Second World War mechanics in dungarees with their hair in pin curls; sirens in hourglass couture; ’60s it girls in mini dresses and go-go boots – next weekend all these flamboyant characters, and more, will populate the racing circuit at the Goodwood Estate in West Sussex.
Since 1998 the Goodwood Revival, a festival of historic motorsport celebrated entirely in period dress, has drawn a crowd of enthusiasts, now swelling to 150,000, each September. Along with those in costume will be the originals: the legendary fashion models Twiggy and Pattie Boyd are judges of the annual Best Dressed Competition.
Men will be kitted out in Woosterish tweeds and driving goggles, Marlon Brando The Wild One leathers, and in tribute to legendary champs including Juan Fangio, Stirling Moss and Jackie Stewart; the children’s outfit of choice is a speedway suit.
At the centre of the three days of festivities – and serious racing on the historic Goodwood circuit – is founder and host Charles Gordon-Lennox, 11th Duke of Richmond. He may well, he says, don a vintage-Hermès scarf-lined bespoke suit made of dead-stock material for one of those days.
‘Over the past 25 years, Revival has become more and more about a whole experience and less about the races,’ says the Duke. We are sitting in his Goodwood House office, hidden in a labyrinth of operational rooms in one wing of the main property. Surrounding us is racing memorabilia including a racing suit covered in badges, several polished-steel miniature Bugattis, piles of books on design, and racing trophies.
‘Of course, vintage cars ground the event, but the spectators create the atmosphere – they will be shopping, dining and witnessing all manner of theatrical interventions.’ Last year’s top billing will take some beating. ‘We had a huge model UFO crashed into the grounds with aliens emerging from the smoke,’ he says of an installation inspired by the 75th anniversary of the Roswell Incident, which triggered decades of conspiracy theories.
UFOs, cars, planes and motorbikes are all a part of the automotive world brought to life at Revival by a cast of 500 performers from the Goodwood Actors Guild, choreographers, teams of set builders, and the legions of car owners taking part in the type-specific races. It is one big multidimensional entertainment gig and one of the most popular historic motorsport fixtures in Europe.
‘The Goodwood track was built in 1948 and closed in 1966. I was mortified as I loved coming down and meeting everyone,’ the Duke recalls. As cars became faster in the mid-1960s, a number of serious incidents forced closure. ‘The track was important for the development of motor racing and we were lucky, as that 1948 to 1966 window, which is the foundation of the Revival event, was the most glamorous time.
It was during this period that some of the most collectable cars in the world were designed, like the rare Ferrari GTOs, now worth £30 million, or the AC 16/80 Cobra that my grandfather designed.’ The 11th Duke himself has an extensive collection of rare cars and bikes, including a 1936 AC16/80 Prototype; a 1964 Kellison; a Lancia Aurelia B20 Coupé; a Porsche 911 GT2RS; the Ducati bike he rode for the hill climb at the very first Festival of Speed; and a Ford Model A hot rod – something he could only fantasise about when learning to drive in a Morgan 3 Wheeler or zooming around as a teenager in his first motor, a Datsun Cherry.
It was the current Duke’s decision to reinvent Goodwood’s racing legacy, soon after moving into the 12,000-acre estate and the elegant (if dry-rot infested) 17th- and 18th-century house (which also required new plumbing, re-wiring and a new roof). In 1993, then styled the Earl of March and Kinrara, he began the Festival of Speed, an annual motor racing event for both modern and vintage cars. Five years later Goodwood Revival was launched with the invitation to race cars manufactured between 1948 and 1966 around the original track.
‘I wanted to push the parameters and thought, why not do the whole thing in that time window, and enforce a dress code, and go to town on set design?’ he says in a breezy manner. His hunch pulled off. ‘The first edition attracted 25,000 people on the first day and the gate was overrun – it was an amazing weekend. People broke down fences to enter and it became obvious we had something,’ he says now, impressed by the anarchic enthusiasm.
Indeed, previous generations of the family have proved far from conformist. An unorthodox, entrepreneurial, risk-taking streak runs in the ducal DNA, fuelled partly by obsession and partly by the very real challenge of keeping the estate in good fiscal health. In 2022 the Goodwood brand, which covers horse racing, car racing, farming, golf, hospitality and Goodwoof (a festival dedicated to our four-legged friends) and employs a staff of 650, turned over £128.3 million. Rolls-Royce has its factory and HQ on the estate, and VIPS at Revival are shuttled around in vintage Rollses, arriving at the grandstands like film stars.
‘I think the cars are fabulous – gorgeous things – the history, the role they play and racing itself is just so focused and exciting. Getting the track going and being able to race there and trying not to make a complete idiot of myself was wonderful. My kids would tease me, “Were you in 21st or 22nd place? We couldn’t see you!”’ chuckles the Duke of his own efforts on the circuit.
It was his grandfather, a racing driver and car designer, Frederick Gordon-Lennox, 9th Duke of Richmond, who built the Goodwood circuit at the estate in 1948, putting the former RAF Westhampnett perimeter road around the famous Battle of Britain airfield to good use. The automotive world was his passion. He had dropped out of Oxford and taken an apprenticeship at Bentley Motors in Cricklewood, going on to design bodywork for AC Cars.
The 10th Duke was equally smitten, but it is the 11th Duke who has managed to turn that passion into a flourishing business. ‘The Duke is enormously creative, an exceptional businessman, and he is so approachable, with endless energy,’ says Goodwood regular, creative consultant Charlotte Stockdale. ‘The vision and scale of Revival is extraordinary and it is so genuine.’ She also visited Goodwoof for the first time this year: ‘There was a marching band and 200 poodles.’
The Duke’s father died in 2017 and his mother in June this year. Susan, Duchess of Richmond, one of the first members of the Soil Association, was a trailblazer in the 1960s, establishing a flourishing organic farm as well as international dressage competitions, now benchmark equestrian fixtures. ‘She was amazing and a lot of the success now is to do with her and her values,’ says the Duke.
The challenge today, he says, is to modernise and democratise motor racing. The restoration and care of vintage vehicles is one approach, and Revival certainly encourages that. The Festival of Speed also hosts a think tank, the Nucleus Forum, attended by luminaries from the tech, space and automotive fields to brainstorm the future of mobility. Guests have included designers Marc Newson and Jony Ive; Dieter Zetsche, former head of Mercedes-Benz; Brogan BamBrogan, co-founder of Hyperloop One; and Jim Farley, CEO of Ford. But this year’s edition of Revival – now in its 25th year – champions the concept of recycling and restoration through cars, lifestyle and dress.
‘Fashion does bring together a great group of people as the business is so diverse and interesting. Good to rent, good to share, good to remake – these are powerful messages,’ says the Duke. To that end, a new Revive & Thrive Village on site will be dedicated to upcycling and wearing second hand with panache. ‘Workshops on car restoration – that’s a given! But we are pushing harder on the style side. I think the young want to understand how to wear and style vintage clothing.’
Workshops and talks will be led by the television presenter Amber Butchart and the Harlem ‘style activist’ Dandy Wellington, with other speakers including Chanel expert Justine Picardie; The Great British Sewing Bee winner Annie Phillips; and Charlotte Sinclair, biographer of Christian Dior. Pop-up boutiques by the preloved site Hewi and the rental platform By Rotation are new draws attracting influencers and designers including vintage specialists Carmen Haid and Kim Hersov. ‘I’ve been to Revival for the past three years and I am always so impressed and charmed by the integrity of the event,’ says Hersov, founder of the vintage site thequaintrelle.com. ‘Its attention to detail, and the joyful spirit of dress-up – it’s captivating.’
The Duke envisages extending this re-use ethos to furniture and decor in years to come. The handsome 68-year-old, with his plummy-meets-London twang, bespoke Terry Haste suits, and handmade EB Meyrowitz glasses, is a great ambassador for his brand, as is his wife, Janet – the Duchess has an enviable wardrobe of vintage. Likewise, their five children all take up roles at Goodwood events. This autumn his eldest son, 28-year-old Charles Gordon-Lennox, Earl of March and Kinrara, or plain Charlie March, is launching a sustainable genderless clothing line, Understated: Era, blending sartorial traditions with utility cool. He has just finished his MBA at Columbia Business School in New York and has substantial backing for the venture.
While the contemporary fashion and design worlds might be anathema to many aristocrats, the Duke and Duchess have more vision. The cinematic splendour of Revival and Speed is rooted in his experience as a professional photographer. His photographs today are elegiac studies of nature that veer towards abstraction. He has staged several exhibitions. ‘Being in the studio is a nice distraction for me,’ he says.
After leaving Eton he worked on set taking stills for the enigmatic film director Stanley Kubrick and went on to forge a successful career in the buoyant advertising world of 1980s London, at agencies including JWT and Saatchi & Saatchi.
‘I worked for Kubrick for about a year, doing pre-production stuff on Barry Lyndon. In many ways, it was quite mundane, just going wherever he or Ken Adam, the art director, sent me.
But the joy of it was that I would spend every evening going through the pictures with them in some detail. Stanley always worked from home, and his family were around. He was also very nice to me. If the pictures didn’t come out for some reason, which obviously was a pretty bad show, he would explain why,’ says the Duke. ‘The attention to detail was the mind-blowing thing, and to be around someone at that age where there was no compromise and the only reason for doing something was to do it as well as you possibly could, was hugely inspiring. It definitely played a big part in my future attitude to work.’
Working with set designers and model makers gave him an insight into the meticulous planning it takes to create the theatrical spectacles that set his own event apart from comparable gatherings such as Le Mans or Silverstone Classic. Huge installations such as the spiralling sculpture that suspended six Porsches at the Festival of Speed this year, or a triumphal arch festooned with flags and a pendant Ferrari, have become a fixture at the events.
Indeed, he first met the head of set design, Gerry Judah, who creates the sculptures at Festival of Speed along with scenic artist Annie Ralli, back in ’80s London. ‘Without that knowledge, I don’t think I ever could have fathomed all of this,’ he says, gesturing out towards the stadiums, installations and stages. Among this year’s programme of 15 races is the Fordwater Trophy, a one-make race for early Porsche 911s powered by sustainable fuels; other highlights will include a celebration of 75 years of Lotus.
Horses and horsepower, speed and organic farming, dogs, hospitality, and the Goodwood Education Trust all come under the Goodwood umbrella. ‘I hope we are reframing the appeal and joy of driving for today – it is a challenge for the whole industry,’ says the Duke. There have been takeover enquiries but he would like to keep it in the family. ‘We have a little microcosm here and it kind of works. The brand is a beautiful thing from the estate to the farm to the events and publishing. We try to keep all the different parts spinning in a synchronised way,’ he smiles. At the moment, he is not envisaging any chequered flags.