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Paddy Hopkirk, Fast, Funny, and Utterly Charming…

As I mentioned on social media last week, I was genuinely saddened to learn of the passing of Paddy Hopkirk. I wouldn’t say I knew him well, but I was lucky enough to interview him on many occasions and it was always fun- and easy!

I am no spring chicken but even so, his Monte Carlo escapades are well before my time. Of course, I knew his name though, always synonomous with the Mini. I also remember his famous car accessories, and I recall putting his famous L shaped accelerator pedal, designed to ease the task of heel and toe, onto my Mini many moons ago!  In later years of course, I met him many times. The thing about interviewing Paddy was that the interview didn’t end when you turned off the microphone- he was a fantastic storyteller and almost always had a story you hadn’t heard before. He told me that when he won the Monte he returned to the UK and appeared on the famous “Sunday Night At The London Palladium” show. Presented by Bruce Forsyth, the show attracted figures of almost 14 million (!) and Paddy couldn’t believe it when he saw his Monte winning Mini Cooper on a revolving turntable in the studio. Surely it couldn’t be. Paddy had left the winning car, bearing its many battle scars, at the finish in Monte Carlo and flown home- this car was mint.  One of the BMC factory team was there so Paddy whispered “Looks just like the real thing!” The reply was that Paddy might want to check a little closer- it was his actual car and the paint was still wet!  The story went on to a meeting with Tommy Cooper, who was on the show that night too- but that part is probably not printable in the current PC day- but perhaps the best one was when he told me that after the show they moved the car outside and left the keys in it while they went back into the studio- when they came out, it was gone! The police found it a few streets away, the Hopkirk wannabe having understeered it into a kerb and damaged the suspension. According to Paddy, when asked why he took it he said “It was just sitting there, I had to!” Paddy then looked at me and with his trademark grin says “I know what I would do if I came across Loeb’s Citroen with the keys in it!”

His visits to the annual car show at Dalkey were always great value too and when he came to the Festival of Speed in Adare, he jumped in a borrowed Cooper S and scrapped mightily with his great buddy Alec Poole in a similar car- both showing that they hadn’t lost it at all.  Paddy’s book, A Dash of The Irish, is a great read, as indeed is Alec Poole’s excellent “A Life By The Poole“, in which, unsurprisingly, Paddy features in many of the stories and pranks.

Paddy Hopkirk & Alec Poole photographed at the 1990 Pirelli Classic Marathon. Image from Paddy Hopkirk Mini- Facebook

Tributes to Paddy have been flowing in over the last week and reading them, it’s pretty clear that I wasn’t alone in being utterly charmed by Paddy. He had no airs or graces, was full of amusing stories and would attend pretty much any event he was invited to, and espcially if it was for a charity. As I mentioned, he was a regular guest at the Dalkey Classic Car Show, along with Rosemary Smith and Alec Poole. I perform MC at that event and he will be sorely missed when it runs again in 2023.

Leo Nulty

Header Image: Leo, Paddy and Alec Poole share a joke at the Festival of Speed in 2011. Image from JayTee Photographic.