My Biggest Mistake: Del Barrett

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The Independent Online
WHEN I left school I had the opportunity to read drama at university, but it would have meant waiting another year. I decided instead to start a 'sensible' degree for a year and switch to drama later.

Well, of course, after a year it seemed wise to complete it and have 'another string to my bow' before taking up drama. I went on to take an MBA, lectured in business studies at Birmingham Polytechnic (now University of Central England), then joined Albert E Sharp, the stockbroker, where I was a motor industry analyst for nine years before leaving this year to set up Formula One. I enjoy what I do, but I sometimes wonder what life would have been like had I followed the theatrical route. Would I be living in a bedsit, trying to make a can of beans last a week. Or would I now be a superstar in Hollywood?

Being a frustrated thespian has its advantages, however. As an analyst it is useful to keep the 'name in the frame' and I have never shied away from appearing on television. My big TV moment came at the time of the Jaguar takeover; I must have been the only analyst they could get hold of late at night, but my brief slot on local TV set the phone wires buzzing the next day. Being completely unaware of global communications, I was delighted to receive a call asking if I would appear live on a New York breakfast show. A car would be coming to collect me. Could I be ready by midday.

I raced home, found my passport, packed a bag, scooted back to the office and eagerly awaited the limo that would take me to the airport for a flight on Concorde to New York. Imagine my horror when the chauffeur turned into London's Tottenham Court Road and deposited me at the TV studios. I was ushered into a small room where I could watch the show while they wired up an earpiece and checked the satellite communications. I knew the satellite link would involve a time-lag between answering a question and hearing the answer played back, but I was confident I had all the answers to any questions about Jaguar: what does it mean for jobs in the Midlands? For the British motor industry? Will there be another offer? But nothing could have prepared me for the live interview. Not only is there a time delay, but all the speech echoes in the earpiece, which threw me off somewhat. Then the content of the question sank in: 'If Jaguar remains independent, how do you think the legal costs of this bid will affect its profits?' I had forgotten how litigious-minded the Americans were and that the question of job security in Coventry was hardly the one that was foremost in the minds of most New Yorkers.

I was stumped. I didn't have a clue what the answer was and the only way I managed to evade the question was to resort to the time- honoured trick of wiggling the earpiece and pretending I couldn't hear. Thankfully, the interviewer took the hint and we swiftly moved back to what it all meant for the British motor industry.

So, even if I had followed the thespian route, television would probably have been out of the question. With hindsight, I probably made the right decision, since I enjoy working hard and playing hard - both of which fit nicely with the motor industry.

On the other hand . . .

(Photograph omitted)

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