Nigel Mansell, the former Formula One world driving champion, recently made a ‘pit stop’ on the Island.

During his stay at the Royal Hotel, Ventnor, Island Life managed to catch up with Nigel, and ask him about his successful career behind the wheel, and his ongoing charity work.

Born on August 8, 1953 in Upton-upon-Severn, Worcestershire, Nigel won the Formula One title in 1992 and the CART Indy Car World Series the following year. His career in F1 spanned 15 seasons, and he is still the most successful British F1 driver of all time in terms of race wins with 31 victories.

During his career he drove for Lotus, Williams, Ferrari and McLaren, and spent much of his life on the Isle of Man before moving to Jersey in 1995. But he could not resist a visit to the Island, when one of his sons represented Jersey at cycling in the Island Games.

He recalled: “I had a wonderful childhood, but because we moved around a lot I had a difficult time at school. At the age of seven I cycled eight miles each way to school, so they were challenging times. Actually I hated school, but they are different now to what they were then.”

Nigel left home to start his own life at 21, and says: “I think I have a fantastic degree in life. I am worldly travelled, and don’t see bad in anyone until proven otherwise. I like to be totally transparent and fair.”

His fascination for cars began when he was just seven, even driving down pavements to the disgust of the local constabulary. Two years later he began kart racing even though he was still too young by a couple of years.

“I look back over my career now and wonder ‘how did I do what I actually did?’ In the present day under the same circumstances I wouldn’t get a sniff, because it is impossible without sufficient finances,” he said. “I spent many years having three jobs to raise money.

“I didn’t learn to say ‘no’ until my early 30s. Whatever was asked of me I did to the best of my ability. Sometimes it is best to say no, but I wasn’t wise enough to do that. But I had no fear, not even when I was driving.”

Nigel has always been a fitness fanatic, and during the halcyon days of his motor racing career he reckoned: “I was training 12 hours a day, and sometimes up to 16 hours a day. In the year I won the world title I was crazy, and went 10lbs under my normal weight, getting up a 6 in the morning and training until 10 at night.”

He claims he enjoyed his driving experiences with all the teams he was involved with, each one having something different to offer. He continued: “Ferrari were fanatics, and I was fortunate to win my first race for them, and had a wonderful couple of years there.

“But one of the fondest memories was Colin Chapman giving me the opportunity at Lotus, although having just signed a five-year contract with the great man, he died. But then Sir Frank Williams and Patrick Head gave me the opportunity at the Williams team, and I had fantastic times, winning 28 races for them as well as three for Ferrari. It was wonderful winning the title at Williams, and I still have so many great friends there to this day.”

Nigel recalls his favourite cars came in the turbo era, when wheel-spin in sixth gear at 160mph was commonplace – just awesome! He overcame an early setback to his career after breaking his neck in a race accident. But after being told he may never walk again, he battled back in true British style, even though he now admits: “It was the most terrifying experience of my life.”

Nigel sported his trademark moustache throughout most of his racing career. That has since been shaven off, although he still grows it occasionally, only to have it shaved off again for charity. His back-to-back world championships, in F1 and Indy Car meant his face went global, and he is still noticed and approached wherever he goes.

After his racing career finished, he started a hotel, golf and sports complex in Devon, and stayed there 16 years. He said: “The hardest thing in that business was it was 24-7, 52 weeks of the years. And I didn’t enjoy having the bad work of some people around me reflecting on us. So for seven years we took it on totally and had the most success.”

Nigel has been heavily involved in charity work for the past 30 years, and continues to be so. He was a member of the Cancer Help Association on the Isle of Man following his mother’s death; Save the Children in the Frank Williams era, and is now supporting UK Youth, having become President 10 years ago.

“It is a wonderful charity. We reach up to 750,000 children in any one year, have 40,000 volunteers and we are letting people know about it. So it is very rewarding and the diversity of the children we meet is just incredible.

“We give children who have been expelled or left school early the education and opportunity to empower them to make right decisions. Without helping and supporting them how do they know, and that is why our slogan is ‘Positive About Youth’. If you are not positive about youth, you are not positive about life of the future,” he said. “We work with three-year-olds up to early 20s, trying to keep people safe and save lives.”

Nigel accepts his best years might be behind him, but has set his sights on losing 15lbs in weight before the New Year, and get himself fit. But he smiled: “Once you are in your 50s, you have to do three times the exercise to lose the same amount of weight as someone in their 20s, so it is going to be tough.”

But no doubt it will be another challenge that he will meet head on – and almost certainly succeed.