Sporting spotlight

GRAND JOB: Lynden Swainston with nephew Gwynant at the Melbourne Grand Prix.

GRAND JOB: Lynden Swainston with nephew Gwynant at the Melbourne Grand Prix.

First published in Sport
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A welcome recent visitor to the county was Lynden Swainston, who has family in St Davids, and it was a unique chance to talk to someone with such a vast experience of Grand Prix racing over more than 30 years.

Lynden saw her first grand prix in Austria in 1975, when she helped out a friend, who had other things to do, by taking her place as a tour guide to a group of 40 men who were spending a weekend in savouring the race.

At the time, Lynden was heavily involved in skiing but within a relatively short time became an official tour guide with Page and Moy, eventually started her own company in providing accommodation, travel and anything else needed, mainly for journalists following the Grand Prix procession to all corners of the planet, as well as for the teams involved.

It resulted in her getting to know the great and the good amongst the drivers and others from all the different teams, many of the top sports writers and photographers from papers like the Daily Mail, Telegraph, Times and Guardian , plus people from the BBC and other TV companies like Sky Sports.

A visit to Lynden’s house in London reveals the extent of her involvement because the walls are adorned with signed photographs of the likes of  Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Damian Hill – and she knows the current batch of drivers like Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton, Phillipe Massa and Vallieri Bottas.

There is also a picture somewhere of her with football pin-up David Ginola in the Benetton garage!

Lynden has quite amazing stories to tell about her time as a guide.

“I took a group to watch the US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen and the weekend became very special because I also went with some of my party to see Cassius Clay (later Mohammad Ali) fight Ernie Shavers at Madison Square Gardens, as well as watching Pele play in a charity football match!”

Once Lynden was awarded her FOM (Formula One Management) pass after a number of years trying to obtain it, she had her own access to the pits and other key areas of the circuit.

“I got to know many of the drivers and mechanics, and became a sort of ‘auntie figure’ to their families and when Damon Hill won his first title in Japan I was sitting with his wife Georgie, caught on TV sipping champagne.

“When Nigel Mansell became champion I was alongside his wife Roseanne and became good friends with Jenson Button’s late father John  and watched race finishes with him. Often when Jenson’s  family travel to watch today they give me a ring to book accommodation and sort out the odd restaurant!

Lynden would describe herself as a ‘Welsh Gordie’ after coming to Wales from the north-east of England and settling with her parents in Dinas Powys. Her sister Pat then married Ian Watson and moved to Croesgoch – and her nephews are Gwynant, who lives in Australia, and Fraser Watson, the well-known sports journalist with the Western Telegraph.

When Fraser was a little younger and spending some time in the Southern Hemisphere she actually sorted out a job for him with McLaren when Lewis Hamilton was making his race debut, and when Fraser was even younger (1992) he was allowed to sit in Nigel Mansell’s Williams’ car in which Mansell won his only World Championship.

Geraint Morris, the Llanrhian cricket captain, met up with Lynden  during his travels and he helped out with Red Bull’s hospitality - and it was Lynden who sorted it all out. She walked him through the pit area and for once he was speechless as famous drivers walked past, saying hello to Lynden!

Outside of her Formula One involvement, Lynden has always been a sports lover, with rugby as a particular favourite, plus athletics in her younger days. She still runs now to keep fit and has skiied for most of her life, working as a ski instructor/guide  in Austria for five years.

It was there that a stroke of fate brought her in to Formula One racing where she agreed to help out a friend, who was due to act as a tour guide for 40 men at the Austrian Grand Prix but had something else to do.

Lynden readily agreed to take over the role, microphone and all, and had such a terrific time that she wrote to the company offering her services. At first there was no response but eventually there came an offer to join them, starting at Long Beach, California and also enjoying special venues like Brazil, Argentina and South Africa.

It was a terrific time for Lynden and was followed by six happy years with Page and Moy, who were based in Leicester. Her work there continued to involve taking spectators to Grand Prix races and ensuring that everyone had a great time, down to having dinner with anyone in need of company (and sometimes involved the whole party as they clearly enjoyed her company!)

It led to Lynden being offered the role of organising the flights and other requirements of some of the British teams of the time like Williams, McLaren, Tyrell, Lotus, Jordan and Benetton.

She could regularly be seen at the airports, seeing the teams off and it was at this time that she really got to know most of the drivers and their families.

With such a huge range of experiences in the world of grand prix racing Lynden decided to start her own company, Lynden Swainston Associates, organising not only transport but accommodation and other requirements needed by the media who form a huge part of racing’s entourage.  

To this end she works with the BBC and Sky, plus national dailies like the Daily Mail, Guardian, Daily Express, and Telegraph, plus 20% of her work including the freelance journalists and photographers seeking best value for their money as they covered Grands Prix.

Lynden still attends almost all the Grand Prix races, flying out on a Wednesday and then checking out the hotels she is using on the next day. She usually has time to spend catching up with drivers and top sports journalists like Kevin Eason of the Times or Bob McKenzie of the Express or with the snappers from Getty Images during these evenings, once their copy has been sent off.

She readily admits that she still loves being involved as much as ever.

“When those starting lights are on red and we are waiting for them to change to green there is no sporting tension like it,” she told us, “and there is so much going on throughout the races that time flies.

“I have been very lucky to have been so involved and I wouldn’t have missed one second of it.

“How long I continue depends on a number of factors but I’ll know when the time comes to step down – and then I’ll have more time to spend in beautiful Pembrokeshire.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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