Duke of Richmond
He sits on a fortune of over £200m and is the driving force behind the Goodwood Revival and Festival of Speed
More than 800,000 people attend these two events alone each year, and they have become regarded as two king pin events in the global motoring world. His grandfather opened Goodwood Motor Circuit in 1948 around the WWII airfield (RAF Westhampnett), and Formula One world champions including Graham Hill and Jim Clark raced there in the 1950s and 1960s – Sir Stirling Moss had his career-ending smash on the circuit in 1962. But the circuit fell into disuse in 1966 up until 1998 when the Duke brought motor sport back to help secure the estate’s finances and indulge his passion for cars.
Charles Gordon-Lennox, 11th Duke of Richmond (previously Lord March), had a career in advertising for 15 years, which included creating cryptic images for Silk Cut and B&H cigarettes, before taking over the 12,000 acre family seat near Chichester in West Sussex – their residence for over 300 years. As well as motor racing and vintage costume events, there’s the horse racing, golf, flying, shooting and cricket, and a family-run organic farm set up ahead of the pack in the ‘70s by the Duke’s mother. It furnishes the tables of the five restaurants and two hotels on the 12,000-acre estate, along with the Ritz.
I learnt to drive around the estate when I was 11… one day, when my parents were out, a friend and I borrowed a Land Rover and tore around the fields. We were doing well until my friend accelerated through a gate and stuffed it straight in the side of a bloody horse box. It was totally annihilated but my parents took it very well.
16, I ‘borrowed’ my mother’s Morris 1100… heading downhill, I hit gravel and crashed into trees. I did myself a lot of damage. I broke the top of my femur. Weirdly, I was so young they decided not to pin the bone, so I spent four months on my back with a leg in the air. It was cruelty to children.
My parents were dead against motorbikes… I could drive the Morgan (3-wheeler) on a motorcycle licence at 16. It cost £200 and was absolutely lethal. The back wheel had a tendency to fall off.
I failed my driving test at the first attempt… I was given a Datsun Cherry when I did pass. It wasn’t my finest moment. I was working for the film director Stanley Kubrick at the time and was travelling up and down to London. I thrashed the hell out of it and revved to the red line for every gearchange. Fortunately, the cook spilt a flagon of milk on the back seat. The smell was so bad it had to go.
I hated Eton. Couldn’t wait to leave… it’s completely different now to how it was in my day. Fathers and sons have a completely different relationship now, warmer, loving. People I was at school with often barely had relationships with their fathers. Mine was different; my parents have always been modern, liberal thinkers.’
I took over Goodwood in 1993 when my father retired to live in a house on the estate… the brilliant thing was he never mentioned it again, once he moved out. I know so many people where it’s an impossible relationship, but he’s always supported everything we’ve done. He’s an entrepreneur too, he gets it.
Goodwood is a shared experience and I love that about it… we have 2,500 people working here, right here! (the house and estate, the farms, race tracks, hotel etc).
Inheriting the estate gives us the luxury but also the responsibility… my friends who are entrepreneurs have this freedom to make it or lose it. We have the joy of the continuity but also the downside. There is a strong emotional connection between us all. Over 12 generations it’s completely clear who has made what contribution. When it’s your turn, you don’t want to mess up.
The estate devours money… a wall falls down and that costs £250,000. Curtains replaced, £400,000. We need to make a profit every year just to keep the place standing. Most people who own these places haven’t actually got any money, they just have a lot of stuff they are desperate not to sell.
I missed the racetrack… my grandfather closed it in ’66, much to my horror as a small boy. We tried to get the old racetrack going, but there was a huge amount of opposition from the local authority because of noise. That was in the ‘70s.
We had this interesting bit of road that runs through the park and to the house… I took the RAC track inspector there to have a look at it, and he thought it might be possible and we worked together on it a bit (it became the FoS hillclimb). That was in October ’92 and then in June ’93, we had our first Festival of Speed. We thought we’d get two and a half thousand, if we were lucky. So, when 25,000 people turned up, we got a hell of a fright. It’s over 200,000 now, the biggest car culture event in the world, I think.
Revival was born in 1998… we started off thinking, ‘Let’s put the buildings back how they should be.’ And I thought, ‘Why don’t we go dressed appropriately?’ A lot of people thought it was a very bad idea, actually, they thought, ‘No one will come.’ But we did it and they came, and the next year more came, and the next year more came, and it wasn’t too long before everyone got the hang of it. Before you know it, if you don’t come making some sort of effort (to dress the part), you feel a little bit out of place. The great thing about it is everyone participates in it and that makes it feel very different.
We found a porphyry jar in the cellar from 1,000 BC… succession is super-important. Whoever inherits has to go and do their own thing first. My father was an accountant. For me it’s surprising how many people whom I worked with in advertising still help me, who I still use. It’s about trying to make all this [the estate] relevant to the modern world.