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The thing is...

FEATURE BY CHRIS BALFE
21/01/2011

It's around half-an-hour after midday, though, in former times it would have been regarded as dawn. Lou Reed sang of the Power of Positive Drinking, a song that could well be seen as the anthem for this particular little part of Soho.

At the bar, a wannabe Brendan Behan stares mournfully into his glass, in the far corner a couple of Japanese tourists jostle one another excitedly as they prepare to have their picture taken with Suggs.

A few years back, my wife and I took a taxi from Soho to Tottenham. While there are an increasing number of cab drivers who prefer to do their work in total silence, listen to the radio or chat to a mate using the hands-free, in the old days one would often find one's self being driven by one of life's great experts. Be it philosophy, the origin of the species, football, politics or religion, your average London cabbie would have an opinion, and be only too delighted to share it with you.

My wife often playfully reminds me of that journey, an hour long 'discussion' in which both the cabbie and myself, no matter the topic, preceded each statement with the words… "the thing is…"

Both self-declared experts, no matter how much force we put into those three little words neither of us ever came up with the definitive statement, instead we were happy simply to listen to ourselves attempting to out-talk the other.

And so I am sitting in the French House with Julian Cottam, a man as passionate about many aspects of life as I am. Having been introduced by Glen 'Crompo' Crompton, our mutual love of F1 goes without saying. However, from the first time we met, in the Coach and Horses round the corner, it transpired that there were many other things we have in common, not least a love of Soho, even if it is the Soho of old.

In the past we have spent many an afternoon (and evening) discussing movies, music, TV, radio, Catherine Deneuve, Polari and Monty Python… indeed I cringe when I remember an afternoon when a woman, on overhearing us recounting the Four Yorkshiremen sketch, took offence - she being from 'Oop North' - and attempted to hit us with her umbrella.

However, today, we are determined to talk only of F1, both having admitted to having reservations about the way it is heading.

By way of introduction, Julian (right) is someone who has walked the line between the commerce of the Formula 1 paddock and the boardrooms of the corporate world for many years. In fact, his first full season following the Grand Prix circuit was 1984 where he cut his teeth selling marketing promotions and sponsorship materials to manufacturers and team partners on behalf of Autosport magazine.

Since then he has worked as sponsorship principal for some of the biggest names in the sport including Lola, Prodrive, McLaren and Renault. In recent years he has worked in other fields but is now considering a full-time return to international motor sport. With the launch season just around the corner, what better time to get his thoughts.

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