James Elliott pays tribute to friend and colleague, Henry Hope-Frost.
Henry Hope-Frost fizzed with so much energy that he was the human equivalent of dropping Mentos into a bottle of coke. It could be completely overbearing and, if it were anyone else, he would have had as many enemies as friends. Indeed, he should have had legions of enemies, but Henry’s gusto was so irrepressible, so infectious that I never met anyone who didn’t eventually surrender to his personality, finally allow themselves to be steamrollered by his goodwill.
I know this in particular because I am precisely the sort of person who in theory should have despised Henry, but I couldn’t help but adore him after just a few hours. I simply assumed the role of the old grumpy long-suffering labrador that balefully tolerates the mischievous, teasing puppy in our relationship and that was fine with Henry: everyone had a role as his friend, but they must be his friend. There was no opt out.
When I first met Henry he was dating a young publishing manager on the magazine I was working on at Haymarket and I was quite protective towards her (not because she needed protecting, but she was one of my team and I didn’t want her getting hurt). When we went on a team night out we went bowling and Henry was just Henry: he ruled. He was loud, brash, opinionated and seemed not to be respectful enough of Charlotte. I’ll admit I called it pretty much 100% wrong in first meeting Henry: he wasn’t any of the things I had him pegged as, he was just an entertainer and he found entertainment in everything and it never stopped. Ever. At max speed, balls out, 24/7.
By the way, the Charlotte from that night 15 years ago (maybe more) is the widow he now leaves behind, the mother of his three sons and the love of his life.
Henry had a massive heart, so big that he could be one of the most devoted family men and proudest dads I have ever met and still have space left to love motorsport more than anyone else on the planet. In his generation, his knowledge was rivalled only by Paul Fearnley and James Page, but it was the effusiveness of his passion was what made him stand out.
Effusive in a good way. It would be all too easy to portray HHF as if he were some sort of shouty bully, a Terry-Thomas type, but that could not be further from the truth: he was a deeply caring man, with an enormous empathy for others and there really was a little boy hidden in that giant frame. Many’s the time he would be ready to go on stage, gibbering like a six-year-old at the prospect of meeting one of his heroes, but the moment that microphone was turned on you’d never know it: old or young, Formula Ford or F1, upcoming youngster or elder statesman, they all got the same irreverent treatment. There are lot of massive egos in motor racing and anyone who saw Henry tackle them should marvel as his ability to make these giants laugh at themselves without ever offending them. This was his talent as an interviewer, but that was only one of his many skills.
Neither did his bombast mean he lacked self-awareness, he was a wonderful caricature and he loved it. That was his role. It is devastating to think that I will never see him reprise it again.