Lady Susie Moss speaks to her late husband often and tenderly, almost as if he were still with her — which, in a sense, he is.
Sir Stirling Moss, widely regarded as the greatest racing driver Britain has ever produced, died in April last year, aged 90, after a long illness — ‘It was just one lap too many,’ Susie said at the time — but his presence in the townhouse in Mayfair, central
It is there in the trophies, the mementos, the photographs; in the pristine racing suits still folded neatly in drawers; in the wealth of mechanical Bond-style gadgetry he invented — from a descending table, which lowers itself from the kitchen to dining room (‘The trick is to get down before the table,’ smiles Susie), to the grand piano that plays itself.
The mortal remains of the great racer are there, too. Susie, 68, his third wife, keeps the urn containing her husband’s ashes next to her when she sleeps. He is there, beside her, wherever she goes in the house, too. She carries him around, chatting companionably, and when we go out to lunch I hear her call ‘goodbye’ to him and apologise that he is too heavy to take in her handbag.
Lady Susie Moss, 68, reflects on her relationship with Sir Stirling Moss, who, died in April last year, aged 90, after a long illness. Pictured: Susie with her beloved Stirling in 2001
‘I always talk to him,’ she confides in this exclusive interview, the first since her husband’s death.
They went through almost 40 years of marriage side by side and she remains devoted still.
‘I’m very lonely without him. I ask him what I should do about this or that; who I should get to fix the bloody roller blind in the guest room that’s broken (they’re automated, of course.)
‘I say good morning to him every day; and when I need to go out, I promise him I’ll be back. I miss him so much. Every day. Every night. And when I go to bed I say: “I’ve got through another day without you.”
‘He was my raison d’être, my best friend; the reason I went to sleep at night and got up in the morning — and both those things aren’t quite so easy now.’ She blinks away tears.
Sir Stirling achieved a record 212 victories from 529 motor races in 15 seasons from 1948. So synonymous was his name with racing that the routine response of policemen to speeding motorists was: ‘Who do you think you are, Stirling Moss?’
His was an era that pre-dated the constraints of health and safety. Sir Stirling was a survivor in a sport that claimed the lives of 180 drivers during the years he was racing.
And there were many times when he also came close to death; most notably in a terrible, career-ending crash at Goodwood in 1962, long before he and Susie were married.
Stirling’s final illness began with a a cough and cold in 2016, then developed into an intractable chest infection and pneumonia. Pictured: Stirling at Speed Festival In Goodwood
It took a team of rescuers with hacksaws 40 minutes to cut him free. He was in a coma for a month — his nose broken, his left cheekbone crushed, an eye socket displaced, a broken arm and leg and his brain so badly pummelled he was temporarily paralysed down his left side.
He did not race in high-level competitions afterwards, although he continued to do so for fun, driving the veteran cars he loved, often with Susie at his side.
But there was no recovery from his final, long illness. It began, innocuously enough, with a cough and cold in 2016, then developed into an intractable chest infection and pneumonia. Susie and he were on a cruise, stopping over at a hotel in Singapore, when it started.
‘I called a doctor. He prescribed antibiotics. Typically, Stirling said: “I’ll be OK,” and we went on to the ship. I remember him having tomato soup for lunch and he was unsteady on his feet, holding my arm as we went back to our cabin.
‘He said: “We need an ambulance. I need to get off [the ship].” And, fortunately, we hadn’t sailed.
‘They took him to a wonderful hospital in Singapore and I never left his side after that.
‘I sat in a chair by his bed, day and night. He never complained. We were there for 134 days. There were times when he seemed to rally, but when it was clear he wouldn’t get better, I wanted him home, where he belonged. So we flew back in a private jet and he went into intensive care in King Edward VII’s Hospital, Marylebone.
‘Then, for the final months, he was at home here, with a team of nurses, 24 hours a day. He was a good patient, just lovely. The nurses loved him, but he always wanted me there with him. We’d watch TV together, rubbish stuff, and I always feel sad that I wasn’t with him for his last words. I was upstairs getting something for him, so I just had his last look. He had such lovely eyes.’
Her face crumples into tears again, but she blinks them away.
Stirling left the bulk of his estate to Susie, their son Elliot, 40 and Stirling’s daughter Allison, 54, from his second, marriage to Elaine Barbarino. Pictured: Stirling and Susie on their wedding day in 1980
‘He was such a dear, funny man; so kind to everybody,’ she says — and so his £22 million will testifies.
Made long before his final illness, the bulk of his estate goes to Susie, their son Elliot, 40 and Stirling’s daughter Allison, 54, from his second, brief marriage to American PR executive Elaine Barbarino.
But there are other thoughtful bequests too: £1,000 to his former U.S. agent Patsy Martin and her husband to ‘enjoy a seafood dinner at Joe’s Stone Crab in Miami, Florida’; a silver rabbit’s foot to his former psychotherapist for ‘giving me more than luck’.
His niece Susie Rawding, 51, is also bequeathed £10,000 with the suggestion she ‘put it towards buying another horse’; a friend is left £1,000 to help with her phone bill.
The list goes on: 18 legacies in all. ‘We took a long time about it and I’m not sure we remembered everyone,’ says Susie, ‘but Stirling loved nothing better than making people happy and helping them.’
Theirs was a love match and, once Elliot was in his late teens, she and Stirling invariably travelled everywhere together.
She recalls a race in the Bahamas: there was only room for a driver and mechanic so, to earn her place, she learnt to strip down and change a gear box.
‘It was quite fun,’ she recalls. ‘There I was, and all these frightfully glamorous ladies with their diamond rings were on the beach while Stirling was autographing his latest book — and I was covered in oil, surrounded by engine parts.’
She is a tiny woman, 5 ft 2 in tall with slender, manicured hands. It is hard to imagine her wielding a spanner. Could she change a tyre? ‘Of course I could!’ she laughs.
Susie said her biggest fear was something happening to Stirling when he was on his own, but if she was in the car with him it would happen to them both so it didn’t matter. Pictured: Stirling with Susie, their son Elliot and Stirling’s daughter Allison in 2000
I remark that she must have been quaking, sitting next to Stirling on those perilous rallies as he sped over mountains with plunging ravines on one side and sheer rock faces on the other. ‘He was the best driver in the world so why would I be frightened?’ she says.
‘My biggest fear was of something happening to him when he was on his own, but if I was in the car with him it would happen to us both so it didn’t matter.’
Still, some of her stories are nothing less than hair-raising. She recalls a nail-biting close shave during one race.
‘Stirling was overtaking the car in front. There was a big drop on one side and I was thinking: “Don’t do it!” Then, all of a sudden, he took his foot off the accelerator. He had his hands in the air. I was thinking: “What’s the problem?” The steering had broken.’
‘You must have been terrified,’ I say.
She shrugs. ‘Fortunately, we ran into a snowdrift. And the mechanics weren’t far behind.’
Many consider Stirling’s greatest drive was the 1955 Mille Miglia, a 1,000-mile race along closed public roads through Italy. He won, completing it in just over ten hours seven minutes at the startling average speed of just under 99 mph. This extraordinary record still stands.
In a fitting tribute, Susie commemorated his historic victory at Goodwood Festival of Speed this year, doing a lap of its racing circuit with the Earl of March (who owns Goodwood House) at the wheel of the priceless Mercedes 300SLR in which her husband won the Mille Miglia all those years back.
She wore a polka-dot dress and a gracious smile. But inside she was all but crushed by grief.
‘I remember at Goodwood particularly, Stirling would be looking for my hand if ever he walked ahead of me. It was heartbreaking going there this year and not holding his hand.’
Susie commemorated Stirling’s historic victory at Goodwood Festival of Speed this year. Pictured: Stirling in 2005
She rallies: ‘The earl must have wanted to throw me out of the car because I sat in the passenger seat saying: “This is a strong right-hander. Slow down.” But, very courteously, he said nothing.’
Despite the many near-misses of his racing career, Stirling always seemed indestructible. In 2010, aged 80, he even survived a fall down the lift shaft at his home.
He had summoned it and stepped into a void, realising too late that the door had opened on to emptiness.
He broke both ankles, four bones in his foot and chipped four vertebrae in the plunge.
‘I thought I’d lost him,’ says Susie. ‘But he came bouncing back. He made no fuss at all.’
When I ask her to describe what she loved about him, she says: ‘I have to think about what I didn’t love.’
Susie said Stirling wasn’t a player when they got married, as he believed very strongly that one belongs to one. Pictured: Susie at Goodwood this year
He remained friendly with many of his ex-girlfriends, and a book featuring photos of ‘crumpet’ (as Stirling used to put it) still sits on a shelf in his study.
‘He had so many beautiful girlfriends. Oh, they were gorgeous!’ says Susie. ‘I think there might be a photo of me among them in the book somewhere. We both kept in touch with a lot of them. I didn’t have a problem with that. And the first Mrs Moss (Katie, nee Molson, heir to the Canadian brewing dynasty) used to come and stay with us in London and at our house in Florida.’
Susie was never worried that her husband might stray: ‘Once we’d got married, he wasn’t a player. He believed very strongly that one belongs to one.’
And, of course, she was the enduring love of his life over their near four decades together. They first met, in fact, far earlier, when she was just a child, aged five, growing up in Hong Kong. Her parents were friends of Stirling.
Her father was a prosperous wine and spirits merchant; her mother worked for Rootes Motor Group and was assigned to look after Stirling and Katie (they were married at the time) when they visited the then British colony.
Susie recalls feeling overawed by the famous racing driver and it was years before their paths crossed again.
Susie said she never thought about their age gap because Stirling was always such fun. Pictured: Stirling receiving his knighthood
Stirling briefly went out with Susie’s older sister Tina, 72 — now married to controversial former Topshop tycoon Sir Philip Green. It was not until their parents decamped to London after her father retired, that Stirling popped into Susie’s life again. ‘I was a teenager then and he was incredibly kind to me. He was waiting for me when I arrived, by ship, in Southampton. I’d only ever known life in the Far East and I cried my heart out when I came to London. He said: “Don’t cry. London is the centre of the world.” ’
Susie and Stirling struck up a friendship. She was 17, he 23 years older: ‘But the age gap didn’t matter,’ she says. ‘I never thought about it because, to me, he was never old. He was always such fun.’
For more than a decade they were best friends, with occasional forays into romance. But it wasn’t, at that stage, an exclusive relationship on either side.
‘I used to say: “I don’t own you, but don’t lie to me.” He was a very sophisticated man; always beautifully turned out. Women threw themselves at him. But there was only one ex-girlfriend I didn’t like.’
Susie remembers the early days of their friendship: ‘I used to sit side-saddle on the back of his scooter wearing my cheongsam [body-hugging Chinese dress].
‘We’d go round to Stirling’s properties [he had a large rental portfolio] and he’d empty the meters while I cleaned. I remember sitting backwards on the scooter once, holding a huge box of stuff after I’d cleared out a store cupboard.’
So you were a char lady, too? ‘Of course!’ she laughs.
Susie, who is in fragile health herself now, admits there are days when she wishes she could join Stirling. Pictured: Couple on their wedding day
There were treats, as well: on her first Christmas in London he took her on a trip to Amsterdam. ‘I bought a lovely fluttery negligee, but there wasn’t much opportunity for rumpy-pumpy. We came back on a train: he had the top bunk, I had the bottom,’ she laughs.
Susie was four months’ pregnant with Elliot when they married in 1980 at Hammersmith & Fulham Register Office. Immediately after the ceremony, Stirling went to open a tyre depot, returning for the church blessing. Did she mind the interruption? ‘No, it was perfectly fine,’ she says.
The wedding may have been unconventional but, of course, the marriage endured. They were parted only by his death.
When we return to her home after lunch, she calls to him. ‘Hello darling, we’re back!’
She is in fragile health herself now, and there are days when she wishes she could join him.
‘I know he is in a better place with lots of his old friends,’ she says. ‘I say to him: “You know people upstairs. You can organise it for me.”
‘I wish it hadn’t happened this way round . . . but then again, I don’t think he would have survived without me.’
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