David Parkin on living life in the fast lane

IF there’s one phrase that has entered modern parlance that I don’t understand it is: “Living my best life”.

Often accompanied by a hashtag, what I’ve noticed is that the people who use it – mainly on social media posts – are rather needy individuals and my automatic thought tends to be: “That’s really lovely for you, chuck, but why do you feel the need to tell me?”

It came to mind the other day when my friend Martin Allison, the RBS banker turned entrepreneur, sent me an obituary about Bruce Ropner, who The Times described as a “sports enthusiast”, who died last month aged 89.

Ropner didn’t just live his best life, he lived such an incredible life that it is difficult to imagine how he packed it all into just under nine decades.

A fast-living bobsleigh champion, his obituary read like a trip down the Cresta Run in St Moritz.

He was a North Yorkshire shipping heir who was a friend of Lord Lucan, built his own cricket ground and racing car circuit and ran an 87-mile endurance marathon in 24 hours.

Ropner lived on the family estate at Camp Hill near Bedale in North Yorkshire which now offers ‘glamping’ experiences to visitors and which used to offer corporate team-building experiences.

When I went there years ago as a guest of a bank (when they used to speak to their customers) we tackled an assault course, drove Segways and, most memorably, took part in a bobsleigh run on a track Ropner had built on the 300-acre estate.

I bet health & safety bods would shut it down today, but of all the team-building experiences I’ve had, relying on three other people to get a bobsleigh moving along a track and then making sure everyone is safely aboard, was definitely the best because it focused your mind on the task – and got the endorphins pumping.

Not a surprise that it was the brainchild of a man who did everything at speed and who probably never viewed any experience as a risk – more an opportunity.

From setting an unofficial record in his AC Cobra from London to North Yorkshire at 164 mph to putting the wind up a young Duke of Kent by driving at 132 mph in a 1930s eight-litre Barnato Hassan Bentley down the Great North Road, he was a man who enjoyed more than just a zest for life.

He almost fell into the world of bobsleigh by accident but became a stalwart in British bobsleigh for many decades and the catalyst for its success at the Winter Olympics.

He had not seen a bobsleigh track when Keith Schellenberg, the 1956 British champion and eccentric owner of the Scottish island of Eigg, encouraged him to have a go in 1959.

He joined a four-man bob team and sitting behind him in the bobsleigh was a young John Bingham – later to become the vanishing Lord Lucan.

Three years later Bruce and his cousin Jeremy Ropner won the two-man British competition at the bobsleigh championships at Garmisch-Partenkirchen.

He gave up competitive bobsleighing at the behest of his wife, who as Willow Hare, had been a debutante presented to the Queen.

But he continued to take to the Alpine runs for seven decades and, at Camp Hill, driven by his mottos “who dares can” and “before you die, live a little” he would introduce young people to the sport and organise groups to visit the best runs.

He spotted the talent of Mica McNeill, who in 2018 was part of the British Olympic team at the winter games, while the first female bobsledder to win a world championship, Nicola Minichiello, said she would not have done so without his support.

He became chairman of the British Bobsleigh Association and was awarded an OBE for services to youth.

It was Bruce Ropner and Robin Dixon (Lord Glentoran), who recruited Martin Allison to become chairman of the British association when it needed funding and structure.

“”They roped me in as chairman and helped and supported me in the role,” remembers Martin.

Between them, this team encouraged businesses and influential individuals to fund and support the sport in the UK.

Martin says it was the backing of successful Yorkshire-based entrepreneurs like Joe Henderson from Henderson Insurance and Phil Bergen of Maria Mallaband Care Group that enabled many youngsters to get involved in not just bobsleigh, but a wide range of sports.

There was also time, as you might expect with Bruce Ropner, for some exciting fun too.

“He took be bobsleighing everywhere,” says Martin. “Being in St Moritz with Bruce was like walking around with royalty.”

The Times obituary recounts a story about how Bruce and his pals would stay at the Palace Hotel in St Moritz until, in 1989, outraged that the proprietor had raised its prices, they stayed in a cheaper hotel and decided to raid the Palace in dinner jackets.

They set each other a challenge to see who could bag the best “trophy” from the hotel.

Hours later Ropner, Schellenberg and their friends returned with a door, a double bed and even the owner’s dog; none, however, could compete with the capturing of a bemused rock star – Stewart Copeland, the drummer of the Police.

No, I haven’t got a clue how that happened either and the obituary didn’t go into any more detail, but what a story!

When Bruce Ropner created his own cricket ground on his estate he umpired the first match with Dickie Bird.

On a disused airfield near Darlington he built his own race track, Croft Autodrome and attracted world champion James Hunt to race there in 1976.

As well as completing an endurance marathon, Ropner once raised money for his local Conservative Party branch by running alongside 28 horses and their riders for 40 miles.

During this feat, he drank six pints of Lucozade and lemon water with glucose and swallowed ten salt tablets.

He was passionate about bobsleigh and Martin was one of those Bruce invited to Camp Hill a few months ago to talk about the future of the sport in Britain.

“Even when he was dying, he brought people together to raise money for bobsleigh. He was both carefree and passionate. If ever you needed somebody that was a proper true Brit – he’d be the man,” says Martin,.

Martin is currently in charge of recruiting four burly bobsledders to carry Bruce’s bobsleigh into a service celebrating his life in his local church, St Michael’s in Kirklington, next Thursday.

That should be some celebration of a life well lived.


IF you are free on Wednesday, June 29th and fancy a night out at an historic venue where you’ll learn a lot and laugh a lot please come and support Graeme Bandeira and I at a one-off show at the City Varieties, Leeds.

During a 23-year career at the Yorkshire Post, his cartoons made readers laugh and cry and his images held those in power to account.

Some of his most powerful images charted the experiences of the pandemic – from the superhuman efforts of NHS staff to the 100-year-old phenomenon that was Captain Sir Tom Moore.

He’s got some amazing stories behind the cartoons, including meeting the Prime Ministers he’s lampooned and even being threatened with legal action by the Archbishop of York.

Graeme will be taking to the stage at the City Varieties Music Hall – following in the footsteps of legends like Houdini, Charlie Chaplin and Ken Dodd.

Carry On Cartooning!: An Audience With Graeme Bandeira is at the City Varieties in Leeds on Wednesday June 29th at 7.30pm with tickets priced at £22 each.

To book tickets click here


NOTE to self: Next time you accept an invitation to a golf day, make sure you have played several rounds and done plenty of practice beforehand.

I played in my first corporate golf day for a long time yesterday and rocked up hoping I wouldn’t disgrace myself.

That was on the back of only one round this year, but playing with a good friend over a leisurely 18 holes is completely different to a competition where you are keen to make sure you don’t let your team-mates down.

Everything about the day was lovely, except my golf.

Enact is the SME fund operated by private equity firm Endless.

Chris Cormack, who runs Enact and his colleagues are great people who do some phenomenal deals backed by some of Yorkshire’s most successful entrepreneurs and investors.

I hosted an online breakfast event for them last year and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

So it was nice to get an invite to their golf day held at what is the best golf course in Leeds, Alwoodley.

When I learned I was going out in the first group alongside Endless founder Garry Wilson, Alwoodley member and EY partner Hunter Kelly and Andy Barraclough, head of regional asset based lending at NatWest, the nerves started jangling.

Other players had gathered on the terrace to watch us tee off.

All three of my playing partners smashed their drives straight and true down the verdant first fairway.

And then I stumbled onto the tee.

‘Don’t worry about it, you’ve only got to hit it,’ I told myself.

And I did hit it.

Diagonally right, just beyond the 18th green.

It takes you a while to get over a shot like that.

By the time I got round to 18 I don’t think I was over it.

But Garry was a great host: entertaining, supportive and keen to make sure his guests had a wonderful day.

Which given he was hosting a black tie dinner for the British Venture Capital Association in Leeds last night, meant he had a busy day.

He is currently vice chair of the BVCA and will be its chairman next year.

He was doing a Q&A with former Olympic gold medal-winning boxer Nicola Adams last night and asked me for any tips on questions to pose.

Which I think was more about taking my mind off my golf than him needing any advice from me, given I know he’s confident on his feet in front of an audience.

By the time we finished our round and I was relaxing on the terrace of Alwoodley nursing a beer in the early evening sunshine, I had almost forgotten about my first shot and was entirely confident that everyone else had too.

Until Simon Pilling, corporate partner at international law firm Womble Bond Dickinson, walked up and said: “I hope it improved after that first drive of yours?”

And when we gathered for a relaxed prize-giving ceremony, Gary McNair, who runs commercial lender Endure Fund, sidled up to me and said: “Are you going to mention your first shot off the first tee that landed by the 18th green in your blog tomorrow?”

I smiled.

But I was crying inside.

Have a great weekend.

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