My Dream Motor: Jeremy Irvine, actor, 31

The actor and Formula 1 fan tells Brummell about joining Williams in the pits, ruining his first Porsche and what he replaced it with

Motoring 12 May 2022

jeremy irvine in williams racing suit bremont watch

Jeremy Irvine in Williams Racing's 2021 campaign

Jeremy Irvine made his debut as the star of War Horse in 2011, and since then has appeared in films as diverse as Great Expectations and Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. He also starred in the US TV series Treadstone, a prequel to the Jason Bourne films. He lives in London and, as we discovered, is pretty handy under a bonnet. And on a building site.

I first got into cars through Formula 1, and I was a big Jenson Button fan; his first team was Williams. I was shooting a movie out in Montreal, and I got an invite to go to the Canadian Grand Prix. I don’t really get that star struck around actors, as I’m working with them all the time. But this was different. I spent the entire weekend in the pits with Jenson’s team, and it culminated with a team dinner at which we – Jenson and I – were sitting across the table from each other. I found I was tongue tied – just couldn’t say anything. The film I was doing was about the Stonewall riots, and so when he turned to me and said, ‘Lovely to meet you, I’m Jenson,’ the only words that came out of my mouth were ‘I’m filming a gay movie!’

Subsequently, I got involved with Williams through Giles English, who is one of the co-founders, with his brother Nick, of Bremont watches. Bremont is based in Henley, near the Williams factory, and they have a relationship with the F1 team – in fact they’ve just done a watch collaboration together. Giles called up and asked if I would like to stay at his house, as he had tickets to Silverstone the next day. Of course I jumped at the chance.

So there we were, sat having breakfast outside. It was a hot morning, and as I’m finishing my toast Harrison Ford lands in a helicopter in Giles’ garden. At that point I realised it would be an odd day.

Of course, being with Harrison and the Bremont brothers I was accepted into the inner circle of the Williams team and watched the race from the pits with the crew. I must have bored them silly with questions, and a few days later they asked if I’d like to do a little film for Williams. My only question was: ‘Will I get to sit in an F1 car?’ Luckily for me, the answer was yes.

It turned out to be quite eventful. First, they tried to put me in [driver] George Russell’s race suit, and I couldn’t get the zip up more than an inch. So, as they say, they were going to need a bigger one. They got me a suit that fitted, but racing drivers are fit and slight, and so when I tried to get out of the car, we realised I was wedged in. Properly stuck. They tried to get me out for 15 minutes, and eventually I heard a crack at my shoulder – I’d splintered the carbon fibre collar of the cockpit. I dread to think how much those things cost. And because they didn’t have a spare, we had to super glue it together for the rest of the filming.

Technically, I didn’t actually get to drive an F1 car – I was pushed around a bit, turning the steering wheel. But in my head I was doing the F1 noises, so I think that counts. So dream car number one is a Williams F1 machine!

Other than that, when I was 17 my best mate and I found a rusting hulk of a 1990 Land Rover Defender 110. Through watching YouTube videos we repaired it over a couple of years. That got me more into the mechanical side of cars – my dad’s an engineer, but I never had the maths to do that. However, I do love building stuff. Over lockdown I built a house; it was my special project. And there’s a car story there too.

When I’d just finished my first US TV series – Treadstone – I thought I’d treat myself. When you get into American TV work, suddenly the money is significantly better than in the UK. So for the first time ever I decided I was going to buy a nice car. I found a really nice Porsche. I loved driving it around, and then lockdown happened so there was no acting work for 10 months. I’d always wanted to build a house, and I had bought some land and got all the planning permission sorted. Now was the perfect opportunity.

So every day over that time I drove over to this bit of land and gradually the project took shape. But the only car I had was this Porsche. So I would turn up at Travis Perkins and ask for half a ton of sharp sand or half a ton of cement. When they asked, ‘Where do you want to put it?’, I’d say, ‘In the back of the Porsche, please.’ You can imagine, the guys there had a good old laugh at this ridiculous posh actor in his sportscar. It was quite a big Porsche – a Panamera – but it wasn’t a truck.

Which is what I drive now. If the Porsche is dream car number two, then the truck has to be dream car number three. You see, it will come as no surprise to hear that when I took the Panamera in for a service I was told, ‘You’ve snapped all the suspension and the wheels are knackered.’ I ruined the one nice car I ever had. So I bought a pick-up truck. I’ve discovered that I love building projects – I’ve got another one on the go at the moment. It’s my happy place; I think I may enjoy it more than acting! You get to see what you’ve done at the end of the day, unlike when you’re filming where you do a few scenes and then maybe don’t see the results until a year later when the movie gets released. Building stuff is much more tangible.

ford rangers
Ford Rangers

My pick-up truck is a Ford Ranger, and I love it. I can fill it with cement and sand to my heart’s content, without anyone laughing at me. Of course, it costs as much as my mortgage to run. And another down side is that because of its size, parking in London can be a challenge – and driving through the streets of West Hampstead can be a bit hairy at times.

I’m actually in the process of moving at the moment, so that will all get easier, and it will be great for the move itself. Come to think of it, that’s another problem… among my friends I’m now the one with the truck. So every time anyone needs to transport anything large, or pick up furniture, I’m the delivery man.

Jeremy Irvine plays Ivor Novello, the Welsh entertainer, composer, singer, actor and dramatist, in Benediction, the story of British writer and World War I war poet Siegfried Sassoon, out in May 2022.