderful night.
A couple of years later, I suggested to Susie that we should begin a campaign to encourage the British government and Queen Elizabeth II to bestow a long overdue knighthood on my schoolboy hero. But, within months, I was ‘posted’ by my company to the United States and the campaign never got off the ground.
So you can imagine what a kick it gave me eight years later to sit at my computer and write an e-mail of congratulations to Sir Stirling and Lady Moss!