Exeter, Devon UK • Feb 27, 2024 • VOL XII

Exeter, Devon UK • [date-today] • VOL XII
Home Amplify In conversation with: Aston Martin’s Matt Bishop

In conversation with: Aston Martin’s Matt Bishop

Harry Craig, Print Music Editor, speaks to Matt Bishop about his journey as an LGBTQ+ figure in the F1 paddock.
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In conversation with: Aston Martin’s Matt Bishop

Image: Matt Bishop

Harry Craig, Print Music Editor, speaks to Matt Bishop about his journey as an LGBTQ+ figure in the F1 paddock.

Matt Bishop, at 60, is one of the Formula One paddock’s most respected and likeable figures, with over two decades of experience, initially as editor of F1 Racing magazine and then as head of communications for the McLaren and Aston Martin teams. He has also been a leading figure on LGBTQ+ issues in motorsport and beyond for many years, and as we mark LGBTQ+ History Month I sat down and talked to the self-proclaimed ‘F1 lifer’ about motor racing and beyond.

I began by asking Matt about the importance of LGBTQ+ role models. As he tells me, these were non-existent when he was growing up, when almost every film, TV programme and pop song was about straight people. For Matt, his passions lay in football and Formula One, which were, and to an extent remain, very white, male and heterosexual.

Thankfully, that is starting to change, but as Matt points out to me, it is just as important for straight allies to “bang the drum for LGBTQ+ inclusivity?” That is exactly what F1 legends Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, with whom Matt has worked, have done.

Last month, Matt won The Race’s award for Most Inspiring Campaign for his work with Sebastian Vettel as Aston Martin’s Communications Officer. This was for a range of projects, including Vettel’s visit last year to Feltham Young Offenders Institution in London, to inspire young boys who may otherwise be trapped in a cycle of imprisonment, and never contribute to society.

Matt did not shy away from tackling the controversial issues. He spoke candidly about F1’s decision to race in countries with poor human rights records, such as Bahrain, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. He expressed hope that the activism of Hamilton and Vettel, such as displaying the rainbow motif, would give hope to persecuted LGBTQ+ people in these countries, saying “if a frightened LGBTQ+ teenager in Jeddah [sees] their hero… doing a macho sport, racing for big brands saying, I’ve got your back, it’s fine to be you’, that might just help.”

Matt did not shy away from tackling the controversial issues. He spoke candidly about F1’s decision to race in countries with poor human rights records, such as Bahrain, Qatar and Saudi Arabia

Therefore, Matt believes F1’s presence in these countries can make change – after all, “we don’t check in our values and principles at the airport when we arrive.” As he points out, these governments are aware of the paddock’s values when they invite F1 to their country, and drivers will not shy away from campaigning for human rights. Indeed, an employee of Aston Martin sponsor Aramco recently told Matt there had been “a ton of positive change” in Saudi Arabia in the last five years.

Nonetheless, there is an elephant in the room, regarding the FIA’s recent ban on drivers making political statements. Matt does not back away from labelling this as an “asinine idea… gagging drivers”, believing that many will simply not obey. As he states rather frankly, if the FIA are trying to silence Lewis Hamilton, the greatest of all time and F1’s only black driver – “good luck!”

Unfortunately, the Formula 1 paddock remains a predominantly white, heterosexual, male environment. Matt is forthright in stating how he is seen as “the only gay in the F1 village”, but through his work with Racing Pride, which he co-founded with Richard Morris in 2019 to represent LGBTQ+ people in motorsport, he hopes that is changing. ‘The organisation combats unconscious bias among teams and encourages the adoption of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) campaigns, from karting to F1. As he explains, teams need to make it easier for closeted employees, as unhappy employees will be distracted and error-prone; thus “a proper DEI campaign… will make your car go faster!”

Our conversation then turned to Matt’s novel, The Boy Made The Difference, set against the backdrop of the HIV/AIDS crisis. It was devastating to hear his anecdotes of what was originally referred to as the killer gay plague’ that tragically took dozens of Matt’s own friends in the 1980s. He worked as a buddy at London Lighthouse, at the time the world’s largest HIV/AIDS centre, providing invaluable companionship for victims of the disease work that was often daunting, with both victims and their buddies facing abuse on the streets, as AIDS could cause facial disfiguration.

The Formula 1 paddock remains a predominantly white, heterosexual, male environment

Matt also emphasised the importance of telling these stories to a new generation. He states that his husband, at 34, had no idea what it was like for the LGBTQ+ community at the time, when they would go out to bars and conversation would revolve around the deaths of their friends. All proceeds from sales of the paperback and Kindle book go to the Bernardine Bishop Appeal, which Matt set up in memory of his mother after she died of cancer in 2013, fundraising for the excellent charity Young Lives vs Cancer.

Matt has worked with four Formula 1 world champions in his time in the paddock, most recently Sebastian Vettel. I asked him what he thinks the future holds for the four-time world champion following his retirement from F1. Sadly he doesn’t expect him to return as a driver, although is keen to emphasise Sebastian’s friendship with Mick Schumacher which may lead him to something like the Daytona 24 Hours, alongside Mick. Instead, Matt hopes Sebastian could take up a Bob Geldof-esque role, using his fame and influence to do something good for the planet.

What does the future hold for Bishop after leaving Aston Martin? With the F1 calendar continuing to grow, he doesn’t want to spend every weekend in the paddock. However, he still wants to make a difference in motorsport and is setting up as a consultant, as well as keeping himself busy with Racing Pride.

It was an honour to speak to Matt, and he raised some important points on Formula 1 and beyond. His work demonstrates why principles of diversity, equity and inclusion are so vital, and the stories he tells are a poignant reminder of why we mark LGBTQ+ History Month.

You can buy Matt’s novel, The Boy Made the Difference, in either paperback or Kindle format.


Article from print issue 742.

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