As a nation, we’re often accused of living on our past; of dwelling in a legacy of empire. Yet if there’s one thing that centuries of plunder and reckless adventure has taught us, it’s how to put on a show! And every summer, that’s precisely what we do.
From Henley to Glyndebourne; Trooping the Colour or Cowes Week, we don’t just hold events, we produce great ones. Gatherings so quintessentially British that they’ve become permanently imprinted on the fabric of the Season.
But whereas once, attendance at such convocations was strictly for the “right set”, today, they are also a magnet for aficionados and revellers; natives of our shores and beyond, infusing themselves in the intoxication of the spectacle.
And nowhere is this more the case than at Goodwood, home of the Duke of Richmond and his heir, Charles Henry Gordon-Lennox, aka Lord March.
Goodwood has a long association with sporting finery, and the magnificent backdrop of the 12,000 acre estate, nestled in the heart of the Sussex Downs makes for the perfect amphitheatre.
But it is March’s pioneering spirit and talent for reinvention that sees this once quiet corner of old England transformed every September into a bustling mecca of vintage virtue.
As a motor racing circuit, Goodwood is a name that will forever be associated with the heyday of its sport. Moss, Clark, Hill and Hawthorn all honed their skills on a track that tested the limits of men and machines.
But then as cars gained ever more speed, it’s fast and flowing layout was seen as a danger to both and in 1966, the circuit closed its gates to racing, refusing to compromise by adding chicanes to slow its charges.
For many, this would have been an end. Cessation would have turned to decline, decay, possibly ruin. Instead, the Gordon-Lennox’s, in true blue-bloodied fashion, preserved and persevered, keeping the circuit alive and intact as a testament to those it had measured.
In the early 1990s, the young Lord March took-on the running of the estate from his father and Goodwood, as we now know it, was born. Firstly with the Festival of Speed, the annual jaunt up the hill that saw the legends of yesteryear competing alongside their carbon-bodied contemporaries.
Then, in 1995, came the Revival.
A simple idea of recreating Goodwood’s glorious past; a festival of racing cars and bikes that would have graced the circuit during its post-war years.
Whether March understood the value in nostalgia, or simply that his photographer’s eye for detail led him to explore every avenue of opportunity, there is no doubt that there is an art to his pageantry; the Revival now becoming one of the most eagerly anticipated events across all sporting calendars.
Today’s Revival is, however, about more than just racing, it’s an experience that sweeps you into a world of heroes and heroines. Where glamour is defined by the redness of the lips and the tilt of one’s hat, and where mighty engines roar effortlessly in salute.
But the real attraction isn’t just the cars, the bikes or the planes, it’s also the people.
The pace on track might not have waned but wander through the enclosures and you need time to see and be seen. Ladies resplendent without tattoos and gentlemen in military or country dress: It’s hard to imagine why we let these times go.
Making my way over to the Drivers’ Club, I’m confronted with more evidence of the human-factor as I gaze upon the assembled elite, the likes of which is unknown elsewhere. Racers, themselves already written into history, line-up like exuberant school boys.
Forgetful of past glories, they chatter excitedly, eager to do justice to the machines, crews, the crowd and their hosts. Champions from all formulae and of all eras, they are at ease here as they revel in Goodwood’s purity and all it represents.
For the drivers, it is the cars that matter. No electronics, no gizmos, just carefully crafted bodies and simmering power.
Like veterans, they stand proud, waiting to be unleashed on their next campaign, and like stars, they pose effortlessly for the camera, admired by all as they await their entrance.
This is the allure of the Revival. It’s not a concours event. It’s absolutely about the men and women who make it; from the team at Goodwood and the drivers and the crowd to the owners of the collections.
People who’ve invested hundreds of thousands of pounds into the rarest and most beautiful of machines, yet understand that for a race car to be truly admired, it has to race, pushed to the limit by those equal to the task.
Lord March hasn’t just created a unique event, he’s set a standard that leaves Goodwood currently unrivaled across the world.
I for one, can’t wait until next September.
Note: Tickets for the 2013 Goodwood Revival (September 13-15) are now on sale here, but hurry, the sell out well in advance.