Welcome to my blog. I may write copy here that I would not present elsewhere. This blog allows me to comment while reporting for clients which can include subscription-only platforms. I use it to take a sideways look at running stories, and all views presented here are my own.

Interested parties are invited to comment.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Sunday, 9 September 2007


La Caixa savings bank, Spain’s largest, owns substantial land assets in Catalonia and the Balearic Islands. This Summer I was in Port Aventura, the theme park which it bought from Universal some years ago, to witness the opening of Europe’s fastest rollercoaster-Furius Baco- on which la Caixa spent €15,000,000. Accelerating from 0-83.9 mph (135km/hr) in 3.5 seconds, with a maximum G force of 4.7, this steel ride travels 900 meters in 25 seconds.

Seven-times world motor racing champion Valentino Rossi was due to spend the morning with us, launching the ride and talking to the assembled international press corps. I had been bidding for weeks for an exclusive interview with Fernando Aldecoa, the Group Financial Director. I hoped to talk to him at some point during the day.

The Spanish media were there in droves, the rest of us in our relatively quieter small national groups- French, German, British,etc. I spotted a Spanish guy in a smart black suit, trilby hat and shades, Blues Brothers style, and another sitting patiently on a chair with a hand-held puppet dressed in a motorcycle racing kit just like Rossi wears. I wasn’t sure if this was going to be a traditional press conference. I had my trademark red book of serious questions in my hand, my glasses on and my pen poised, but things were starting to feel a bit surreal in the heat.

I wanted to talk to Rossi, so I used my favourite tactic- find out where the main man is going to enter and exit, and put myself there first ahead of the pack. At pressers (conferences) I usually try to get there the night before or in prior to anyone in the morning, to case the joint and to think about my positioning. I’m happy to cut sleeptime in order to be the first journo to ask my questions- It’s a jungle out there.

I cosied up to the motorcycle team guys to suss out the scene, pretending to be really interested in the Moto GP race in Barcelona that weekend and casually asked where I might see Valentino. They told me so like a bat out of hell, I bolted up a stairway to a certain point at Furius Baco.

The Blues Brother complete with camera crew arrived on the other side, opposite us behind a barrier, where the press crowd was swelling hugely. When Rossi arrived, I called out “Valentino!” shook his hand, wished him luck, and asked him how he was feeling. He was wearing a T-shirt and three-quarter length cargos, trainers, earrings, lots of curly hair, we had eye contact and spoke for a few minutes; he said “Thank you. I’m feeling OK” he was excited and composed.

Blues Brother yelled at him with a mic in English. After the ride, I raced down to where I’d been told Rossi would be entering the press room for questions, so when he came in, I was ready, wrung his hand again, and asked him what he thought of Furius Baco.

Acceleration is not bad, eh?” he smiled. He should know!

Then he got up onto the stage alongside an actor wearing a Woody Woodpecker outfit, (the Port Aventura mascot), and the questions started, with the Spanish the most uninhibited. Journalists are not normally shy and we had some big-hitters in our group but my colleagues seemed like pussycats on prozac compared to the home crowd.

First off, a Spanish hack went up to the podium and presented Valentino with a children’s medical kit, because the champion is known as “Il Dottore” – The Doctor. The journalist was wondering if Rossi himself might need resuscitation after the Furius Baco trip.

Rossi said thanks for the kit. He didn’t seem to need any resuscitation. I guess he was reasonably used to high speeds.

Then someone else presented him with a plate of Spanish Teruel ham- saying that it was better than the Italian Parma that the champion might normally eat, he should try it- he might find himself able to drive faster.

Rossi said thanks for the ham and took the plate.

Throughout, he smiled, displayed good humour, and joked with Woody Woodpecker. People spoke fast, mainly in Spanish, with some Italian.

Finally, the puppet, who was sitting right at the back behind us, started speaking in Spanish.

“ Valentino, do you wear a lucky charm?" it shouted. Our heads all swivelled Alien-style.

Answer; yes, Rossi carries a turtle amulet which brings him luck. The puppet went on to ask many more questions, it didn’t stop. Valentino replied to each one. They were really going some.

I thought I was hallucinating. Was the super-rich champion racing driver subject of this press conference really engaging in fast, direct dialogue with a two-foot high hand-operated puppet sitting on someone’s knee? I looked around at the audience. No-one was batting an eyelid.

Turns out that the puppet is from Los Lunnis, a popular Spanish children’s programme on TVE.

The mystery Blues Brother got to shout out some questions too, in English, and I discovered that he is a famous comedian, José Miguel Monzón, known as El Gran Wyoming, or the Great Wyoming, from Channel 6 in Spain, La Sexta.

I’ve attended some awesome press conferences in my time, but I will never, ever forget this one.

Oh, I got my exclusive with Fernando Aldecoa. It was for print and online news at www.Loydslist.com