Meet the Duke of Richmond

For a man who presides over one of Britain’s great sporting destinations, the 11th Duke of Richmond – Charles Gordon-Lennox to his friends – is surprisingly diffident on the subject of sporting competition itself.

 

“I’m not much of a watcher of sport, I don’t spend hours at the football or rugby like my sons do,” he says. “But you don’t watch football to admire the ball – and that’s the difference with motorsports.”

He has a point. Admiring beautiful racing cars is practically a sport in itself at Goodwood, the historic estate in the south of England that has been owned by the Duke’s family for over 300 years. With a famous race track converted from a Battle of Britain airfield, Goodwood today plays host to three world-class automobile showcases: the mammoth high-octane gathering that is June’s Festival of Speed, the vintage-themed Goodwood Revival, and the IWC-sponsored Members’ Meeting, which took place this year over a snow-covered weekend in March. Originally for members of the British Automobile Racing Club, the Members’ Meeting is now for members of Goodwood’s own Road and Racing Club and, in limited numbers, the public.

 

“The Members’ Meetings used to happen three times a year, and they were very basic, grassroots-style events,” explains the Duke. “They started in 1948, which is why we call this one the 76th. It’s much smaller than the other events here and very non-commercial: the drivers hang out with the punters, there’s no hospitality and it’s all pretty relaxed. But the cars are magnificent.”

 

Of course. From old tin-tops and touring cars to classic GTs, vintage motorcycles to antique Formula 1 cars, a tour of the paddock throws up a panoply of glorious machines from the world’s greatest makers, past and present. That’s if you can make them out through the epic blizzard that swamps Goodwood throughout the weekend.

 

“I’ve been speaking to Stig Blomqvist [the Swedish former World Rally Champion] this morning about how to drive in the snow,” the Duke admits. “It’s not ideal, but we just get on with it – you can’t manage everything.”

Portrait of the Duke of Richmond

Goodwood House, West Sussex

BLIZZARD AND BLUR

The weather is just about the only element that’s out of the Duke’s hands over the weekend when, as he says, he barely stops moving. From hosting grand dinners in Goodwood House, the exceptional 17th century mansion at the heart of the estate, to dealing with potential partners and sponsors for Goodwood’s myriad other events, and looking after drivers and competitors, the weekend is no doubt a blur of handshakes and rushing about. Amid the screaming roar of car engines, it’s a high contrast from the quiet rural idyll to which Goodwood returns between events.

 

“You get people who’ve only ever been here when we’ve got something going on, and they imagine it’s like that all the time. Then they see it and there are sheep in the park and nothing happening – for us, that’s how it is normally.”

HORSE RACING, HORSEPOWER, AND EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN

Goodwood is a 12,000-acre estate that came into the Duke’s family in 1680. “It all began because Charles II fell in love with a French aristocrat [Louise de Kerouaille] who was lady in waiting to his sister, and as it happens a spy for Louis XIV; they had a child, and the little boy was made the first Duke. He bought the house here because of the sport – it was the best foxhunting to be found anywhere. So sport’s been big for the family ever since then – and unusually, the desire to share that.”

 

It was horse racing that put Goodwood on the sporting map in 1801, and the Glorious Goodwood race meet each summer remains its most illustrious event, with further races throughout the season. There’s also a world-class golf course, an airfield into which the Duke is currently piling investment – “there’s a big future for private aviation” – a cricket ground, game shooting and a rather magnificent boutique hotel.

 

“Horse racing, motor racing, golf, flying, shooting and cricket – that’s our little mantra,” he says. “Slightly madly we run all these things ourselves, from the hotel to the golf courses to the horse. We don’t have other people doing any of it for us.”

Attrib.:Goodwood House, West Sussex
Horse racing, motor racing, golf, flying, shooting and cricket – that’s our little mantra
The Duke of Richmond
76th Goodwood Members’ Meeting - classic car

A ROADMAP FOR THE FUTURE

Now 62, the Duke has run Goodwood estate since 1991, when he took over from his father, the 10th Duke, instigating its return to the world of motorsports. He launched the Festival of Speed in 1993, Goodwood Revival in 1998 after meticulous restoration of the old race circuit, and the Members’ Meeting more recently in 2014. Occasionally he even gets to wheel out cars from his own collection, which is proudly offbeat.

 

“I like the attitude of American cars, and I’ve got some weird and quite fun cars from there. I’ve got a Lancia Aurelia from 1955 – it was the most advanced car around back then, all the racing drivers had one. I’d love a really amazing hot rod though.”

 

The Duke’s legacy, at the very least, is to have embedded the name of Goodwood in the hearts of his fellow petrol-heads throughout the world. But he sees his primary responsibilities rather closer to home.

 

“The question I face is: how do I keep this place going for future generations, and how do I leave the estate in a better state than I found it? The car events have been hugely helpful in that respect, because we never want to just be a venue like most of the estates are. We do this all ourselves.”


CAPTURING THE FEELING

Running Goodwood leaves little time for the Duke’s other great passion, photography. Now a widely-respected fine art photographer – his latest exhibition will be taking place at Rome’s Galleria del Cembalo from 25 May-30 June – he began by working on stills photography for the legendary director Stanley Kubrick after he left Eton, the boarding school. That propelled him into a career in both reportage photography and subsequently award-winning still life and special effects work in the advertising sector.

 

“I started when I was ten, so I’ve been taking pictures for 50 years or so,” he says. “What I used to do was more akin to what we do here at Goodwood: it was all about the detail, very technical and complicated, taking hours on one shot.”

 

Now the Duke’s images are deeply impressionistic, almost abstract landscapes, imbued with a deep sense of mood and atmosphere. “I move the camera around a lot during the exposure so they’re very soft and fuzzy – not what photography’s supposed to be. But the actual landscape isn’t what I’m trying to do – it’s more the feeling of it.”

 

In its way, that’s also comparable to his work making Goodwood a haven for lovers of motorsports, drenched in the atmosphere of its sporting history.

 

“I’m very keen to bring a feeling to this place. I’m not really trying to recreate the past exactly, but I want to create that over-all sense of the place that people will find meaningful.  We’re very lucky – we’ve got great history and it’s all real and completely authentic. We’re doing it for the love of it really.”

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