Rubbing Shoulders With Celebrities

One thing that I really appreciate with the sport of rowing is that the spectators have access to the athletes in a way that most sports do not have. Watching other sports and games often means that the onlookers are standing or sitting on a stand far away from where the sportsmen and -women are performing their act. Not so with rowing. At HRR especially, you as a spectator can get a close-up view of the rowers when they are racing down the course towards the finish-line. You can be standing on the towpath, or sitting by the riverbank, and see the expression of the crew in a boat, the pain and agony in mid-race, and, at the crossing of the finish, the relief for the winners and, for the losers, the disappointment . But not only that, after the race at HRR, the rowers can be seen carrying the shell up and into the Boat Tent, and the spectators can easily hang around to congratulate the rowers or at least call out a ‘Well done!’, or ‘Well raced’, and, maybe, get a smile back from the rowers. In which other sport is this possible?

As we all know, HRR is not only a high quality sport event, it also high up on the British social calendar, and it is, as Alec Dent said in yesterday’s interview with HTBS’s Hélène Rémond, ‘fun to “people watch” as there are some real characters that come and watch Henley’.

At this year’s HRR, I had a press accreditation as I was writing for the Swedish rowing magazine Svensk Rodd and for the Swedish Rowing Association’s website. This gave me access to the Press Tent close to the Boat Tent and after I had received my press badge and came out of the tent, the first people I saw were sculler Alan Campbell and his coach Bill Barry, who is the great nephew of the professional world champion, Ernest Barry. During this Henley Royal I saw, among other famous rowing characters, Sir Matthew Pinsent, who was acting as umpire; Sir Steven Redgrave, who I saw from the umpire’s launch when he was rowing in Kingston RC’s Memorial Row for club member Andy Holmes; famous Oxford coach Daniel Topolski, now a Henley Steward; and another famous Steward, Mike Sweeney, Chairman of the Stewards, whom I have once met in Mystic when I was introduced to him by Hart Perry, who was sadly missed by many at HRR after his passing in February this year; and John Boultbee, a Steward whom I worked with during a World Cup Regatta at Hjelmsjön in the south of Sweden, when he was a FISA Official and I was the Press Officer at the regatta.

This might sound like only a lot of ‘name dropping’, but my point is that anyone at the HRR could bump into a rowing celebrity and rub shoulders with the sport elite without really trying very hard to seek the limelight.

And talking about celebrities, at HRR, I was also happy to bump into renowned rowing journalist, writer, and historian Chris Dodd. He and Rachel Quarrell, rowing correspondent for The Daily Telegraph, are working hard with their Rowing Voice. Fellow HTBS-arian Tim Koch and I had a brief chat with Chris about rowing history blogging, a topic that is close to our hearts.

Watching some of the races from the Press Box just by the Finish I could imagining how it might have been 20-30 years ago when rowing journalists Dickie Burnell and Geoffrey Page were the dominating writers of the sport. God help the person who happened to sit in Page’s spot in the Box. Not much seemed to have changed since that time regarding the sparse benches and tables, but I guess that is Henley for you – thank god…

Photographs: Hélène Rémond.

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