Road racer Richard Britton's widow has mixed emotions as smiling star immortalised in new film
It is just over 10 years since the world of motorcycle racing in Northern Ireland suffered the loss of larger than life character Richard Britton - dubbed "the people's champion" - who has now been immortalised in a new film.
Local film-making duo, brothers Colin and Alywn James, yesterday unveiled the tribute to the "loveable, happy-go-lucky" one-time North West 200 champion whose tragic death at the age of 35 in an accident robbed the sport of a unique character with huge potential.
Britton was competing in the final race of the Irish season on September 18, 2005 at Ballybunion when he was killed. Two months later he was posthumously awarded Irish Motorcyclist of the Year, the highest honour in the local sport.
The new film - commissioned by the Enniskillen and District Motorcycle Club - was created by the makers of the documentaries Joey Dunlop Remembered and How The North West Was Won, and is to be officially unveiled in Britton's home town on January 23.
Watching it at a private screening in Co Down was an emotional experience for his widow Maria and underscored the warm character of a man never without a smile who had shared her life since she was 17.
Britton, a mechanic by trade who was born in England but raised in Enniskillen, was bitten by the racing bug in the Nineties.
He won his first Regal 600 Championship in 1998 and went on in 2000 to be drafted into PJ O'Kane's racing team.
In the film, O'Kane describes the racer as "more like a son" than any of his highly-regarded team, which at one time also boasted Joey Dunlop.
Win after win and lap records followed over the ensuing years, including podium places at road racing's most illustrious meetings, such as the Isle of Man TT, Dundrod 150, Tandragee 100, Killalane, Ulster Grand Prix and Cookstown, Kells, Dundalk and Faugheen road races.
In 2003 his record of brilliance secured him the Sam McClements Trophy for most successful Superbike rider, the same year he became the fastest Irish rider to lap the Isle of Man TT circuit at 124.29mph.
The film shows his duels with some of the greats of the time, including young racer turned television presenter Guy Martin, New Zealander Bruce Anstey, Dubliner Martin Finnegan and local riders Adrian Archibald, Davy Morgan and Ryan Farquhar.
As their glowing praise shows, even when his races failed to catch the headlines, it was typical of his "warm and happy-go-lucky" character to "carry on smiling".
"Even when the bike gave up or he came off, he was still smiling," recalls Farquhar.
The film includes a host of previously unseen footage from his road racing career and family life, as well as numerous comical anecdotes and soundbites from friends and riders like Steve Plater, Jamie Whitham, Mervyn White, Brian Reid, Hector Neill, Phillip McCallen and Josh Elliott, who remembers Britton as "one of the safest riders" he'd ever ridden with. Endearing descriptions of the racer from "loveable", "heart-warming", a "friend to everyone" and even "daft" mix with stories of his love for his family, who also feature among the banter and life of the racing paddock fraternity.
Maria, who has found new love with partner Neil Collins, yesterday admitted she found it a very moving experience to watch the film.
The 45-year-old mother of Loris (16) - thought to be named after the Italian rider Loris Capirossi and who remembers playing on his scooter with his champion father - said she was prepared for the public viewing.
"I'd seen it before recently, with about 19 members of the family," she explained to the Belfast Telegraph.
And commenting on the glowing praise for her late husband's jovial demeanour, she added: "It's true, he was just like that".
Maria also told how Richard never had a dark moment, even in private away from the hustle and bustle of the paddock.
"He really was always smiling - he was that laidback," she explained.
Commenting on the loss fate cruelly dealt her, she admitted she still could not believe it had been a decade since his death.
"It doesn't seem that long - it only feels a wee while ago, and I don't think it'll ever feel like anything else," Maria said.
She also told how it must have been fate that the only race meet she never attended was the one in which her husband died.
"I never missed a race - I was at every one but that one," she said.
"I wasn't meant to be at it. I couldn't have coped, being there with a little boy. I'm glad that I missed it."