Riddle me This… Dan Geoghegan
Up close and personal with the Managing Director of Bicester Heritage the UK’s first park for the restoration, storage and enjoyment of vintage and classic cars, motorcycles and aeroplanes housed at a former RAF bomber station
If you knew then what you know now… would you still do it?
For sure; perhaps even the vintage car accident that kicked the Bicester Heritage project off. With me nursing a fractured pelvis after being thrown out of a vintage Riley on the Flying Scotsman Rally, business partner Bob Meijer and I needed a new challenge to lift our spirits. We are both historic car enthusiasts and decided to create a centre of excellence for historic motoring; there wasn’t one and it felt like the UK was desperately in need of a professional cluster of specialist skills to help preserve them and also serve customers better. It also seemed that few had noticed that the classic car industry is worth £5.5 billion to the UK economy; creating a one-stop-shop seemed like an opportunity waiting to be discovered. The search led to the once-in-a-lifetime purchase of the former RAF Bicester, a sleeping gem of a pre-war bomber station mothballed since 1976. It was a revolution in the making, four years later and Bicester Heritage is now the world’s only business park providing historic motoring skills and experiences in a ‘Dambusters’ setting. It has been a huge success, and it’s just the beginning as we plan to address the current and future automotive experience sectors, too.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
‘It’s impossible to excel at something you don’t like doing’. That’s just another way of saying that we’re better at doing things we enjoy, the implication being that it’s best to keep searching until we find it. It’s not just about material gain, far from it in fact, but self-worth and a sense of satisfaction of how we use our time and influence our futures, relationships and environment. It would be a shame not to find it, but terrible to be accused of never having tried.
What was your biggest break?
Apart from the fractured pelvis? Sorry, couldn’t resist, but it was a big break in all respects, without that accident we wouldn’t be at Bicester. It just goes to show that a near-death experience can be turned into a positive life-changer: it was a reminder that, as my dad used to say, ‘life’s not a practice run’ so don’t delay. Four years later and we’re running a 348 acre estate with the opportunity to create a world class automotive destination for the past, present and future. Restoring Britain’s last remaining intact pre-war bomber station, its 19 listed buildings and areas of Scheduled Ancient Monuments has been very rewarding and it really has a film set quality. In fact, you may have seen it widely in The Imitation Game, not least of all as the set for Turing’s computer and breaking the enigma code. Our core mission, however, is to create an immersive centre for anyone seeking an automotive experience. Whether’s that’s having your Aston Martin restored, youth driving programmes, trying a driverless vehicle or the motoring world’s latest offerings, we want Bicester to be top of the list.
What’s the weirdest rumour you’ve ever heard about yourself?
I belong to a great historic car club, with thousands of members around the world. Reading their award-winning and widely acclaimed magazine, there was an article about a Memorial Trophy that had been instituted to celebrate achievements by young enthusiasts. Great, but it was a double-take as the report bore my name and appeared to commemorate my untimely death! The warmth of the sentiment didn’t outweigh the reality check: I wrote to the Editor quoting Mark Twain, ‘Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated’.
Do you consider yourself lucky?
Well, I don’t think that I’m unlucky, if I can put it that way… But if luck exists, I would not expect any if I sat at home all day watching TV. Hopefully someone wise will once have said that if we look for luck each day, then it’s there to be found.
What’s most important in your life?
Authenticity; there’s so much hype, spin, pace in modern life it’s important to stay grounded and appreciate what’s real.
What brands do you admire?
Those that stand for craftsmanship, quality, and form with function. We had a great partnership with Malle recently, they develop and test their products personally. Their core values stand out in everything they make. I really like the look of Sam Brown Leather, too.
Do you have a guilty pleasure – if so what is it?
Netflix. There’s outstanding TV and film out there, even better when delivered ‘on demand’. I do avoid the poor stuff, though, which is the sort of thing you would say when you’re feeling guilty about over-indulging!
Describe your personal sense of style.
Pretty traditional, I’m not really swayed by new trends or following the crowd, indeed friends might question the word ‘style’ in the question! Whatever it is, it must be individual, as no one has tried to copy… yet!