In conversation with Louise Goodman (part one)

Louise Goodman (@LouGoodmanMedia) has been a familiar figure to motor racing fans for the past twenty years through her ITV F1 commitments and more recently through her British Touring Car Championship role.

I sat down with her at the AUTOSPORT show to chat about her career in motor sport, starting with her various PR roles.

LG: I actually started out with Tony Jardine. I was Tony’s first employee when he set up his PR company Jardine PR. It’s been through about four different guises but it’s still under Jardine.

F1B: You and Tony have known each other for a long time then.

LG: Well I met Tony through powerboat racing, as I was the editor of Powerboat Racing magazine at the time. It’s thanks to Tony that I’m involved in motor sport; Tony had a history in motor sport. My first client when I was started working for him funnily enough was Derek Warwick and I say funnily enough because we come from the same town, a place called Alresford in Hampshire. As a kid, I walked past Warwick Trailers, the family business on my way to school each morning.

F1B: Did the PR thing for you then move on from there, stepping up the ladder as time moved on?

LG: Tony had motor sport clients; we launched Camel as a new sponsor when they started sponsoring the Lotus team back in the day. I worked with BP, who were very involved in the Leyton House team so I was the Leyton House team press officer. I was, briefly through Camel, press officer for Eddie Jordan in Formula 3000 with [Jean] Alesi and [Martin] Donnelly as the drivers. I was approached by Eddie to go and work with him full-time, which is when I moved up to Oxfordshire.

F1B: With Leyton House and then Jordan, what did the day-to-day activity involve?

LG: It was a bit of everything. With Jordan Grand Prix, I was employee number 47, which was the entire team! Formula 1 was very hands on in those days; Ian Phillips was the commercial department for Jordan. There was no such thing as a marketing department. During an event, I would write the press releases, I would also take the drivers to any appearances, I would do garage tours, you name it. It was a bit of everything, even sewing badges onto drivers’ overalls! The teams were much smaller; people had a much broader knowledge. The cars are much more technical these days so the knowledge has become more specialist and the areas are more delineated. Nowadays you have a communications team, a marketing team, it was almost ‘make it up as you go along’ back when I first started.

F1B: I guess it was a lot more intimate, a lot more camaraderie back in those days for the smaller teams because of the relative size.

LG: Well all the teams were smaller. The bigger teams at the time McLaren, Williams and Ferrari would have had a couple of hundred people working there whereas now you’re into the thousands. That’s just the team and then you’ve got the engine manufacture and everything alongside it. There was a lot of camaraderie. I knew next to nothing about Formula 1, I enjoyed it as a kid and I loved James Hunt. Ann Bradshaw, who was Williams press officer at the time, helped me out greatly. I have pictures at home still of all the press officers getting together and having dinner at Imola during the Grand Prix weekend. The press officer at Minardi would invite us all to his house as we all fitted in his apartment. Back in the day, all of the girls would get together every year in a motor home for dinner in Monza. It was a whole different ball game back then.

F1B: That sounds quite amazing, so much has changed since then. You were with Jordan in the early 90s and then you get a call in 1996…

LG: Various different production companies were bidding to get the contract to make the programmes for ITV. I got the approach from Mach1, which was a consortium of Meridian, Anglia and Chrysalis Television. Mach1 turned into North One Television. They were looking for a girl to put down on their bid. All the production companies had to put a bid to present to ITV to say how they’re going to produce Formula 1. It was a very theoretical thing so I said “go on, put my name down.” There were two people involved in getting me on-board. The first was James Allen. James was press officer at Brabham and he then moved onto AUTOSPORT and ESPN. James said that [I] would be a good person and that she knows her way round the paddock. The other one was a guy called Kevin Piper, who was a reporter for Anglia Television and Jordan was in the confines of the Anglia region. Kevin was a TV journalist who I had done a lot of stuff with so we had a strong relationship. Kevin also said that she’d be a good girl to have on-board. In the latter stages of the process, one of the other consortiums approached me as well. It was perceived that this other group was going to be the ones who got the contract.

LG: So, when it was announced that North One had got the contract, that’s when it became a reality, that’s when I went “oh my god!” This abstract concept quickly became very real. There was a gap between Mach1 winning the bid to officially being unveiled, as ITV had to present their proposal to Bernie Ecclestone to sanction what they wanted to do, how they were going to do it, the logistics of it all. There was a gap between me being part of the presentation team and them officially offering me the contract. By the time they offered me the job, everyone assumed that I was doing it anyway! Which I think was a good thing, because I never actually had to make the decision, it had already been made for me. I had no television experience, they didn’t employ me for that, they employed me because they thought I had the potential to be able to do that. Most importantly, I had contacts, the experience and knowledge of Formula 1, the paddock and the way the sport worked itself, I knew what to ask and how to ask it. The broadcasting bit they could teach me as we went along.

F1B: With things like football or rugby, you could have dry runs, but you can’t really dry run a proper F1 race. How did that work, were you just in front of a microphone in Melbourne and that was that?

LG: They presented me with a microphone in Melbourne and said, “We need to do a sound check so if you just wander up and down the pit lane and give us something for level, just give us some chat”; I didn’t even understand the technical terms! I thought, “What do I do?” James would give me a few tips on how to ask questions and how to phrase it, don’t ask a question in a way someone can say yes or no. I distinctly remember Damon Hill going out on the formation lap; he was my first live interview. I did a piece with Eddie Irvine on the grid, who I knew well. I remember with my squeaky voice asking Damon “what happened?” which is the worst way to ask a question and Damon explained what had happened, followed by a squeaky “thank you”! Damon was thinking, “You’re supposed to ask me a follow-up question.” The drivers were all very good with me; they all knew me, so they were all quite kind.

F1B: If you came in from the outside, it might have been different.

LG: Yeah, it would have been a different kettle of fish. I remember at the point of the British Grand Prix that year when Johnny Herbert said to me “you’re getting a bit of a hand with this now”, and I said that it’s getting better, which was a huge mistake as Johnny said that I’m in trouble now! That was when the fun started. Standing on the grid for that race, I waited for them to throw down to me for a live interview; Johnny was poking me off camera. They were all very kind to me and the guys within Mach1 were great, they helped me as much as they could. Nobody can tell you what to ask, but they can tell you how to ask it. I can remember our executive producer at the time Neil Duncanson saying to me “low… and slow… low… and slow…” When you’re excited, your voice goes up and you speak faster or you sound nervous. So, that was my big foray into broadcasting, in at the deep end.

F1B: Did you have any regrets about the first season, or did you ever think that this isn’t working?

LG: The first season was terrifying, but the biggest thing I felt is that, when you work for a team, you have a home in the paddock, that’s your motor home. There’s an unwritten rule that you don’t go into other people’s motor homes, you stick within the boundaries and it was less delineated in those days than it is now. But now I was a journalist, I didn’t feel comfortable crossing the threshold and going into the Williams or McLaren motor home, because that wasn’t my home. That was my upbringing in the paddock, within the confines of the [Jordan] team. That felt odd, and by the same token, I didn’t feel like I belonged in the TV compound because I didn’t know the technicalities. In many ways, it was great starting off in that role alongside Martin Brundle as I used to be Martin’s press officer at Jordan the previous year and we were both suddenly in the same situation that we didn’t quite have a home any more. All the teams were very welcoming and said “of course you can come in”; it just felt odd to me to just wander into another team’s motorhome. That first year was a struggle; I won’t deny it and anyone who watched it probably noticed.

They presented me with a microphone in Melbourne and said, “We need to do a sound check so if you just wander up and down the pit lane and give us something for level, just give us some chat,” I didn’t even understand the technical terms! I thought, “What do I do?”  – former ITV F1 pit lane reporter Louise Goodman

LG: Bradley Lord, who is now Head of Communications at Mercedes, reminded me, I stop him halfway through the conversation every time because I don’t want to hear it, he says “I remember watching your first…” and I say I don’t want to hear it! (laughs) By the end of the first year, I remember thinking that I’m getting to grips with it all, I’m not very good at not being very good at things and I was aware of the fact that I wasn’t a particularly good broadcaster in those days. I did have great moments, like electing to go to the Arrows garage in Hungary and being the first to deliver the not very good news that Damon wasn’t going to win that race. That was a feather in my journalistic cap, as I had the access and the foresight to go into the garage, that was where the story was going to be. Some of my grid interviews, in fact sitting down with Eddie Irvine in Melbourne. I thought “I’m not going to ask him to stand up”, so I just sat down beside him. We had a relatively cosy chat, and the guys in the studio compound said that’s exactly what we want!

F1B: From the outside, it probably looked like that the ITV team had just been ‘plucked together’, but in reality, you knew Allen beforehand, you knew Jardine beforehand.

LG: Absolutely. Mach1 were very clever I think. They knew about television, they knew about making programmes. If you look at North One as it has now become, they make all sorts of great programmes. They knew they had that side of it covered, what they didn’t know was how Formula 1 worked, access to the people. It takes time to build a relationship; they bought in people who already had that relationship.

Coming up in part two, we talk about the highs and lows of ITV’s Formula 1 coverage, the demise of ITV’s coverage in 2008 and more recently ITV’s BTCC coverage.

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