Me and My Motor: Charles Gordon‑Lennox, 11th Duke of Richmond

Me and My Motor: Charles Gordon‑Lennox, 11th Duke of Richmond

For 50 years the Duke of Richmond has been tearing up Goodwood


CHARLES Gordon-Lennox, 11th Duke of Richmond, sits on a and is the driving force behind the Goodwood Revival. More than 450,000 people attended the three-day event in West Sussex, some dressed in period costume to enjoy the extravaganza of automotive nostalgia.

Now 63, the duke launched the festival in 1998 to bring motor sport back to a place steeped in racing history: his grandfather opened Goodwood Motor Circuit in 1948, Formula One world champions including Graham Hill and Jim Clark raced there in the 1950s and 1960s and Sir Stirling Moss had his career-ending smash on the circuit in 1962.

Together with July’s Festival of Speed, the Revival has helped keep the 12,000-acre Goodwood estate afloat. It has also allowed the duke to indulge in all manner of automotive exotica — although his early motoring experiences had mixed results. “I learnt to drive around the estate when I was 11,” he says. “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.”

They weren’t so impressed when the 16-year-old future duke “borrowed” his mother’s Morris 1100 and took it to the Goodwood hillclimb. Heading downhill, he hit gravel and crashed into trees.

“It was one of the world’s worst cars and 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 but they agreed I could drive the Morgan on a motorcycle licence at 16. It cost £200 and was absolutely lethal.

Undeterred, the duke bought a Morgan three-wheeler. “My parents were dead against motorbikes but they agreed I could drive the Morgan on a motorcycle licence at 16. It cost £200 and was absolutely lethal. The back wheel had a tendency to fall off.”

He was furious when he failed his driving test at the first attempt but even less happy when he was given a Datsun Cherry. “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.”

The duke then indulged in a string of fast cars, including a stripped-out Mini Cooper S and an Austin Healey 3000. He took the latter on honeymoon to France when he married his first wife, Sally Clayton. (He is now married to Janet Astor and has five children from his two marriages.) “It dripped hot oil on her feet and then the bloody thing blew up.”

A career in advertising afforded him a Porsche 924 Carrera GT in 1980. He kept it for 13 years until the first Festival of Speed — a companion event to the Revival, held in the grounds of Goodwood House. “I should never have got rid of it,” he says ruefully.

Fortunately, Porsche quickly became involved in the Festival of Speed, and the duke borrowed everything from a 993-series 911 to a “phenomenal” Carrera GT.

Today he has a “modest” fleet of cars, among them a Lancia Aurelia. “The sad thing is, I rarely get to drive it. There are too many great cars and not enough time.”

Duke of Richmond: my life in cars

  • 1971 1936 Morgan three-wheeler
  • 1972 Datsun 100A Cherry
  • 1976 Austin Healey 3000
  • 1980 Porsche 924 Carrera GT
  • 2010 Model A Ford hot rod
  • 2013 Lancia Aurelia (main picture)
  • 2018 Rolls-Royce Ghost
  • My dream car Porsche 911 GT2