Dame Edna Everage, Clive James race in 1993
The 1993 Australian Grand Prix is best known as the last time Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost stepped onto a Formula 1 podium.
For Prost it was the last race of his career, while Senna was killed six months later while leading the San Marino Grand Prix.
But for casual fans, the highlight of the day may have come hours earlier, when Dame Edna Everage and Clive James were among those who took to the track for the celebrity run.
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This presented a challenge for Supercars icon Neil Crompton, who ran the driver training program, as Barry Humphries, aka Dame Edna, was used to being driven everywhere.
Almost three decades later, Crompton can look back fondly on the week, but speaking to Wide World of Sports about his just released autobiography, Best seat in the house, he recalled the stress of the occasion.
Indeed, Dame Edna’s “talents” at the wheel were such that a racing license could only be issued if Crompton was seated in the passenger seat during the race.
“It was about as strange as it sounds,” Crompton said with a laugh.
“Sitting in a racing car, and I use the term loosely, next to a driver in pink racing gear, with an open helmet covered in diamonds and a face made up, with tortoiseshell-rimmed glasses and thatch is a nightmare. “
In the week leading up to the race, celebrities would normally be trained to ride by well-known Australian racers, in this case Crompton, Brad Jones and Bathurst 1000 winner Tomas Mezera.
But Humphries was not interested in learning more about the intricacies of peaks and braking points.
“I picked up Barry at the Hyatt in Adelaide and we were going to go to Adelaide International Raceway, and Barry is a very theatrical person,” Crompton recalls.
He said, “No, no, no, we don’t want to worry about it, let’s go somewhere cool and have a picnic.”
“I think we ended up somewhere near the Adelaide Zoo talking about life. It was an unusual way of learning to drive!”
As Crompton puts it in Best seat in the house, when Dame Edna attempted to run, “It was a tangle of missed speeds and wrong directions. She literally couldn’t drive a car.”
Crompton explained that the race had barely started when Dame Edna loosened the racing harness and grabbed her iconic gladioli in the back seat, which she began to throw at the marshals, shouting “Hello possums” as she walked (slowly) around the circuit.
At one point, Crompton had to reach out and grab the steering wheel, as Dame Edna appeared to be heading for the second lap, rather than negotiating one of the 90 degree turns in the first part of the Adelaide street circuit. .
But the worst was yet to come, as Crompton describes in his book, when Dame Edna missed a shift from second to third, instead putting her back in first, while McLaren boss Ron Dennis and Ayrton Senna watched. from the pit lane as the engine roared. in protest.
“Lady Edna turned to me in desperation,” Crompton wrote.
“In a split second, she had transformed into Sir Les Patterson. ‘HELP ME, HELP ME!’ he growled.
“I reached out, pulled the first gear lever and told him to press the clutch so I could put the car back into third. Senna and Dennis briefly turned their heads, looking for the source of the engine noise taking place.
“I lowered the visor of my helmet and prayed for the checkered flag.”
While there were 24 women on the pitch, if you include Dame Edna, TV critic Clive James was also on the grid. According to Crompton, the world star was a pleasure to work with.
“It was one of the highlights of this week, we befriended Clive James who was the symbolic guy in the race, and he was just an exceptional person to spend time with,” recalls -he.
“Smart, courteous, just an amazing guy. It was great spending time with someone of this caliber, but he had it fully armed.
“Clive thought we all had to be quirky racing drivers, the playboy lifestyle and parties. Every time we got to the end of the practice day, Clive would say, ‘Come on boys, what? are we doing tonight? ‘ “
“If the answer was we had dinner and went to bed, he wasn’t happy! He had a totally distorted view of what it was.”
While netballer Michelle Fielke took the win over aerial ski jumper Kirstie Marshall, Dame Edna finished one lap, which is more difficult than you might imagine given the race was only five laps long.
Crompton has been on the podium twice in the Bathurst 1000, but says the opportunity to work with Humphries is one of the highlights of his successful career in the sport.
“I think it would be right up there. It was awesome, I look back now and I think it was really cool,” he said.
“Barry Humphries invited us to his concert in Adelaide, because he was performing there at the time, and I had never seen Dame Edna in concert before. It was just amazing. motor racing, talk about extraordinary talent, skill and mental ability.
“Barry, at the height of his powers, wow. Being able to play all of these characters and stand on stage night after night without missing a beat was just amazing.”
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