20 years after his near fatal capsize, Duran Duran star Simon Le Bon will be in Cowes today as he prepares once again to sail in the Rolex Fastnet race aboard Drum.
In his sharp black suit, oversized sunglasses and classic Rio pose for the cameras, you could be forgiven for thinking that for Simon Le Bon posing on a yacht is nothing more than a publicity stunt to recapture his 1985 image or that the yacht is just a media-friendly, pop star background. Although Le Bon no longer ownsDrumand she is mainly sailed for corporate events asArnold Clark Drum, the star is still a keen sailor and regularly charters boats. What’s more, he will be racing in the Rolex Fastnet this year, and has miraculously managed to convince most of the crew of 1985 to sail with him.
Sitting aboard a modestly refurbishedArnold Clark Drumin a Glasgow marina it is hard to believe that 20 years have passed since she hit the headlines with her famous capsize during the 1985 Fastnet. Amongst my notes, Le Bon catches sight of a copy of David Glen’s feature of 20 years ago, showing detailed pictures of the capsize – a day Le Bon can never forget. ‘Oh God’ he exclaims and you can see from his face that the agony has returned, yet amazingly, the events of that day did not put the young star off the sport. I say sport because as far as yacht racing is concerned, the 80’s pin up has the same concept as you and me. After all, the Rolex Fastnet is a very serious race, not to be confused with the more usual pop star pursuit of lazing around in the sunshine and allowing the skipper of your boat to motor you out to a suitable bathing spot.
My first question was obvious: “so, just briefly, what happened 20 years ago?” But the story he recounts cannot be brief, he remembers it all in terrifying detail from the moment there was a big bang to posing for press photos in his underpants after losing his Musto long-johns on a stanchion of the sunken boat, So – what would make someone take part in a race in which they had so nearly died 20 years previously?
“Well, I wasn’t scared of the race in the first place I know it’s a tough race and I know there have been problems before. The reason the keel fell off the boat in 1985 was not because of the weather, not because of the crew, it was because of bad manufacture of the boat. They X-rayed the keel welds after they turned her over and found it to be 35% porous which was way below spec, so basically the boat hadn’t been put together properly.”
So how did he manage to convince the rest of the crew?
“I decided I wanted to do the Rolex Fastnet race again and since it was the 20th anniversary and I think most of the guys who did the race then would like to finish that race on Drum. I think we’ll probably take it quite easy this time. Some of the crew I have kept in touch with all the time and others went to the far side of the world after the Whitbread, I’m friends with all of them and they all know that if I’m around they can always approach me.”
You would think that in 20 years, the boat must have undergone some modifications but apart from obvious changes to the faulty keel, Le Bon insists that the changes have in fact been minimal.
“We’ve obviously got a furling headsail this time, not the twin tracks that we had the first time. The really hard part of that kind of races is the sail changes or reefing.
I think it’s the same rig that we had, but the boom’s shorter, 600cm shorter, so that’s gonna make it a lot easier to sail it downwind. On the Whitbread we used to get the boom in the water quite a lot, so it was quite frightening when that happens.”
And navigation equipment? “I’ve been on incredibly sophisticated boats as far as the computer stuff is concerned and I think this is still pretty basic onDrum, I think this is uncomplicated compared to a lot of other boats these days. We do have Roger Neilson as navigator who was onDrumfor the Whitbread and for the Fastnet last time. ”
Surely there must be a hint of anxiety that something could happen? Doesn’t he feel even a little worried that 1985 could repeat itself 20 years on?
“I’m not worried about doing the Fastnet, the boat has been serviced so many times because people are all saying ‘is it really safe to do it?’ so I’m not worried about the boat, I just don’t like having a cold wet bottom!”
And with that Mr Le Bon is whisked off to his next engagement, most probably something to do with the Duran Duran comeback tour. I wish him (Le) bon chance and feel reassured that first impressions can be deceptive. There is more to Simon Le Bon than just a has been 80s pop star – to me he has not lost his sparkle.