Matt Butler: Better to recall Ayrton Senna through Irish eyes with celebration not clichés

View From the Sofa: The Day Senna Died BBC 5 Live

To borrow a phrase from Alan Partridge (and Jeremy Clarkson, no doubt), if you think the following sentence is racist, you're wrong.

Wouldn't it be good if people were a little more Irish in their memorials of sports people? Anyone who has been to an Irish wake will know where we are coming from. Speaking from experience, post-funeral bashes Irish-style tend to be marked with a lot of drinking, noise and hilarious stories. What there is hardly any of is wailing, hand-wringing and morose mentions that the dead person is actually dead.

In other words, it is a celebration of the person's life, rather than a mourning over the fact that the person's life is over. The rationale goes that the person is dead; there's nothing we can do about it – we may as well remember how he or she lived.

The Day Senna Died, BBC 5 Live's programme to mark the 20th anniversary of the Brazilian Formula One driver's death, set a suitably celebratory tone – James Allen reported from the memorial events at Imola and described the proceedings as "very human" and "light". "It's so nice not to be talking about fuel flow and tyre degradation," Allen said. "Today was about glamour, charisma, speed and danger, and all the brilliant things about F1 that makes people's hair stand up at the back of their neck." You could almost taste the Sangiovese as the hubbub went on in the Bologna background.

Sure there were some downers in the two-hour show, which was held together excellently by Jennie Gow. Manish Pandey, the writer of the 2010 documentary Senna, sounded like he was still in mourning, while Ron Dennis, the McLaren chief, admitted he "misses his friend every day".

But a programme dedicated to an iconic driver whose life was cut short is bound to have some lump-in-the-throat moments. Simon Taylor, who was calling the fateful race for BBC radio – his chilling commentary, where he trips over his words as he tries to take in what he has just seen, was played at the beginning – was a studio guest and gave some crystal-clear reminiscences about what went on in the immediate aftermath.

The most depressing – and pointless – parts were Gow's reading of texts and tweets from listeners. All the clichéd "I still feel so empty" missives did was sum up the self-referencing public grieving that blights social media.

For genuine insight, Richard West, then sponsorship manager for Williams and the last man to interview Senna, gave us a new understanding of the man, after a week of being bombarded with information about his Jekyll and Hyde persona and his unquenchable desire to win. "I asked how he was, if he was all right," he said of a pre-race talk with Senna about Roland Ratzenberger, who died the previous day in practice. "He said 'Not really, but I will race anyway'."

We needed a little light relief. And we got it, from Senna's nephew Bruno. "I remember him at the beach house, racing around on jet-skis," he said. "I like to focus on celebrating the life he had, not on the sadness that he is no longer here." The Irish in us was smiling.

A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
Richard Dawkins dedicated his book 'The Greatest Show on Earth' to Josh Timonen
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
Arts and Entertainment
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home