Rosemary Smith

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Rosemary Smith, the legendary driver, on her life behind the wheel

It’s difficult not to be impressed by Rosemary, Ireland’s first female rally driver and, without doubt, a sporting icon. We speak to her about driving a Formula One car and how she continues to be confident.

Why driving?

“My dad he was a wonderful man, he said, ‘You must be able to drive and you must learn how to swim.’ I loved any sports; hockey, tennis, golf, I have played them all, I never set the world on fire.”

Publicity

“In the beginning they would
say, ‘Silly dolly bird.’ e other drivers said, ‘Doesn’t she look swell?’ They called me a model, a farmer, dress designer, nothing to do with cars. is manager, a clever man that had taken me on, I didn’t realise, he had seen me on Monte Carlo once. He sent me to Le Mans, I wasn’t allowed to race being female. The manager thought here
is someone that will look good in the photographs, even if she doesn’t win. at was the whole thing, we got more publicity out of that than if I would have been allowed to drive.”

Challenges

“My manager got sort of attached, he felt that I was his property. at really got to me. All the rest of the team would be going out for dinner and he would say, ‘No, you are staying with me and you’re going to have dinner with me.’”

Getting past shyness

“The day my mother died, I came out of my shell. I can’t remember the 1980s, I can’t even remember when I was married. I didn’t want to get married, I was proving to other people I could get a man.”

How do you keep winning through the decades?


“Just proving something to myself, consistently. I enjoy life more now than I ever did, I went through15 very difficult years, I lost my house, everything went wrong, I had to fight back.”

Formula One

“I am an ambassador for Renault. I went to a dinner, I was talking to a French man, we were nattering away. He said, ‘What do you do?’ I said Monte Carlo rally, safari rally, as I was speaking his eyes were getting bigger and bigger. About three weeks later I had a call from Renault asking, ‘Would you like to drive a Formula One car?’ Without even thinking I said, ‘Yes! Why not?’ It was all arranged
very quickly. We flew
out the Tuesday morning to Marseille, then up the mountain, to this beautiful racecourse. I was 79 when I drove the Formula One car. I think they were expecting a little old lady, to hobble around the corner. I sort of strutted around the corner, it was all being filmed. We went back to the hotel [and] the nerves got to me. I took some soup and thought, ‘I’m going to be sick, I’m definitely going be sick.’ Because there was helicopters and drones and ambulances on every corner. I still did it and I still rally; three weeks ago, I was in Bath it was fantastic.”

Has your confidence improved?

“Yes, I am more confident, I give talks around the country, the age aspect never comes into my head.”

The future for women

“If you look at the numbers of women CEOs in enormous companies here in Ireland over the last ten years there are more and more. I honestly think when a woman takes on a job, married or not married, she puts her heart and soul into it, and basically I would think, she is proving to herself, not the world, that she can do a really good job.”

On her award nominated 2018 book Driven

“It’s a life story, not a sports book. It’s not driven like driving a
car. ere were lows, very low,
I just keep to this day proving to myself, no one else.”

Advice for WW readers

“If you’re enjoying life, whether you’re in your 20s, 30s, 40s or 80s, just keep going, that’s the whole thing. If I was to sit down and do nothing, I would be dead in a few months. Your health is your wealth. Keep going.”

Michelle Newman