A Conversation with Matt Bishop
Hi, everyone. Today’s post is a Q&A with the one and only Matt Bishop, Chief Communications Officer at Aston Martin Cognizant Formula 1 Team. He’s had an incredible career in F1, but there is so much more to him than that. I’ve followed Matt and his work for a while now, so I’m incredibly grateful for the chance to have spoken to him. Enjoy!
Okay, so my first question is an observation from some research I did. In many of your interviews, LGBTQ+ issues seem to come up. Is that a conscious decision on your part or just something you get asked a lot?
“Well, I’m a gay man. I’m a Founder Ambassador of Racing Pride, which was inaugurated in 2019 in association with Stonewall, which is an excellent LGBTQ+ pressure group. My view on life is to live and let live. And that means that you should be allowed to love whom you wish to love and you shouldn’t object to anybody loving whom they want to love. So, in that sense, obviously, I would always be a defender and a champion of LGBTQ+ rights, but also all the other things that go together in what is now called #WeRaceAsOne in Formula 1. Lewis Hamilton is very prominent in that fight and standing up for his End Racism campaign and The Hamilton Commission, which is trying to do as much as they possibly can to encourage and facilitate the introduction of more people of colour into Formula 1. Not just in the cockpits as drivers, but also as engineers and mechanics, because they’re very underrepresented there.
And there’s Racing Pride, which is doing its bit for LGBTQ+ inclusion, which is part of #WeRaceAsOne as well. In between working for McLaren and Aston Martin, I was one of the founders of W Series, a single-seater series for female drivers only. Women are another group that is underrepresented in Formula 1 again – not only in the cockpit but elsewhere too. I think it would be a wonderful thing if Formula One could be more open and more encouraging. It is something that we are all collectively pushing for. It will be brilliant if I will be able to say in 2, 4, 6 years or something like that, that we have more people of colour, more LGBTQ+ people and more women in Formula 1 in all strata of the sport, whether that means mechanics, engineers, reporters, journalists, marketers, comms people, and yes, drivers.”
Definitely. Increased diversity in Formula 1 is a shared goal. Every broken barrier is one step in the right direction.
Now, one thing I would like to congratulate you on is the publication of your novel, The Boy Made The Difference. Tell me what that process was like for you.
“Well, in 2017, I thought maybe I’d take a little break, or sabbatical, I guess you could call it. My mother was a novelist and my grandmother was a novelist. My great, great grandmother was a poet and suffragist. Back when I started in F1, I was a journalist. I have a literary background. It has also always been a bucket list item of mine to write a novel.
The narrative backdrop of my novel is the crisis of HIV/AIDS in London. Because I thought it was an extraordinarily, well, terrible but amazing time. It really isn’t very long ago – the 1980s and early 1990s. And yet, it seemed to me when I sat down to begin to write that novel, that it was something that had been little focused upon in literature in recent years. So I thought I would write the novel for two reasons. For one, to pay homage to those people – mostly, but not only, young, gay men – who had had their lives so cruelly truncated by that ghastly and disfiguring disease, HIV/AIDS. I worked with them as a home-support volunteer for London Lighthouse, which was, at the time, the largest HIV/AIDS centre in the world. I did, sadly, have to help quite a few young men cross the threshold between life and death, despite them being very young, often in their 20s, and sometimes in their teens. I almost can’t think of anything sadder than having to make that journey, sometimes more or less on their own, because their families may have been embarrassed or ashamed by that disease back in those days. Perhaps they didn’t want to associate themselves with it. So, these poor young people suffered and eventually died alone. I wanted to write a novel in tribute to their extraordinary courage.
“The second reason I wanted to write it is that my mother died of cancer in 2013, and when she did, I set up the Bernadine Bishop Appeal in her name. I set it up to fundraise for Young Lives vs Cancer. And my mum was a family person. I thought it was an opportunity to give something to the children that I don’t do in my daily life, whether professionally or personally. All the revenue, gross, not just after tax, but all fees – they go straight to Young Lives vs Cancer. People may like the book or not, that’s the case with any novel, obviously. But the one thing I can say is that the money’s gone to a good cause, so it’s not going to my back pocket, it’s going to a very good cause.”
My goodness. That must have been a tremendously harrowing experience. It is great to learn that the book’s proceeds are all to such a good cause, Young Lives vs Cancer.
I first found out about your novel through your Twitter account, which also led me to your passion for F1 history. I’ve really enjoyed picking up some bits of wisdom from your posts. Which is your favourite decade from F1’s past?
“Well, I suppose I would have to say the 1970s. And that’s because that is the decade in which I fell in love with F1. In those days, it was just amazing. Throughout the 70s, I absorbed it like a mad teenage fan and just read motorsport every week. If I think back to your age – 14 – when I was 14, that was 1976. I think that the younger mind is so receptive to knowledge and so capable of taking on board enthusiasm that may become lifetime passions. So, if I turn my memory back to 1976, well, I could tell you everything about the 1976 season. I could tell you more than I could tell you about this season or last season because somehow, it’s just in my head in a way that is immovable. And of course, that was a very famous season with that intense championship fight between James Hunt and Niki Lauda.
I mean, absolutely, extraordinarily dramatic. But, I could tell you everything about that season. If you asked me, “The Italian Grand Prix”, it wouldn’t take me a second – Google is unnecessary for me for that kind of season. I can tell you straight away that Ronnie Peterson won the race in a March 761. I can also tell you that Jacques Laffite put his Ligier JS5 on pole. And you may be embarrassed for me here, but I can even tell you the pole time – 1 minute, 41.35 seconds. At that age, it just goes in and stays in.”
Haha! That’s absolutely incredible!
In your current role, as Chief Communications Director, how much traditional communications work are you able to do?
“Well, I still do quite a lot of traditional comms work, because journalists still have a very key effect on how a brand or a race team or anything else is perceived publicly. So, if we have a bad article in The Daily Telegraph, I would like us to have a good article in The New York Times. By and large, we’ve, so far this year, had good articles, because the media and the journalists believe in and also want to get behind and celebrate our ambitions. Why would they not? It’s exciting for the sport that Aston Martin is coming in, and it’s exciting when a new team has big ambitions and wants to really compete at the very top. The journalists channel that excitement and want to communicate it to their readers. And so we want to make sure we facilitate their ability to do so. So that’s traditional comms. Anything from talking to journalists, writing press releases, inviting them to do interviews with our people. And there’s still quite a lot of that. ”
Interviewing Matt was a big moment for me. His role is one that I aspire to hold in the future, and Aston Martin is one of the biggest names in the automotive world.
But I have also read a lot about the broader work that Matt has done throughout his life. This is something that I admire and because of the important nature of the subject and Matt’s willingness to share his story, it naturally became the focus of the interview.
Each time I speak to someone in Formula 1, my desire to be involved in the sport intensifies. I’m thankful to people like Matt, who take the time to help further that dream. I am very grateful to him for taking the time out of his schedule before the Austin GP. Our conversation will definitely stick with me through the years.
People say, ‘never meet your idols’, but in this case that could not be further from the truth.
To educate yourself on the London Lighthouse’s during the 80s, please head to the link below: London Lighthouse – LGBT Archive (lgbthistoryuk.org)
Also, make sure to check out Matt’s book, The Boy Made The Difference. Remember, all proceeds go to Young Lives vs Cancer. For younger readers, however, be sure to check with your parents before deciding to read the book, as it contains some strong content.
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Cover Image Credit: LAT Motorsport Images