December 6, 2022

VOX POP tête-à-tête

Steve Sydenham – Part 2

By Engin Dervişağa

I have already published an article which was Part 1 of my interview with Steve Sydenham and  as I had found that Steve had led such an eventful life and had so much to talk about, it was necessary to split the interview into two parts so I am now continuing with the rest of the interview in Part 2.

Steve  helped two friends from New Zealand to race in FFord
Steve helped two friends from New Zealand to race in FFord

Steve and his wife had returned from New Zealand to Britain and their first child was born on Christmas Day.   I then turned the conversation to Steve’s love of motor racing and he told me that he became interested in the sport in New Zealand where there was a Grand Prix circuit near to where he lived.  When he returned to the UK Steve started to take an interest in the sport in the UK and realised that there was very little help for up and coming young racing drivers and so he started to form an idea of raising money to sponsor these young drivers and eventually he formed an organisation called Racing for Britain.

Steve met a young racing driver, Dick Parsons at Brands Hatch where he was on the front row but had no sponsorship.  At this time Nigel Mansell and Tiff Needell were on row 8 and had sponsorship from Unipart.   This worried Steve that a talented young driver such as Dick was in this situation so he wrote to Unipart and it was a couple of years later when Steve met Dick that he realised his letter had done some good as Dick had received sponsorship.

When Steve returned to the UK he had a job at Heathrow Airport and he was successful in raising funds through the personnel there to promote motor racing.  One of the drivers, Richard Morgan, agreed that his racing car could be exhibited at Heathrow and this was very well received by the people who had been helping with donations and resulted in more interest as well.

Andrew Gilbert-Scott 1985 This photo went worldwide at the time. sml
Andrew Gilbert-Scott 1985 This photo went worldwide at the time

Two friends from New Zealand came over to the UK and Steve organised with them Anglo/Kiwi Racing at Brands Hatch which made Steve think about this type of thing on a national scale so with the help of Richard Morgan and contacting well-known people in the motor racing sport to become Patrons, the idea which became “Racing for Britain” was born.  Patrons included Ken Tyrrell and Frank Williams as well as other celebrities and soon Steve was able to raise small amounts of money and an annual amount of £10 from individuals and £100 from companies, to help young racing drivers.

Steve was still doing shift work at Heathrow and with the amount of work he was doing for Racing for Britain he was then working 96 hours a week which was beginning to take its toll both on himself and his marriage, so the time had come to make some decisions, either give up or find a sponsor to support him full time.  After a great many approaches and phone calls Steve was accepted by Systime Computers, they had a great year and sponsorship was promised for the following year but unfortunately a new Managing Director, who was not interested in motor racing, withdrew the sponsorship with 3 months notice which left Steve having to find another sponsor.  He was very lucky to make contact with Warmastyle who in fact contributed a lot more than the previous one so he was able to continue with his quest of helping young racing drivers.

Steve Sydenham receiving the trophy at the Hilton Hotel in London sml
Steve Sydenham receiving the trophy at the Hilton Hotel in London

On one occasion, Steve told me, he had gone to the Grosvenor Hotel in London for a benefit event for Children in Need.   He met Murray Walker there who asked him if he was going to the dinner in the evening at the Hilton Hotel.  Steve said no he would be travelling home (he mentioned that the tickets for this dinner were £250 each!).  Later he was approached by Cellnet who were concerned that he had not received his 2 complimentary tickets and asked if he would stay for the dinner and they would arrange accommodation for him overnight as well as his colleague John Kirkpatrick.  So Steve stayed for the dinner and was completely taken aback when Murray Walker gave a speech and referred to a special award which was being presented for the first time to a person who had done so much for motor racing and said the award is presented to Steve Sydenham.   Steve said he was speechless and very honoured when he was presented with a crystal vase, which during the rest of the evening filled up with donations from the celebrities and guests at the dinner.

The Frank Williams Cellnet Trophy
The Frank Williams Cellnet Trophy

Some time later, Steve was approached by 3 “businessmen” who promised they could raise huge sums of money and a million pounds sterling in London alone and give excellent publicity but Racing for Britain would have to become a Limited Company.  A proposal was presented to the Management Committee which 3 members were for and 2 against (Steve and Murray Walker) so they were outvoted.   Within 6 months the new organisation had failed and there was nothing left to fund further racing drivers so that was the end of Racing for Britain.   Steve said how sad he was after the 6 years of hard work he had put into the venture but after this he could not continue with it any longer.

So started a new phase in Steve’s life.   His wife suggested returning to New Zealand but their residency had by then expired and on making an application to return, they were rejected due to Steve having no specific trade and a large family.   Steve actually wrote to the New Zealand Prime Minister and although he received a very nice reply back it was still a negative answer.  Steve kept on trying to get permission to go back to New Zealand and eventually it was granted.  Steve said that as sometimes happens in life, this was not to be, there was a recession in the UK and he was unable to sell his house for a realistic price to start again in New Zealand.

Yen, happy and soon to return to Vietnam

Later, Steve moved to the West Country and ran a small business in Torquay for 10 years, at which time he and some of his family decided to move to North Cyprus.

There was a recent incident where Steve told me he was able to put his persuasive skills into action and this was the traumatic time experienced by a young Vietnamese couple who were left high and dry by their employer with a backlog of wages due to them and un-renewed work permits.  Steve said he was appalled at the treatment of Hai and Yen and although they had been able to raise enough between them for Hai to go back to Vietnam, Yen was left with no money and not much chance of getting a paid job as she was then illegal, so he put the wheels in motion for a fundraising event to raise enough to send Yen back to her husband and her little boy who was then 6 years old and who she hadn’t seen since he was 2½ years old.   Steve said he was so grateful for the response and support he had and an amount of 3365TL was raised which was enough to buy Yen an air ticket and also to give her some money to get the family on their feet again.

I enjoyed my conversations with Steve, who has led a very interesting and varied life in the UK, New Zealand and now in North Cyprus.

To read part 1 of this interview please click here

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