Rowing: Tensions rise as brothers prepare for family fight

Boat Race: Oxford No 6 and Cambridge No 7 create divided loyalties as first fraternal opponents in the event since 19

By Christopher Dodd
Thursday 30 January 2014 04:15

Yesterday's weigh-in start-ed the countdown to the 149th Boat Race on Sunday. Nowhere will the heightening of tension and the tingle of expectation be felt more keenly than a house in the leafy gentility of Strawberry Hill, Twickenham, where Kate and John Livingston have been keeping open doors for rowers from both sides all winter.

As parents of 19-year-old Dave, the No 6 in the Oxford crew, and 22-year-old James, the No 7 in the Cambridge crew, they are about to go through living hell. They cannot lose, but they cannot win either. Plenty of brothers have rowed in the Boat Race, but only once before – in 1900 – have brothers faced each other.

The Livingston brothers and the Smith brothers – Matt Smith is the stroke of the Oxford crew and his brother Ben strokes the Cambridge reserves, Goldie – are all from Hampton School, which has produced a long line of internationals and Olympic champions. The Livingston house reflects this.

There are trophies all over the kitchen, magazines and books in the bedrooms, and photos of regattas all over the house. Kate has reduced her job as a solicitor to a three-day week so that she can cook a pasta mountain at weekends, when either son is likely to turn up with half a crew. "We get text messages saying: 'Mum, I need to bring some people at the weekend' and that's it. They arrive, and we never know how many or who," John says.

"Three weeks ago we had seven of the Cambridge crew and one from Oxford, being our son, and he felt very miffed," Kate says. "He rang in advance to say: 'No one's sleeping in my room thanks very much.' Next weekend he was around and said: 'I want some of my guys to stay this time,' so we had four Oxford and five Cambridge. There was a little bit of needle. I was a bit worried about the weekend, it could be quite awkward.

"There's one particularly lovely chap in the Oxford crew who is so friendly he just goes out and talks to everybody. That's John Adams. He broke the ice. You don't want it too matey..."

The Livingstons had a dry run last year when James rowed in the Cambridge crew who lost narrowly and Dave was in the Oxford reserves, Isis, who won.

"It was fantastic," John says. "I was on the Isis launch to support Dave. Everyone was happy. At the end I walked up to Chiswick Bridge intending to take a picture of James' crew winning the Boat Race, and on the 20 steps up to the bridge I heard on my radio the amazing statement that Oxford had taken the lead. I just couldn't believe what I was hearing. Absolutely amazing."

James had previously won and lost an Isis-Goldie race. "The boys are good mates," their father says, "but we know from past experience how serious this is. If you lose it's a devastating blow after all that preparation. I think we all hope that this year's Boat Race is a memorable one. Everyone wants to be in a memorable race."

The next four days will pass in expectation and hope before the cloud of dilemma falls at 4.30 on Sunday. "I certainly intend to go out and have a good time," John says. "The best possible result would be a dead heat."

When that does not happen, the Livingstons' hell begins. "The losers arrive at the ball wrecked," John says, "and the winners arrive absolutely smashed, and after about two hours they pass on the stairs and have reached the same stage. But of course the following morning you wake up a winner or a loser..."

"It could be a big hanky day for me," Kate says.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments