“A Couple of years ago I had a meeting at BBC Sport; the talent person said I’d never work for them…” Jake Humphrey.
He’s presented kids TV and the greatest sport on the planet (if we do say so ourselves); he’s joined a champagne-soaked newly crowned world champion in the garage, does a mean Eddie Jordan impersonation and once wrestled a dog. Oh, and he’s not short on knowledge when it comes to Norwich City FC. Welcome to the weird, wonderful and altogether enviable world of BBC F1 anchor Jake Humphrey…
“To be in the garage with Jenson Button when he’d just won the world title in Brazil… you know how you remember the big moments in your life? I remember that day so vividly.”
Jake Humphrey, the face of F1’s TV coverage in Britain, is sat opposite Badger’s editor and deputy editor at the BBC F1 Media launch in London’s television centre. And he’s making us pretty jealous. Yes Jake, we do know how one tends to remember the big moments in life; but we don’t remember anything quite like that.
Not that he’s showing off – he’s really not that type of guy – he’s just giving us a flavour of his first (and personal favourite) season in F1: 2009.
“I remember what I had for dinner that day,” he continues, “the emotions on the bus on the way back to the hotel and this overwhelming feeling that the BBC had nailed that moment. We’d spoken about wanting to be in the Brawn garage, not on the outside looking in; we wanted to be the broadcaster that was in there.
“On the day of the race the team didn’t want to jinx it by talking about it in advance, but eventually they came to us and said ‘okay, you can be in the garage.’ To get that interview at that moment was fantastic, because there was lot of negativity when I got the job and that was the culmination of a year full of stress, pressure and hard work. I sat back and thought ‘yes – nice!’
That anyone ever doubted Humphrey’s ability to head the Beeb’s F1 coverage now seems mad. He’s a real pro, something that comes across just as well when we meet him as it does on the nation’s TVs every other Sunday during the F1 season. But there were naysayers – some of them pretty venomous. Why?
“I think Formula One fans are very protective of the sport they love,” he explains, “and I was totally unproven. It’s very rare – particularly for the BBC, who are generally quite risk averse – to actually say, ‘we’ve got Steve Ryder, Gabby Logan, Chris Evans and Richard Hammond available,’ all of whom would have been keen on the job, and then to decide, ‘let’s go with that bloke off kids TV!’
“A couple of years before that I’d had a meeting at BBC Sport,” he continues, “and the talent person had said that I’d never work for them because I’m not a trained journalist and I’m not an ex-pro, so to get that opportunity was just remarkable. And I don’t know why there was that negativity. My wife phoned me in tears the day it was announced saying she’d read I was going to be rubbish. I asked where and she said on the BBC Sport website, so you can imagine the pressure I was under in Australia when The Chain started belting out. I’m an F1 fan and I want to do a good job and that’s why I do the Twitter and the blogs. I just want to take everyone as close to F1 as possible because I feel so lucky to have this job.”
Indeed he is. And that’s enough of the serious stuff, it’s time to strike up a bit of chat about two topics very close to Jake’s heart: Formula One and Norwich City FC. Having kicked off our conversation with a quiz on his favourite team (he scored 4 points from a possible 6) we keep the Norwich theme going for one more question, which also acts as a jumping off point for a chat about F1: who is the better manager, Norwich boss Paul Lambert or Red Bull chief Christian Horner?
“That’s a very good question. I think at the moment you’d have to say Christian Horner because Paul Lambert hasn’t won what he wants to, whereas Christian has. He’s the unsung hero of Red Bull really. People talk about what Dietrich Mateschitz has done by investing all the money, how Mark Webber pushed Sebastian all the way and how Seb himself is the youngest ever world champion – but what about the guy who’s in the middle of it all? When we talk about the division of power in that team – with the Austrian powerbase, the Milton Keynes power and then the drivers – Christian has been at the centre of all that, trying to keep everyone happy.
“I remember going in to his office after the two drivers had come together in Turkey and he said ‘Mark and Seb were sat in those two chairs yesterday…’ and let out this sigh. It’s a difficult job, but someone has to run that team and he’s done it really, really well. And he’s incredibly young! They’re a fizzy drinks company who’ve come in and beaten Ferrari and McLaren – how does that make you feel if you exist to race? They exist to sell cans of drink!”
A few less obvious questions close our chat with Jake. What’s his favourite cheese? “Guyere.” His watch. “A TAG-Heur – you like it?” Who’s his pick for the 2011 title? “Lewis Hamilton.” And, finally, a question posed by a Badger follower on Twitter: has Jake ever wrestled a dog?
“I have actually. We used to have a mad Scottish Setter called Bennett. I had a paper round and my parents came up with the ridiculous idea that I should walk the dog before doing my deliveries; he was so loop-the-loop that when you got him out his kennel in the morning he’d go ‘woof, woof, woof’ (Jake is actually woofing loudly at this point) and run around in circles. You used to have grab his collar and he was a huge dog and he’d pull me over and so yeah, technically, I have wrestled a dog.”
He leaves us with by recalling a conversation with Eddie Jordan from the previous day in what is a very impressive impersonation of the Irishman.
“EJ rang me yesterday saying ‘I’ve got some bloody dynamite news for the first race. I said, ‘what is it EJ?’ But he wouldn’t say. ‘I’ll tell you in Bahrain’, was his reply.
“AndI thought oh God, this is going to be interesting…”