Meeting Heroes! ‘Ferrari’ and Bret Hart
It started like this:
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Back in the late 80’s, early 90’s I was just entering my teen years and back then I had two heroes in life at the time. One was the holistic brand of Ferrari, and the other was Bret Hart.
As with many a youth of the time, I was really into Wrestling. We’d just got the recently launched Sky TV and I had discovered the World Wrestling Federation. The glitz and drama and well-made production made for compelling viewing as a youngster. Was it real or not? I didn’t know. I didn’t care. Bret Hart was a major player in the circuit at the time and he was the ultimate cool in the world of Alpha Male. Women went nuts for him, blokes wanted a physique like him and kids loved him. And he always worse those shades and gave his pair to kids in the audience when he made his entrance. A man so cool, he made ice look slightly boiled.
At the same time that the Superstars of Wrestling were becoming an exciting part of life for me, so were cars. Back then, you just didn’t see a Ferrari. Ever. I had all the books and posters but I had never seen one in ‘real life’. Even Porsche’s were rare. My school friend at the time went abroad a few years later as part of a school programme and he brought back a photograph of a Ferrari 348 that he had spotted and duly pap’d at the side of the road. I still have that photo. I couldn’t believe he had actually seen one, I recall being mesmerised by the almost perfect shape in automotive design.
Fast forward twenty-plus years and somehow (I’ve no idea how) my friend, fellow car enthusiast (and Ferrari owner) Mike and I got talking about WWF wrestling (now known as WWE). Neither of us had watched it since our early teens. The conversation rekindled past memories of some of the sporting stars of the time. What had happened to all of those superstars? Where were they know? Through the joys of social media, I discovered that there was a Wrestling Convention being held in the centre of London just a few months’ later. Lots of the stars from yesteryear were lined up to be there, including our fan-favourite Bret Hart.
“Let’s go and make a weekend of it!” laughed Mike. This sounded like a plan and so the idea was put forward to our better halves. And with our bemused wives giving the green light on a mad, lad, geekfest weekend, Mike suggested that we book the same hotel that the convention was held in. “I guarantee you, they will all be in the bar later,” he said, with a rather curious confidence. And so rooms were booked at the posh London hotel. “We’ll go in the Ferrari”. “I’ll insure you on it and we’ll share the drive” he says.
Fast forward a few months and we are primed and ready to go. I arrive at Mike’s house early on the Sunday morning ready for what will ultimately become a fantastic weekend. The TDF blue Ferrari 360 spider was eased out of the garage. Luggage loaded and I’m in the driver’s seat.
Sitting in this Ferrari and with a completely un-objective tint of ‘dream realised’, everything immediately feels just right. They are really wide cars, lots of power and lots of noise and yet, despite this being someone else’s £70,000 pride and joy with a reputation for going sideways if not driven carefully on public roads, the car it isn’t as intimidating as you might expect. It feels like just ‘a car’. A very, very cool car. A dream car.
Standard car-like features are all present and correct: An auto ‘F1’ gearbox, stop and go pedals around my feet and a steering wheel in front with a Ferrari badge staring back at my face. My big, grinning, happy face.
We set off down the road, tentatively at first until I get used to width and the accelerator travel and then it’s time to press the loud button and have some fun. Yes, this car actually does have a ‘loud’ button. Press that and the exhaust valves open up. Couple that with a push of the right foot and the blue 360 screams, wails and thunders up to the redline, before I grab the right paddle for the next gear to have the same thing happen again. It really makes you giggle; the noise seems to be directly controlling my facial expression. On deceleration, dropping down a gear, the F1 style throttle blips make themselves heard and provide more reasons to grin like a Cheshire cat. After a short blast on the country lanes, we hit the M6.
The motorway journey was interesting; one thing I found really noticeable was just how much attention a Ferrari gets, even in this subtle shade of dark blue. As you travel past other motorists, you see windows drop down so they can hear the noise as you go past. Car after car with kids in the back, faces pressed up against their windows, presumably having been given advance notice by driver-dad spotting us in his mirror, anxiously waiting to hear the engine note as pass by. And did I drop the gears a few cogs and go screaming past like my inner 10-year-old would have given anything to see and hear? Of course I did. Every single time! The child in me was just imagining what those young chaps would have been thinking as we drove past. Inspiration? Future owners perhaps? I hope so.
Any they weren’t the only fans. As we later cruised along the M1 motorway talking about this and that – simple chatter you understand as the majority of the time my inner voice was just repeating “I’m driving a Ferrari!” over and over in my head – Mike spots a car full of ladies as we drive past. “The fans, Paul! The fans are here!”, he laughs, clearly seeing something I hadn’t. “Slow down, they’ll speed up to come past us”. And they surely did. With the noise on loud and the gears on low, the blue Fezza was making all kind of racket as the car packed full of women momentarily arrived adjacent to us. Big smiles everywhere, heads and arms all out of the windows waiving, haha!! So much fun. An obligatory burst down the highway under a crescendo of noise took us shortly to the service station where it was time for a break and a swap of seats. We are nearly in London and with its narrow roads and busy traffic, if anyone is going to be scraping up’side a black cab, it’s going to Mike rather than me.
Whilst we crawled in traffic with the roof down, more requests followed to rev the engine for awestruck back-seat kids and we eventually arrive at our destination. After parking out the front of the hotel – and learning that in most cases hotels don’t mind exotic cars parked in drop-off spaces – we check in and head down to the Wrestling Convention. Geek mode on.
The lifts in the hotel became our rather co-incidental place for meeting wrestling stars. As we entered the lift to head to the show, we were joined by a female wrestler of the modern era, someone who neither of us knew. Pleasantries were passed and we entered the main hall where, after getting our bearings and turning around, we spotted Bret Hart, who was sat signing autographs for a line of people. It looked like we had just arrived at the right time as the line was short and he had almost completed his session there. We queued and got our material signed, said some hello’s and a shake of hands before we moved on, quite satisfied at finally meeting him almost 25 years since he first arrived on our respective tellies, but now equally excited at who else we might see.
We entered the main hall, bypassing the utterly enormous queue for a photograph with a couple of other modern female wrestling stars (whom we also didn’t know, but would coincidentally meet in a lift later that day) and into the main hall where the stars of yesteryear were in abundance.
We met and had photos and memorabilia signings with Davey Boy Smith Junior (the late, great, British Bulldog’s son), Diana Hart (British Bulldogs ex-wife and Bret’s sister), the Nasty Boys and then we met Tatanka.
Tatanka was a great guy. He was really approachable and open about his life in wrestling, and extremely happy talking to us as his fans for as long as we wanted. As we got into the conversation, the crowd started to grow around us with others wanting to hear his stories too. No ‘queue up in line, quick sign, and leave’ here as with most of the others, Tatanka was open, relaxed and very talkative. And huge! These guys are still big pumped-up fella’s! We duly purchased photos and signatures from him and not wanting to outstay our welcome, we moved on for a brief meet and signing with Shawn Michaels.
Later in the afternoon, we had the opportunity for a professional photo with Bret Hart, with Mike getting a big grin out of the main man declaring “For the fans eh, Bret!” with a shake of hands and a final reprise “for the fans….!” as he left Bret’s photo area. We are nerds and we know it. As the day drew to a close, we attended a Q&A session with both Bret and Shawn Michaels, hearing their stories of behind-the-scenes from the time period that both Mike and I watched the show. A superb insight into the world of wrestling and was hosted by WWE commentator “JR”.
Time for a quick change of clothes, food and back downstairs to the bar, where hotel security was checking and refusing access to anyone without a hotel room key. Like something out of Wayne’s World, we flashed our room keys proudly and bounced into the bar for some beer. Tatanka was already in there and one by one the wrestlers arrived.
A short time later I realised that my phone’s battery had almost run out of power and I returned to my room to put it on charge. As I headed back to return to the bar, to my disbelief, there stood Bret Hart next to the lifts, waiting to head down also! Now, what exactly do you say to one of your childhood heroes at an impromptu one-to-one without any pre planning of things you might want to voice or ask? Maybe ask for a photo? I couldn’t, my camera-phone was on charge. So instead I said hello, he shook my hand and asked if I was enjoying the event as an opener and we passed the time of day. Being somewhat taken aback, I said absolutely nothing memorable or inspirational but he was good enough to accommodate my ramblings graciously until we arrived at the bar, where he went to meet his friends and I went back to tell Mike. Top tip: always have something ready to say in your head – you never know!
By the end of the night, moreover the start of the morning, everyone in the bar was drunk and the laughter was in full flow. We listened to the stories of old and generally looked on at all of these superstars from our childhoods. We had a great chat with Diana Hart, who told us stories of her time with the British Bulldog and we bought some of the wrestlers a few drinks. We had a quick chat with the host of the event too who was at the bar for a short time which was very insightful.
And then, somehow, at about 3am this happened….
That’s Mike in front along with the wrestlers of the evening, left to right, Blade Hart, Chavo Guerrero Jr, Papa Shango, Bret Hart, Nasty Boy Nobbs, The Mountie, Davey Boy Smith Jnr (background).
And so that’s how it came to pass that we ended up in a bar, listening to the TV superstars of our childhood regaling stories of their own best-days on the road. I’m not particularly phased by – or particularly interested in – celebrity, but this was an exception and such a fantastic experience. A childhood dream come to life.
The next morning – very hung over and sleep deprived we got up for breakfast. As we entered the lift, Shawn Michaels joined us at the next floor and we said hello. The lift really was the place to be. We wished him well on his trip up to Manchester that evening and headed for breakfast. Sat at the table across from us was a number of the wrestlers along with Shawn. How cool.
Mike didn’t want to drive back after a heavy night on the tiles, and despite the awesome prancing horse waiting for me in the car park, neither did I. My head was thumping and sleep was drastically missing from my day. So, as we hit a stalemate we elected to walk into central London to go all touristy and see some of the sights. Later that day we headed home, tired but happy.
Bret Hart. Ferrari. There is a saying “Don’t meet your heroes, they will only disappoint”. I’m pleased to say that I’ve now met both of mine and, together, they produced one of the most memorable weekends of my life. Awesome!