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Rush: Formula 1 star James Hunt 'enjoyed simple pleasures'


A son of ex-Formula 1 world champion James Hunt has revealed a softer side to his fast-living father as a Hollywood film depicting his most exciting racing season is set to open.

The free-spirited and playboy nature of Hunt, whose premature death aged just 45 came after years of hard-living, has been well told.

But his eldest son, Tom, 27, recalls how away from the limelight he enjoyed the simple pleasures of feeding ducks, flying kites and walking dogs on Wimbledon Common.

Tom, who was aged seven when his father died, also told of his great love for snooker - and his passion for keeping up to 250 budgerigars in an aviary in his garden.

He spoke at a pub near his home in rural West Sussex ahead of the general UK cinema release on Friday of the Ron Howard-directed film Rush.

Starring Australian Chris Hemsworth as Hunt and Spanish-born actor Daniel Bruhl as Niki Lauda, Rush depicts the friendship and fierce rivalry that existed between the pair on the race track in the 1970s.

It features the battle for supremacy between the pair and Hunt's famous World Championship triumph in 1976 when he clinched the title from Austrian-born Lauda by a single point in Japan.

It was in that same year, regarded as one of the most dramatic seasons in F1 history, that three-times F1 champion Lauda suffered appalling burns in a death-defying crash at the Nurburgring.

Tom Hunt, who with his piercing blue eyes and mop of blond hair cuts a striking resemblance to his late father, praised the film-makers.

He said: "Obviously there were nerves because, over the years, the tabloids particularly, have tended to focus on certain areas of Dad's characteristics which we all know were a big part of him.

"But because it was a Hollywood film, alarm bells start to ring. There was a bit of nervousness about it, but two of my uncles sat down with the scriptwriters and there were a couple of long conversations.

"I went on their judgement.

"They were very happy that these guys were going to do as good a job as any and really try to tell the true story rather than it just be about the party lifestyle and all that kind of stuff."

On his reaction to the film, Tom said: "It's brilliant. I think it's going to be really popular, and I'm really excited to see how the public receive it."

Nicknamed "Hunt the Shunt", he was famous for his playboy antics, with comparisons drawn between him and the late Manchester United footballer George Best.

Hunt famously had the phrase "Sex, breakfast of champions" sewn on to his racing overalls. And his womanising made for colourful reading, with reports he had slept with more than 5,000 women.

An exuberant character who would turn up barefoot at black-tie events, he died in 1993 following a heart attack.

Although the stories about Hunt are the stuff of legend and his eccentricity well known, Tom Hunt saw a different side to him.

He said: "The biggest memories I have are of spending lots of time on Wimbledon Common.

"The family home was in Wimbledon, and we used to spend hours there, feeding the ducks, flying kites, flying model aeroplanes, and walking dogs.

"Then, of course, there was his passion for budgerigars. He had something like 250 in the garden in an aviary he built. The other thing I associate with him is his passion for snooker.

"We had a big billiard room in Wimbledon and hours were spent playing snooker with great friends of his. Lovely, happy times."

To preserve his legacy, Tom and his younger brother Freddie, 26, are launching the James Hunt Foundation which will raise money for different good causes each year.

Tom said: "The idea is that we will be looking at causes that we think Dad would have wanted to support if he were around today, and what my brother and the other co-trustees think we should be supporting.

"It's not going to necessarily be Formula 1-related, it could be anything."

Money will be raised through sales of official products on the foundation's website and through auctions held at least once a year.

The first item to be auctioned will be a portrait of Hunt by artist Paul Oz who was commissioned to produce the piece to mark the 20th anniversary of his death.

An official James Hunt clothing range has also been launched, designed by American Nicolas Hunziker, with part of the proceeds going to the foundation.

Tom said: "We have always been conscious of the fact that we didn't want to appear to be trying to make money out of Dad's name.

"But the more and more we thought about it, and I was very hesitant to start with, we thought potentially if this film is going to be big, there could well be lots of other people trying to jump on the bandwagon, cash in on the name, and potentially be doing it as a one-hit wonder, just thinking about the money and not doing it properly.

"The more and more we thought about it, the best way to police this would be to actually launch an official range ourselves and do it to the best of our ability, maintain his image and reputation and legacy, and do him proud."

To learn more about the James Hunt Foundation, visit www.jameshuntf1.com.