Colin McRae: A memory of 2007 15 | 09 | 2017

    THERE ARE DAYS in your life you never forget. September 15, 2007, is one of those days. It’s the day Colin McRae died.

    I’d been working in the afternoon, a Saturday, covering qualifying for the Formula 1 Belgian Grand Prix, writes Jim McGill. Reports had been sent to the Scottish Sundays and I’d just gone out to the garden to burn some rubbish. It was, from memory, around 4.30pm.

    Literally, just as I was about to strike the match, my mobile went. I recognised the number as being from a a sports editor from one of the top two Scottish Sundays: “Jim, there’s been a helicopter crash: they think it’s Colin.”

    Even now, 10 years later, I can sense the swell of emotion. Colin? It couldn’t be. As we know, tragically it was.

    The next seven hours passed in a detached world, controlled by the professional desire to ensure the leading titles in Scotland received accurate reports, and personal memories. Those were the days when newspapers had budgets to pay real journalists to actually construct, and write motorsport reports and columns.

    That was the last day I wrote about Colin. My sole objective was to honour his memory.

    Below is the final piece, one of many I wrote that sad Saturday evening, and I believe it was my best. The work for other newspapers had been done. I had one more piece to write for Scotland on Sunday, and I could take the time to reflect on my personal professional memories of Colin spread over 12 years.

    I hope, 10 years after Colin’s tragic death, my words still honour his memory.          RIP Colin McRae.



    TO MANY people, the public image which was so often portrayed by Colin McRae painted him as a sullen, shy, quietly-spoken, introverted individual who answered questions with monosyllabic gruffness. The reality, away from the prying cameras and microphones, which he hated and preferred to avoid at all costs, was quite the opposite.

    Suspicious of anything to do with the media — a concern which went back to his days at Subaru when the press branded him McCrash after a serious of high-profile incidents he had behind the wheel of his rally car — Colin was humorous, quick to laugh, a real prankster and one of the most conversant men in sport you could ever wish to meet.

    While I would never class myself as a close friend — that band of brothers includes members of the Coltness Car Club, where Colin would spend long hours planning events and just enjoying the camaraderie of mates he knew wouldn't go running to the press with tales — we had a trusted and confidential working relationship. He was at ease once he was clear of other media and would sit and chat for hours on end.

    In the late Nineties, during all the World Rally Championship events, Colin would phone me soon after the day's final stage had been completed to give me a personal update of how the day had evolved. It was those conversations which made their way into the pages of The Scotsman.

    Our relationship continued. I was there at the press conference in Cheltenham when he'd just won the RAC/RallyGB but had missed out on the world championship by just one point. On the stage, surrounded by the world's media, he caught my eye, winked and just shook his head. Later he confided: "God, it was so good to see a familiar face. I think it's time for a beer."

    In 1999, the season he joined Ford, Colin and I were involved in a project which involved a number of meetings at his Lanark castle. I vividly remember sitting round the kitchen table drinking coffee with his wife Alison and his dad Jimmy. Colin was nowhere to be seen. After a few minutes he appeared in a tattered old T-shirt, shorts and almost threadbare slippers. The room just erupted in laughter.

    "What?" Colin quizzed, not immediately seeing what the joke was. Seconds later, he too was joining in the laughter.

    Years later, just days after he had completed his final rally for Citroen, we were sheltering under a portable awning in the middle of the Forest of Ae during a break from hurling a number of other journalists round a special stage in his WRC car.

    "You know, I hate days like these," he confided. "All these guys just want to sit in the car and ask you exactly the same questions as everyone else does. It's a bit like Groundhog Day."

    With that the Citroen PR girl came in and interrupted him: "The next journalist is waiting for you."

    "Well, tell him I'm not finished my tea break yet," Colin told her. "Tell him I'm doing an interview." We weren't, and he took his time finishing his tea.

    Colin's first Dakar Rally was something of a memorable experience. I was the only Scots journalist flown out to the rest day at Burkina Faso. The day before arriving at the two-day halt, Colin's Nissan had suffered mechanical woes and he'd been forced to spend the night in the desert. Then he'd been forced to complete a near 1,000km drive at break-neck speed in order to avoid being kicked out of the event.

    As he powered the sandblasted, red Nissan into the service area, the television crews all flocked to get a first word with him: they didn't.

    "Jim," he shouted as he opened the door, "that was a f****n' nightmare."

    To say Colin will be missed is to understate the obvious. He was a guy who could have the whole room in stitches with his tales of derring-do. He was a hoot. But he was also a loving dad and a devoted and caring husband; aspects of the global image very few of us were fortunate to see. He will be sadly missed.

    Jim McGill


User Comments

Login or register to post comments.