THE TT's FIRST LADY
As eighty-three year old Gwen Crellin has decided to hang up her famous white coat after marshalling at the TT for nearly forty years, I thought it appropriate to contact her and have chat about her involvement in the world's greatest road races.
How long have you lived on the Course at Ballaugh?
I was born in the Ballaugh Village area in June 1917, but, in 1923, moved to Orrisdale, which is between Ballaugh and Kirk Michael. In 1954, I married and moved back to Ballaugh, where we started and ran a café, meeting crowds of riders, popping in for a coffee and home-made cakes and scones. I've been living at "Coan Buigh" on the Course at the exit to Ballaugh Village ever since!
What are your earliest motorcycling memories?
….being held in my mother's arms watching the bikes go past when a lamb jumped over the hedge and ran onto the road. The lamb died after being struck by Wally Alexander's machine. The rider crashed, but, as speeds were very much slower than today, he was not badly injured.
When did you become active as an official?
I became a marshal at the 1962 TT, being the first ever lady to be appointed. An early rise was the order of the day, being up at 4am for morning practice to inspect the Course before the roads officially closed ….and, yes, I was entirely on my own at my place of duty for seven years with only a few spectators arriving to view the riders on the race days and, at times, wondering how I would react and cope should there be an accident.
What has been your role in the formation and running of the MGP Supporters Club?
In 1975 Mick Bird crashed at Quarry Bends during MGP practice; he had to be taken to hospital by ambulance. The Flag Marshal on duty there contacted me to see if I was willing to help form a Manx Grand Prix Supporters Club for the sole purpose of raising funds to provide the services of the rescue helicopter for the practice week. In the circumstances, I agreed and an open meeting was held at Kirk Michael Football Club and the MGP Supporters Club was formed. I became one of the founder members and was elected Honorary Secretary.
Can you explain what you've done to help MGP Newcomers?
In 1979 my role was changed and I was honoured to become Chairperson of the Club. It was then I decided it would be fun, and a new challenge, to have the "newcomers' coach", known as the "Crossley Tour" to stop at Coan Buigh for refreshments. The Manx Motorcycle Club was delighted and accepted my offer with the result that the Newcomers have been visiting me on the Sunday lunchtime at the MGP for the last 21 years! In most cases it is their first visit to the Island and a smiling face and reassuring words "to take care and ride safely" works wonders if said in the right context. Despite me calling a day, as always, my home will be open to any rider who wishes to call for "a cuppa and a sarnie", especially those who have the misfortune to break down in the Ballaugh area during racing or practicing.
How did you feel when you heard about your MBE? Can you describe the Presentation Ceremony.
Being nominated for and receiving the MBE was unbelievable and a great honour. I received the official letter in November 1994 indicating that my name was being considered, but would not be made public until January 1st 1995 - when the award was announced my friends couldn't believe that I could keep such a secret, but I did, and shows that some didn't really know me!!
In February 1995 it was time for the trip by plane to London accompanied by my cousins, John and Lydia, and friend, Essie. Staying at the Reubens Hotel, I was too excited to eat my breakfast on the morning of the "big day" - however, I eventually did in order to calm my nerves! Then it was time to visit the Palace; at the main door we separated and I was on my own to climb the red-carpeted staircase. I was then ushered into a room where all other recipients had gathered to receive their instructions as to how to behave for the next couple of hours. We were then arranged into groups of 12 and marched through the Ballroom where the Band was playing; we were lined up and inspected by two ushers before the voice of the Lord Chamberlain announced "Mrs Gwendoline Crellin from the Isle of Man - for services to the community". It was then - right foot forward a few paces, turn left, curtsey and shake hands with HM Queen Elizabeth, who asked "and where do you come from" - answer - "from the Isle of Man, Your Majesty". Second question - "and what is it you do?" - but before I could answer, she said "Oh, I remember now, you give tea to the Racing Boys" - to which I replied - "yes, Ma'am and the Racing Boys send you greetings". Her face lit up and her reply was "oh, how kind of them; do thank them from me!" Time up. Hand-shake, and Gwen had to walk backwards, curtsey again and then away to have my new medal boxed up, collect my handbag and join everyone else in the Ballroom.
In actual fact, my medal was pinned on by the Lord Chamberlain as the Queen had injured an arm, which was in a sling.
You've now retired from marshalling - what will be your role in motorcycling in the future?
To continue to be an ambassador for motorcycle sport on the Island and be there to give a helping hand if required; its only marshalling I have to give up!
What do you consider to be the biggest changes in the TT/MGP, say over the last 30 years?
The unpredictable weather, and the fact that speeds are much faster due to higher performance bikes and new smooth road surfaces. A recent change, which I don't agree with, is the abolition of the age limit for Manx Grand Prix competitors.
How could the Organisers improve the TT and MGP Races so that they remain a high profile event on the road-racing calendar?
Its pretty good as it is at present - continue with the publicity, which they give both events each year. There will always be plenty of riders willing to take part in the TT and Manx Grand Prix, thus giving them the opportunity to race over the world famous TT Mountain Course.
In all your years of involvement, who has been your favourite rider?
This is a very difficult question to answer as there have been so many during the last 20 years and far too many to mention. However, I would name Mick Grant, Charles Mortimer, Esso Gunnesson and Peter Jarmann who, throughout the years, have remained loyal to me by calling every time they visit our beautiful Island.
A most enjoyable chat with the 'TT's First Lady' - thanks very much, Gwen…and enjoy your retirement.
TT SUPPORTERS CLUB