The English gentleman and his lifestyle


In press articles, especially in Italy and France, Mike was often portrayed as “The English gentleman”.  This was largely due to his way of dressing and his courteous, calm, unflappable manner.  When not wearing driving overalls he usually wore a double-breasted blazer or tweed jacket with a shirt and tie and flannel or corduroy trousers.  On more formal occasions he would wear a three-piece suit with a gold pocket watch attached to a gold chain in his waistcoat pocket.  This perhaps gave the impression that he had a very sophisticated social life.  In reality he usually led quite a sober existence, spending most of his time working, going to bed early and waking up early in the morning.  Big city life did not appeal to him.  In many ways a provincial town like Modena, where people know each other and exchange gossip at the local trattoria or barber (he used to get his hair cut by Antonio d’Elia, at the barber’s shop where Enzo Ferrari went every morning for a shave), and the foreigners who came to visit Ferrari or Lamborghini all stayed at the same hotel, the Real Fini, was the ideal dimension for him.  He certainly did a lot of travelling, but it was nearly always related to his racing.  There were occasional forays to St. Moritz or Davos for skiing, and trips to Sardinia or Sicily for a day or two at the sea (largely because it was fun to fly there).  When in England he would meet up with his motor racing pals.  He virtually never went on holiday in the conventional sense of going to a holiday resort for a week or two – he would probably have been bored stiff.  Also he had no interest at all in visiting countries or cities as a tourist.  In an interview in 1967, after four years in Italy, he confessed that he had never seen the leaning Tower of Pisa!

His hobbies were all connected with machines or speed in one way or another.  He loved flying and skiing (he even had the temerity to try skiing again a few times after his major accident).  He also enjoyed sailing and piloting offshore speedboats, which he did a few times with Tommy Sopwith.
The only form of cinema which aroused his interest was the James Bond series.  In January 1966 the Italian magazine “Autosprint” published a photo of Mike on the front cover, holding a small model Ferrari as though it were a gun, with the caption “Mike Parkes, 007 di Maranello con licenza di vincere” (a play on the film title “Licence to Kill”).

Mike was not in the habit of accumulating material things, apart from assorted bits of machinery.  He lived in a modest flat and did not own lots of clothes.  What he did spend on was doing things he enjoyed, and he could be very generous with those closest to him.  His sister Annabel remembers: “One year he gave me the most fantastic birthday treat.  I must have been about twenty-six years old.  He invited me and Franco, my husband, to go with him to a society ball in St. Moritz.  It was a smart do, with everyone in evening dress.  But what I remember most vividly is where we stayed, in the Hotel Kulm.  It is a classic old hotel in the grand style and we slept in an enormous room overlooking the lake.  It was the most luxurious hotel I’d ever stayed in.   And of course we drove there in a Ferrari.  When we got to the hotel car park Mike said to my husband ‘Where shall I park it?’ and Franco indicated a space.  Mike then spun the car through 360° on the icy asphalt and popped it into the vacant slot!”