Pearl Wilson fixed me a look that put me very much in my place. We were talking about an upcoming road rally in Cumbria and I’d made the mistake of inferring the lanes were no place for a lady in her eighties.
She set me straight. Then went out and won her class.
Sunday’s news of Mrs Wilson’s passing was a horribly sad moment. Pearl’s presence in the ever-evolving story of one of motorsport’s most famous families was a given. I was fortunate enough to spend time with her charting Malcolm’s early years for a book which now seems more important than ever.
It’s easy to reach for the term matriarch, but I’m not sure that’s what Pearl was. That would infer she was all-seeing, ever-involved. I’m sure, at times, she was just that. But, from what I could see, she was just about the most informed, astute and entertaining commentator – albeit one who did like to dabble every now and then.
Not long after hearing the news I messaged Matthew to ask if he would mind if we talked about Pearl in our review program. He said the family wouldn’t mind at all – before adding that Mrs W. had been on the money and asking about M-Sport’s progress in Rally Estonia right to the end.
Nothing – and nobody – got past Pearl.
Last September Craig Breen and I were standing in Greystoke Forest. The day was a big one being the Irishman’s first taste of the Puma he would be driving this season.
Not long after lunch, a blue Fiesta drew up alongside the M-Sport test truck. Pearl stepped out, immaculate as ever; she had the ability to pull the trilby-Barbour-boots combination off with the utmost dignity and class.
Pearl understood the enormity of the day and came to catch some of the action. She listened intently to Craig’s first thoughts on the car and then offered context and insight of her own that was just astonishing. Pearl had been there through everything.
Through Malcolm’s career driving to the top of the WRC, followed by Matthew, to the business side and the enormous sense of pride at seeing the Prince of Wales opening M-Sport’s Dovenby Hall premises and her son at Buckingham Palace receiving his OBE.
Scott Martin was Matthew’s co-driver through his WRC career. The pair went to school together and Martin is very much part of the family.
Martin told DirtFish: “We’ve been family friends since I’ve been a young boy, so Pearl was almost like a third gran.
“Even when Matthew stopped driving and I went onto other things, she was always following and always sending me messages to congratulate or commiserate or whatever it might be. She always loved the craic and even at 78 years old, she would do the M-Sport 12-car [Rally].
“She was an amazing lady, traveled the length and breadth of the UK. Nothing fazed her: she would get in the car and travel everywhere.
“In her heyday – a bit less, but only a little bit less in later life – she would go to M-Sport almost on a daily basis. She loved it, loved the banter. If people were taking the mickey out of somebody or something, she would always get her penny’s worth in there.”
Pearl’s genuine interest in what you were doing, in family and in everything that was going on was incredible.
She knew the Breen family of old.
Craig said: “Even when Dad would have been doing stuff with M-Sport, I would have gone over to Dovenby and Pearl was always there. She and my mother struck up a real connection.
“She was a very soft spoken, the most stereotypical Nan figure that you could see. When we were doing our own thing in WRC, right back at the very beginning and then doing SWRC we had our own camper [van] and Pearl would always be along and have a cup of tea with my mother.
“It wouldn’t be uncommon that I’d come back and there’d just be my mother and Pearl sat inside having a cup of tea or Pearl and Elaine [Wilson] having a cup of tea with my mother.
Pearl always knew what was going on, but she was always very polite and interested in what you were doingRichard Millener
“Pearl was so independent, just a fantastic lady.”
And it’s not just at M-Sport that Pearl will be so enormously missed. She worked with charities and organizations in the Cumbrian community – where she’d lived her whole life.
M-Sport team principal Richard Millener added: “She loved charities, and she did so much for the sport, the local motor club – so many people are going to miss her.
“Pearl always knew what was going on, but she was always very polite and interested in what you were doing. When I joined M-Sport, she was asking all about my background and then when our lad came along, she was always interested in how he was getting on.
“She had such passion for what was going on and such a memory and collection of photos and newspaper clippings from Malcolm and Matthew’s careers.
“She was so proud of them and everything the family had achieved both in the sport and in business.”
That collection of clippings had to be seen to be believed. Everything was perfectly ordered, everything in precisely the right place. Spending time with Pearl talking through her memories was an absolute privilege.
And all done to the backdrop of some of the most fabulous baking you could ever imagine.
It’s with the heaviest of hearts that everybody at DirtFish offers the deepest sympathy to Malcolm, Elaine, Matthew, the wider family and many, many friends around the world.