Grand National 2014: Jim Beaumont - Room at top for local boy made good
The Liverpool-born bellboy at the Adelphi who became a National-winning owner, tells Kevin Garside about a life of Aintree dreams
The view from the Harold Wilson constituency suite on the fifth floor of the Adelphi Hotel looks directly across Renshaw Street to Lewis's, the department store at the heart of old Liverpool. The room was identified as sufficiently splendid to capture and project the elevation of Jim Beaumont, who as a 14-year-old boy stood on the steps of the Adelphi in cap and white gloves opening car doors in deferential silence.
Jim joked that he had seen the room before, last month, as a guest at the celebrations to mark the hotel's centenary. "I've stayed in it," he quipped, betraying a hint of Scouse softened by years living in Edinburgh. His station as a former Adelphi bellboy as well as the owner of last year's pride of Aintree, Auroras Encore, earned him the privilege ahead of fellow grandees, actors Sue Johnson and Dean Sullivan, better known as Jimmy Corkhill, residents of Brookside.
Beaumont had been in the building most of the afternoon, accommodating requests from the BBC no less to film him in his former setting. He was pouring tea from a pot into a white china cup when I intercepted him, a phone glued to his ear giving updates to his wife. When he finally rose to shake my hand his phone went again. "I must take this, sorry," he said. It was a connection seeking guidance from this extraordinary figure who, in his 80th year, finds himself at the centre of one of the nation's great sporting staples, the Grand National.
His story from the Adelphi to the winner's enclosure is the 100-1 shot that came home. It is a tale that connects him with world's greatest steeplechase as a boy and returns him to it after a career spent clearing fantastic hurdles of his own. Beaumont could make an adventure of the mundane, not that you have to work too hard to flog anecdotes about boat trips up the Amazon and walk-on parts with Sir Laurence Olivier and Charlie Chaplin.
Beaumont came into this world in Garston, the son of a docker and a mother who began her day at 4.30am heaving a milk cart around the streets, and finished it washing glasses at closing time. In between she held down a full-time job at the Dunlop factory in Speke, a necessity with six kids to feed.
His early associations with Aintree were facilitated by his godmother, whose capacity as a nun working as secretary to the Archbishop of Liverpool gave her control of a considerable ticket allocation, which she used to slip young Jim and his elder brother into the public areas on race day. "I can remember being here years later and my brother pointing out the slopes on the right-hand side where we used to roll down the hill. It was just a lot of noise to me then, people having picnics and such."
His father was intimate with the gee-gees in the traditional working-class manner, via the betting slip and a weekly round robin for an outlay of five shillings and sixpence. "My dad would throw us the paper to work out the winnings. My brother was red hot with figures. My dad loved the horses and raced pigeons and whippets. My mother was the whippet trainer, well known round Garston on a Saturday morning, a couple of whippets tied to the pram and us kids around her like chickens."
Tired of being dragged with his mother to polish the silver and clear tables at weddings and funerals, 14-year-old Beaumont found himself one Saturday in 1948 in front of the Adelphi and approached the uniformed doorman for a weekend job. He was told to come back the next day with a letter from his parents. His first weekend's work returned the sum of £5 in tips, more than his father earned in a week. His mother allowed him to keep 10 shillings, five of which went on a bike to cycle the eight miles to the city centre from Speke.
"The head hall porter here earned more than the Prime Minister in my day. They were great days. I never felt servile in any way. I was part of a machine. It was knocked into me that I was the receptionist, the first person that people saw as they came to the hotel. I was tidy, nice curly hair, a gleaming face."
And thus a career of informal opportunism was born, taking him on an upwardly mobile hike via waiter service on the Liverpool to London Pullman, Amazonian expeditions in the merchant navy, national service, hotel management and finally restaurant ownership. It was while assisting the manager at the Kyle of Lochalshe Hotel in Scotland that his path crossed the greatest actors of the age.
"Sir Ralph Richardson and that fella in the doctor films [James Robertson Justice] were regulars, as well as Olivier, who was making The Prince and the Showgirl at the time. He had me helping him with his lines. He'd call me to his room. I was the showgirl." The part passed to Marilyn Monroe in the movie. She drove Olivier doolally, apparently. "He was great with me," Beaumont said. "Mind you, I turned up on time."
He later spent a year managing the Cap Estel, Eze, on the Côte d'Azur near Monaco. Here he would rub shoulders with the Forte brothers, owners of the Café Royal in London, and on one occasion met the great Chaplin. "I was serving tea on the terrace. Oona Chaplin, his wife, was sitting there shouting at Charlie to come and look at something or other. He would tell me to do the honours and take her the tea. He was too busy. He was buying a villa. I didn't appreciate what I had then, the circles I was moving in. I just saw it as work."
His first horse was acquired by his wife as part of a syndicate run by Colin Tinkler, who pioneered the wider ownership of horses by large groups in the Eighties. Beaumont went on to run on behalf of Tinkler the Scottish arm of the syndicate operation. Auroras Encore was his third National horse. Two years previously he had a share in Santa's Son, who led for 26 fences before being pulled up by jockey Jamie Moore, fearing his mount was swallowing its tongue.
This is how he recounts the closing stages of last year's epic victory, told to his daughter breathlessly as he observed through binoculars. "He's in the first 10," I said. "Then it was the first six. Three from home he was third. We were surrounded by a group of Londoners. My daughter is a good-looking girl. They asked her which one she had backed. 'My dad's horse,' she said. 'Na fackin chance,' they said. Over the last I shouted, 'We are going to fackin win it'. I ran from the stands and was at the winning line at the same time as the horse."
The past year has been a whirl of functions, lunches, dinners and charity events at which he was rolled out not as Jim Beaumont but as the owner of the National winner. Sadly, Auroras Encore will not race again. He suffered a small fracture to his leg at Doncaster hitting the final fence the Saturday before entries for this year's race were due. Had he not been a National winner he might not have survived. As it is, he is recovering at his stable overseen by Harvey and Sue Smith and will return for the parade of champions at next year's race.
Beaumont's colours are carried instead by Mr Moonshine, who he believes has just as good a chance. "There is no horse bred to run four miles. They all have to find 25 per cent more. Mr Moonshine ran well at Aintree in December in a three-and-a-quarter-mile race. He finished third gaining ground. If the ground stays like this he has a hell of a chance."
For further information regarding how to become involved in racehorse ownership visit Own1.co.uk
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