He was that sort of man; cheeky smile, fast wit, charm in abundance and a surfeit of stories to make even the most nervous comfortable.
Of course, he had the substance to back up the swagger, too; not just for wowing The Beatles (and others) by winning the 1964 Monte Carlo Rally, but through a lifetime of success behind the wheel, on rallies and in racing.
But the beauty of Hopkirk was that he didn’t feel the need to tell you about any of this… so much so that the first time we met, I was compelled to double-check my luck as I sat down. “You’re Paddy Hopkirk,” I blurted out as he went to introduce himself.
It was the Autosport Awards, somewhere around 2005, and I was editing Motorsport News, my invite coming courtesy of the two titles being owned by the same publisher (Haymarket, owners of Autocar), my back-of-the room table coming courtesy of the rabidly competitive nature between the two weeklies despite that family tie. No way was I getting a story off a leading Formula 1 driver at their event…
Quite what poor Hopkirk had done to deserve a table in the shadows I’ve no idea, but what followed lives up there among my top 10 nights out ever. “Now then young man,” he grinned as he grasped my arm and gestured towards the centre of the table, “I always find these evenings run much more smoothly with a nice glass of red wine…”
The wine flowed, but thankfully not as fast as the stories. Monte, yes, but many more. It’s telling that my abiding memories are of his deep respect for friends and rivals, wonderment at his good fortune and a seemingly insatiable appetite for asking questions as much as answering them, despite my (somewhat lacking in comparison) life history being done long before the first bread roll was buttered. He never stopped smiling, and seemingly only another sip of wine or mouthful of food stopped him talking.