Brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler: Carlo Carluccio
I recently wrote an On This Day article celebrating the life of Mike Hailwood. It was a brief account of his incredible sporting life and mention was made of a woman that knew Hailwood at the peak of his career – Elizabeth McCarthy.
Following the article, TheJudge13 received an email from Elizabeth thanking its publication and surprise at the mention of her name. The communication also explained briefly the reasons behind her decision not to marry him and she included the full history of their encounter. Further correspondence between Elizabeth and myself explained how the story came to be written.
The renowned author and journalist – Christopher Hilton – wrote over 70 books, the majority biographies about Formula One drivers. Possibly his most famous: “Ayrton Senna – The Hard Edge of Genius” – was the first biography of the legendary Brazilian and in 1995 he published a book about another legend – Mike Hailwood, “A Man Called Mike: The Inspirng Story of a Shy Superstar”.
After it’s publication, Elizabeth contacted Hilton and in her own words:
“The way my story came to be written was that I contacted Christopher Hilton to ask if he had been asked to leave out the prediction of Mike’s death. I was surprised when he said that he hadn’t heard about it.
As a good journalist, he asked me some rather probing questions that only someone who knew Mike and Stan could answer. Then he asked me if I would write down everything that I could remember for inclusion in a future edition of his book. As you might imagine, I left out a lot, but over the course of a couple of years a narrative began to take shape. I sent it to friends of Mike’s and asked for their comments.
When the second edition of Christopher’s book didn’t come to pass, several people suggested that it was worth publishing. I’ve given it freely. I hope that reading my story gives people a fuller portrait of Mike than they get from the dry statistics of his career. I also hope that it might inspire people to record their own memories and save their photos from that era of racing.”
The feature is Elizabeth’s story and with her kind permission we are publishing her story. The 3rd June 1978 proved to be one of the most famous Isle of Man TT races ever witnessed. Record crowds were drawn to the Island following the announcement that legendary Mike Hailwood was returning to bike racing after an 11 year retirement.
My Memories of Mike Hailwood
By Elizabeth McCarthy
I don’t quite know how to begin – at the beginning, I suppose is the logical answer – but my story is one that bends logic, as you will see.
Let me begin then before the beginning of Mike and me. I was a very good student in school. My family lived in a village on the edge of Toronto, Canada. My parents wanted me to go to a better school than the local school, but it was beyond their means. My grandmother took me to meet the Anglican archbishop of Toronto. He very graciously arranged a scholarship at St. Clement’s for me on the conditions that I placed in the top 10% on the entrance exams, kept that high standing and most important of all – used that education for the benefit of humanity in some way.
I discovered that I had a talent for math and science. I was fascinated by cars and racing. There was a time when I could have drawn maps of the some of the great GP circuits because I has studied them so much. I was engrossed in the details of circuit design. My interests progressed to F1 suspensions, tires, circuit pavements and safety features. I went to marshalling school at Mosport, nearly fainted during the first aid film and so they put me on signaling and communications. I worked at several races and also participated in rallies as a navigator. At 15 I was the only female and the youngest student member of the Society of Automotive Engineers. My contribution to the school yearbook was an article on F1 racing – a first for that very traditional girl’s school.
Who knows where all of that might have led? But, what happened next convinced me that I had gotten off my path. I was in a terrible car accident – so terrible that I died, went to heaven and came back. (Today we call that a near-death experience or NDE). I saw many wonderful things there. Since then I have tried to live my life according to what I saw and learned that day. I saw my future – or at least part of it. I was shown things that I was told I had promised to do before I came into this life and emerged determined to fulfill those promises.
Fast-forward 2 years to 1967. I was just beginning my career in public education and fundraising for international development and relief agencies. I worked full-time for one that could afford to pay me and volunteered nights and weekends for several others.
I had a friend from my engineering period who was very keen on racing. He had two tickets to a reception for the factory teams that were in Toronto for the first ever Canadian motorcycle Grand Prix to be held that next weekend at Mosport. I was out of touch with racing and wasn’t that keen, but he convinced me to go. He also gave me a stack of magazines to read. He told me as much as he could about the riders, bikes, etc. In the summer of 1967 there had been a number of squabbles over starting money and other issues between the factory and non-factory riders. Emotions ran high and a lot of them were directed at Mike Hailwood. Those stories combined with stories depicting Mike Hailwood as a glamorous playboy shaped my negative mental image of him.
When my friend and I arrived at the reception at the Westbury Hotel we saw that there were about 200 people there. We separated because he wanted to try to get some autographs. I went over to the buffet table. The only one there was a rather forlorn looking Japanese man.
I said, “Hello” and started talking with him. He showed me pictures of his family in Japan and asked about my family – that sort of thing. Out of the corner of my eye I became aware that someone was watching me. You know that feeling.
Soon a very nice looking man with a stylish moustache walked over to me and said “I think that is just about the nicest thing I have ever seen a woman do”.
“What’s that?‘ I asked, as my Japanese friend faded away.
“I’ve been watching you and you have been spending about 10 minutes talking to Teddy – that’s what we call him – and you gave him your full attention – that was very nice. And unless you speak Japanese it must have been a very limited conversation,” he said with a nice laugh.
I laughed and replied,”Well, he looked lonely”.
To which he replied, “Well, I’m lonely, would you talk to me?”
We talked for approximately 5 hours. We talked about music, history, travel – everything but racing. I actually assumed that he was a journalist or a public relations type for one of the teams. I was impressed by his gentleness and wide knowledge of the world.
At one point during the evening flash bulbs went off amidst a burst of laughter at the opposite end of the very large room. I was startled and looked in the direction of the lights for a second.
He asked if I would rather be over there. I said, laughing, ‘No, not at all.’
Then it happened again and he repeated the question a little more insistently.
When I replied, ‘No’ a second time he asked, ‘Are you sure?’
I replied with a laugh, and giggling – “Oh no, that’s probably just Mike Hailwood and I wouldn’t walk across the room to meet him.”
I want to emphasize that I was laughing when I said that. He looked stricken for a second and asked, ‘Why ever not?’ I explained about my friend, the magazines and the stories. I said that from everything I had heard Mike Hailwood was a jet setting playboy and womanizer, probably rather superficial and not at all the kind of person I would enjoy talking to.
He asked if I was enjoying talking to him and I replied, “Oh yes, very much so!”
A little after midnight the reception was breaking up. Amazingly we hadn’t been interrupted during the whole evening.
My new friend asked me to have breakfast with him. When I said I couldn’t, he suggested lunch, dinner, etc. With each suggestion I kept explaining that I had commitments at work. He suggested every day until the weekend. I was blushing and giggling at his persistence. Then he asked me if I was going to the practice on Friday.
I said, “No, I told you I am really not a racing fan and besides I have to work.” Then finally he asked if I was going to go to the races on Saturday.
I asked him if he was going to be there and he got an odd look on his face and said, “You really don’t know who I am, do you?”
Laughing again (I laugh and giggle a lot) I said, “No, who are you?”
He replied, “I’m Mike Hailwood and I’m going to marry you”.
Needless to say we saw each other the next day and every day that week.
The following week was magical.
Mike was a man of extraordinary depth and sensitivity. We didn’t go dancing or anything like that. All he wanted to do was spend our time together talking. This annoyed his great friend and fellow racer, Bill Ivy, to no end, as he had lost his carousing partner. He would make comments to the effect that Mike was turning into an old man. We spent a lot of time alone in the room which Mike shared with his Honda teammate, Ralph Bryans. Ralph was always gracious and left us alone as much as he could.
Mike talked a little about racing. He was sincerely astonished that people thought what he did was worth getting excited about. I remember one specific thing he said. ‘They could strap a monkey on a bike and he could do what I do’. He had seen that in a circus and remembered it. Mike was in a time of deep introspection and self-examination – what we would call today a mid-life crisis.
He felt that Honda might quit racing and wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life. A love relationship with a very beautiful film star had just ended and left him deeply hurt.
When I had read the racing magazines I had seen a few pictures of him wearing a helmet and goggles. He didn’t have a moustache in those pictures. Mike had grown that to cover the evidence of a recent accident. He often said that my not recognizing him was a great gift because he knew he could trust me. I wasn’t one of what he called racetrack dollies who just wanted to be with him because of his fame, or money or glamour. He talked about living the public relations image of himself – the celebrity side – as ‘being Mike Hailwood” as in ”I don’t know how to do anything else except to be Mike Hailwood”.
Partly because his mother had left the family when he was a toddler ( he didn’t see her again until 1974 ) and partly because of his other experiences he was extremely leery of people in general and women in particular. Like all of us he didn’t want to be hurt again.
One of the unexpected things that we had in common was that we had both been to very good schools and been unhappy there – I was teased because I was a scholarship student in a school for girls from wealthy families. Even though Mike’s family was certainly wealthy he was teased about his accent.
Mike wasn’t a big man. He was actually rather thin in those days. But he had great strength in his arms and hands – probably from wrestling the Beast as he called the Honda 500 – 4. Mike had very large hands like a football player’s. He could easily pick me up and carry me. Mike was a great hand holder. But, sometimes he would hold my hand so tightly that I thought he was going to crush it.
The dark cloud hanging over our week was that we both knew he had to go back to England to race in the Race of the Year at Brands Hatch. England. I was astonished when he brought up the subject of marriage again. I really thought that when he said it the first time he was just being funny – I never dreamed that he meant it.
One night he mentioned it again and pressed for an answer. I was really torn. I hadn’t told another soul about my near-death experience at that point. People just didn’t discuss those things the way they do today. So instead I told him that I didn’t think I could bear to watch him risk his life every weekend for the entertainment of a crowd of people, some of whom would just as soon see a spectacular crash as anything else.
He replied,‘ I am not going to be killed on a race track – so you don’t need to worry about that’ (no mention of serious bodily harm!)
I was startled. “How can you be so sure of that?” I asked.
He proceeded to tell me something that he said he hadn’t told another person.
“Ten years ago I was starting racing in South Africa. One Saturday night after a day of racing some of us went to a nightclub in Durban. There were 8 of us – all about the same age sitting at one table. A very old Indian fortune-teller came into the club. He came over to us to read our palms. He proceeded to tell us our fortunes and how each of us would die. He said that none of us would live past the age of 40. I would be the last to die.
I would be killed by one of those damn lorries – so, you see, it won’t happen on a track.”
I was stunned.
He said that at that time 3 of the original 8 had died as predicted. I think one of them might have been Gary Hocking because he said one was a very good friend who had switched over to cars from bikes and been killed racing. I wish I had remembered their names and the details but I was too stunned by the thought that the man I loved was telling me that he had, at most, 13 years to live.
I told him that I hadn’t been honest about my reasons for not marrying him. I told him about my near-death experience and how I felt that I was to be alone for about 10 years from that event (8 years to go from 1967 – both Mike and I married in 1975 – but not each other ).
We talked about my work and how gratifying it was. Mike said that he would like to do something like that but was afraid of failing because he said, “all I have ever known is being Mike Hailwood”.
The instincts were definitely there, but, so too was the fear of the unknown and unfamiliar. He offered to fund any project I wanted if I would marry him.
My heart was breaking but I told him that I felt that somehow it wasn’t meant to be that easy – that I had to sacrifice something. What greater sacrifice could there be than not marrying my soul mate?
Then he said something that haunts me to this day. “Maybe if I lived your kind of life I wouldn’t have to die and I could live to be an old geezer”.
In the years since, I studied metaphysics and realized, to my deep regret, that he was wiser than I was. We can all change our ‘fates’ by changing the way we live. But I didn’t understand at that time. He really wanted to do something meaningful with his life as far as helping others. I feel that in a way I let him down.
I remember the first time I met Giacomo Agostini who raced for MV. Mike asked me not to talk to him. He said, “He steals all my girls”
Giacomo was a very gallant gentleman around me. The teams were all staying in the same small hotel, the Flying Dutchman, near the track.
One evening I was walking back to the dining room when I passed him in the hall.
Ago said in very heavily accented English. “You are very, very good for Mike. He is different with you. You’re a very nice, very nice girl. I am happy for Mike.”
Mike’s Honda teammate, Ralph Bryans was also very kind. He told me not to let Bill Ivy hurt my feelings with his remarks. We only saw the others in passing because Mike and I were generally alone talking.
One evening Mike and I were alone in the dining room. A stunning redhead came over to our table and asked for his autograph. Then she dangled her room key in front of him and said that if he was bored later he should knock on her door. He thanked her and said that he didn’t expect to be bored. When she left, Mike said, with a laugh, -“you see what I have to put up with”. I laughed and said that I didn’t think it looked too onerous.
Mike started talking about some of the women who were around racing. He said that when he started racing he couldn’t believe all the girls who were throwing themselves at him and, as he said, he wasn’t one to let the opportunities go to waste.
Mike said that he knew that I probably thought he used them. “But“, he said “it was mutual – they didn’t give a damn about me whether I was hurt, tired, worried or cold. They just wanted to go back to their mates and brag that they had been with Mike Hailwood. They weren’t really with me.”
I had never thought of it that way before.
Mike was famous for his practical jokes.
On practice day, Mike wanted to play a trick on Giacomo. I am short – 5’3″ and today I have waist length blonde hair. It wasn’t quite that long then. I was wearing black pants, sweater and ski jacket that day which he thought would look like leathers from a distance. He had the idea that I should ride the 500- 4 which he affectionately called the Beast because it was like riding an unruly camel. Knowing what we now know about its handling that was an outrageous idea. But, I trusted him completely.
His idea was that it would completely unnerve Ago to see me riding this awesome bike – never mind that it would also completely unnerve me!
I sat on it and immediately there was a problem. My feet didn’t touch the ground. The Beast weighed well over 300 lbs. I could only slide to one side and put one foot on the ground. He asked me if I had ever ridden a motorcycle. I said that one summer I rode a Honda 50 that was more like a scooter. In a masterpiece of understatement he said, “It’s the same thing.”
Mike continued,” It’s really simple. There are five speeds. You shift out of first at 55 and I don’t want you going out of second.” (The 500 4 actually had a six speed transmission. But Mike was always rather vague on technical matters).
I was thinking to myself – shift into second at 55! “How fast will this thing go?” I asked. “Nobody knows for sure, but as light as you are – probably 200 on the back straight” was his nonchalant reply.
The mechanics were worried, especially Teddy.
I don’t know if they were more concerned about having to explain to Mr. Honda how one of his bikes was smashed or explaining to my mother how her daughter met a spectacular end!
Mike relented. What actually happened was that he took The Beast back out for a couple of record smashing laps and then quickly jumped off. I jumped on, putting his goggles around my neck and his helmet on my head and his gloves on my hands. I bent forward and pointed to the front wheel pretending to convey something of importance to the two mechanics who were surreptitiously helping me hold up the bike. I wonder what Ago thought when he walked by. Mike was in the back of the Honda pits, nearly doubled over with laughter.
To Be Continued on Monday 2nd June.