Shot! Rolls-Royce at the Festival of Speed

For its debut Goodwood experience, Rolls-Royce dared to be different

As one of the world’s most acclaimed automotive events, there’s no doubting the pull of the Festival of Speed. Whether it’s F1 racing drivers, YouTube slebs, or just ordinary Joes with an appetite for speed, petrolheads from all over the world descend on this corner of West Sussex to get their annual intake of all things fast and furious. Whether it’s on four or two-wheels, or even a Land Rover driving on just two. Whether it’s a full-size McLaren 720S made entirely of Lego, or a one of a kind Rolls-Royce that took four years to build and — according to some — cost £10m*, there is something for everyone. No wonder it draws some 200,000 over the four days.

In recent years, as it’s grown in size and status, one of the most notable changes has been the commercialisation of the event. There are now well over 300 exhibitors and some of the multi-level pavilions can take six weeks to build. Last year, I speculated it would only be a matter of time before the Festival of Speed followed Glorious Goodwood in having a title sponsor. Although still referred to by pretty much everyone as Glorious, Goodwood’s premier horseracing meeting is now formally known as the Qatar Goodwood Festival.

So it was no surprise that the 24th iteration of Goodwood’s flagship event now has the added moniker “presented by Mastercard”. What’s more, their name was emblazoned in an even bigger font than Goodwood’s! And whenever the event’s name featured within any official copy it was religiously followed with “presented by Mastercard”.

But Mastercard wasn’t the only brand prominent at this year’s Festival. A new name at the event was Montblanc, who had taken over from Rolex as the official timekeeper, a role they will have for at least the next four years. Compared with Mastercard, Montblanc’s visual presence was minimal, but that was likely due to their only tying down the deal a month or so before the event. They did however team up with another of their partners, BMW, with a pop-up display in the Stable Yard as part of BMW’s ‘8’ exhibit.

Black Rock, who had been the sponsor of the prestigious Driver’s Club, was another departed brand, replaced by Martini, who also brought with them a huge pavilion alongside the F1 paddock on the space where TAG Heuer used to be. Indeed, with Montblanc’s arrival, TAG Heuer’s time was up.

And there were even more absentees across the track among the manufacturers. Considering the Festival had become the defacto British motor show, it was surprising that so many marques who’d been regulars at Goodwood were no longer there. They included the likes of Toyota (although Lexus did have a presence), Nissan and Skoda who all had huge pavilions in previous years. Also absent were Citroen, Lotus, Mazda, Peugeot and Volvo. And there may well have been more I didn’t notice.

Why these marques decided not to attend, I don’t know. I can only assume the huge cost of their participation must have been a factor. I remember being told a couple of years ago that the rent alone for the manufacturers pavilions at the Festival of Speed — many of which require weeks of build-up/take-down time was enough to run the estate for a year. Whether that’s true or not, I can’t say. But I wouldn’t be surprised if it were.

One thing that did surprise me was what Rolls-Royce put on this year.

Now Roll-Royce builds its cars at Goodwood. Driving from Chichester, you actually pass the factory on the way to the estate. Yet despite their close proximity (or maybe because of it) this was the first time Rolls had a presence at the Festival beyond having a couple of cars in the Moving Motor Show marquee and providing the pace car. That’s always seemed strange to me, particular as rivals Bentley have invested heavily in their own pavilion.

With its flint walls and faux battlements, the Laundry Green is one of the most prestigious locations at the festival. It’s an open space opposite the First Glance paddock and in the past has been home to Mazda, Fiat and McLaren. But none of them used the space as well as Rolls-Royce.

Stepping on to the exhibit the first impressions you got were black and green. All three cars on display were black — the “deepest, darkest and most intense black to ever grace a production car surface” claimed Rolls — and the space was divided by hedge walls. Although these (and the lawns) aren’t real — which was a shame — they didn’t look overly artificial. Their main purpose was to divide the space into different areas. Angled at the front, contained within low hedges, were the Wraith and Ghost.

Behind them were two spaces created by higher hedges, one contained a history of the marque’s sportier aspirations, the other an informal seated area where you could watch a video on a large screen. At the back, against a curved black wall containing another screen was the Black Badge edition of the 593bhp Dawn convertible, the fastest Rolls-Royce you can buy, which was making its debut at Goodwood.

By now, visitors will have realised all three cars were Black Badges. Launched last year, it’s a new departure for Rolls, a top of the range line designed with more aggressive features and with performance enhancements over the standard models.

It’s an inspired idea. All of a sudden, Rolls-Royce is a cool brand, with cars aimed at a younger audience who want to sit in the front rather than the back. That top YouTuber Jon Olsson swapped his camo clad Lamborghini for a tricked out, souped up, camo-clad Wraith reinforces that view. Indeed, I have to say, my own perception of the brand has also changed.

Perhaps the most visible signifier of Rolls intentions is that each Black Badge features the Spirit of Ecstasy in black — the first time ever that it hasn’t been in silver.

The stand also featured a number of busts: Henry and Charles (Mr Rolls and Mr Rolls) were there as were John Lennon, Muhammed Ali, Sir Malcolm Campbell and Steve McQueen. All were in black and the reason for their presence is that each was a game-changer. Whilst there’s no doubting their impact, I think the Black Badge story would have been stronger if it had featured more contemporary figures.

The centrepiece of the stand, wasn’t a car but a huge sculpture of the Spirit of Ecstasy mounted on a circular pool of ink-black water. Had you flown a drone directly above her, you would have seen that the pool was in fact the hub of the wheel fitted on all Black Badges and that the stand footprint mimicked that of the car’s carbon fibre composite wheels.

And that really demonstrated the level of detail that went into this design.

But before I talk about some of the other features that impressed me, (and some that didn’t) I want to say that the most impressive thing about this project was its relevance.

This wasn’t just about coming up with something that looked interesting or impressive (even though it did), it was about creating an environment that was totally relevant for the story being told. There’s no disputing what the narrative is: Black Badge. It’s daring, it’s different, yet it’s rooted in tradition. And most importantly, there was no distraction from telling the story—absolutely everything related to Black Badge.

And like the car itself, it was (with one exception) all about the details. Take the floral arrangements. They were stunning. They were housed in black urns and the choice of flowers were inspired. Predominantly dark, with black foliage and almost black roses, the displays popped with a few orange and red blooms, the only two colours you find on Black Badges where the steering wheel, seats and door trim feature flashes of orange (the tail-lights of course are in red)

Whilst there was a lot of black, the green walls stopped it looking in any way funereal. The majority of the signage was on black metal panels and looked sublime. What didn’t though was the Spirit of Ecstasy statue, the installation’s biggest let down. Rather than being a beautifully detailed sculpture, it was poorly crafted. Apparently, it was 3-D printed. Had it not been the centrepiece, they may have gotten away with it. What many may have not noticed was that the surround to the pool was made to look like the slats in the Rolls Pantheon grille. I’ve never seen them used this way before and they looked wonderful.

I only have two other critiques.

First, the information panels contained way too much text. Ironically, they were the poorest form of storytelling on the stand — and the least impressive part of the experience. With so much copy you just didn’t want to read the words.

And second, the Rolls-Royce staff on the stand should have worn something more special than their normal showroom attire. A black shirt and trousers, with an orange belt for example would have had them as part of the story, rather than just your typical salesmen and women.

And with that, my thoughts on the Black Badge experience would have concluded here. But the second time I visited the stand I had the opportunity of seeing part of it that at first sight you probably wouldn’t even have known existed. Next to the Dawn at the back was a doorway. Most visitors would assume it led to a staff area, but actually it was quite a spacious VIP area, large enough to contain another Dawn, an exhibit area and plenty of seating.

The first thing that grabbed your attention was a series of brightly coloured bold paintings, most featuring skulls.

And then, on the black curved wall, you noticed there were four huge murals, painted by the same artist, but this time clearly inspired by Rolls-Royce. In fact the paintings were by street artist Bradley Theodore. Originally from Turks & Caicos, Bradley now lives in New York. But for a week or so, he was in England painting at Goodwood in front of Rolls-Royce’s VIP guests.

More about Bradley and his work in a moment, but just to round off what else was in the VIP area. A small exhibit area featured a bunch of items that either reinforced the black theme — such as two black Gibson guitars — or the notion of creativity. Here too was Sabine Roemer, a contemporary jeweller, complete with her jeweller’s bench where you could see the process of going from wax carvings to polished jewellery.

Also present were Veuve Clicquot serving champers to the guests. fortuitously, their colour scheme was the perfect match for the event: black and orange. All that was missing was a specially created black and orange drink!

Something else missing was the Wraith Bradley Theodore had painted earlier that week at London’s Maddox Gallery. It was a shame it wasn’t at the Festival, but apparently it was sitting outside the factory just down the road.

That Rolls would even consider collaborating with a street artist, just goes to show how far its thinking has come. Not that long ago something like this would have featured a craftsman from the workshop stitching a steering wheel or polishing a piece of walnut veneer. No longer stuck in the past and trading on tradition, here was a brand truly relishing its new found creative side.

Whilst other marques might have balked at an artist putting his own take on branded icons like the Spirit of Ecstasy, the grille and the double-R logo, Bradley was given free rein to do as he pleased. I know this, because I spent some time chatting with him as he was creating his final mural.

It was fascinating to get an insight into his thought process and his painting process. When he arrived he only had a vague idea of what he’d be painting that day: a circle with one section being half a skull and the other the distinctive wheel design found on all Black Badge models.

Bradley began by loosely sketching onto the black board. He worked very quickly, with rough lines forming the shapes. Then he took a large wodge of acrylic paint and smears it on with a brush. He uses a narrow palette of vibrant hues and tends not to blend the colours. Curiously, he never stood back from the painting.

His paint-spattered trousers have become his trademark. Indeed, he uses them to clean his brushes. Painting outdoors with a watching audience means he’s constantly interrupted — whether it’s people coming up to him for a chat or wanting a photo with him, he gave his time generously. But he went further than that.

If someone asked him to paint their clothes he obliged. There’s a Spirit of Ecstasy painted on a lady’s white trouser, another on the back of someone’s jacket. another on a little girl’s T-shirt and on someone else’s jeans. And he signed them all. What other event could you go to where you’re worth more when you leave than when you arrive?

He certainly had no shortage of fans and he got to paint on one literally as a Japanese lady proffered hers. It’s not a shape that lends itself well to be painted with a big brush, but Bradley persevered and spent 10 minutes creating something she loved.

Back to the mural and he’s now decided to mirror the wheel with the Black Badge’s steering wheel. All the cars on display have bright orange accents in their primarily all black interior and orange leather forms part of the steering wheel.

Then he added the Dawn’s distinctive headlights and the artwork is beginning to take shape. I didn’t get to see the finished piece, but I know his other three murals took around seven hours each to complete. His London gallery rep told me, one had already been sold. He wouldn’t confirm how much it went for, but I’m sure I heard someone mention £30,000!

I was fortunate to get to chat with Bradley and watch him paint. It was an experience only a select few VIP guests got to witness. For them, I’m sure it left an indelible memory.

In some ways, it was a shame that the majority of visitors to the stand would have had no idea what was happening behind the back wall. But the clever thing about the design was that they never realised what they were missing out on. Or you could say, they were left in the dark!

Behind the image: All these images were shot handheld with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 and either the 12–40 2.8 Pro or the 75 1.8 lens using available light only. Shot at Goodwood on 29 June and 2 July 2017.

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  • The Sweptail’s price was not disclosed, although Rolls-Royce CEO Torsten Müller-Otvös called reports of a £10 million cost “speculation.” But he added: “I can tell you it was substantially expensive, probably the most expensive new car ever.”

Creator of images that are out of the ordinary, reviewer of live music and live events and interviewer of interesting people