Josh Elliott has the ability to join racing royalty
Princess Anne is a Valentino Rossi fan. Who knew? Josh Elliott, it turns out, is a mine of information, a must have at your dinner table.
Indeed that's where he unearthed his gold nugget of a conversation starter, seated alongside the Princess Royal on her visit to support a Mary Peters Trust fund-raiser in November.
The chatty 21-year-old Fermanagh racer mixes easily in any company, but for all his confidence and continuing success on the track, he never in his wildest dreams expected to be talking bikes to royalty.
He recounted the story as he collected the Belfast Telegraph award for the Best Rider on UK and Ireland circuits at last night's Cornmarket Bike Awards in Belfast - just reward for his British championship success last season in the 1000cc Superstock class.
And there's even an Ulster connection to the Princess Royal's interest in a different kind of horsepower to that which brought her success on the British Olympic equestrian team.
As Josh also discovered on his surprise dinner date, the Princess helped set up the Riders For Health charity, the international social enterprise headed up by Andrea Coleman who was married to the late Tom Herron, the Lisburn rider tragically killed at the 1979 North West 200.
Josh was invited to the City Hall gala ball as a recipient of Mary Peters Trust funding, but never expected to be seated at the top table, alongside the chief guest, let alone that the name of MotoGP legend Rossi would come up.
He almost choked on his soup course as he explained: "I was very nervous as I was sat next to her all night, but she really knew her bikes. She's a big Valentino Rossi fan and is well up to date on the biking scene as she helped set up the Riders For Health charity.
"It was a great night and a real privilege to be seated where I was and get the chance to speak to Princess Anne. Motorcycling h)as opened a lot of doors for me already, and hopefully 2016 can open a few more.
"I will be riding for Hector and Philip Neill in the Tyco BMW team - starting with the defence of my British title."
That Superstock success earned him last night's accolade but its only part of the unfolding Elliott story... Josh is a lad you want to be on a long train journey with as the anecdotes keep coming.
From Ballinamallard, like many of our current crop of top riders, he hails from racing stock, following in the tyre tracks of his dad Julian, in his day a front-runner on the local scene along with Alan Irwin and Johnny Rea Senior back in late '80s.
His grandad is a cousin of Fermanagh South Tyrone MP and former Ulster Unionist Party leader Tom Elliott and after the awards dinner last night Josh was preparing to head back to Spain for pre-season testing, currently house-sharing with World Supersport competitor and pal Gino Rea, who just happens to be dating Elliott's sister, Julianne, a former Miss Northern Ireland finalist who accompanied him to the ceremony last night!
This kid is an interviewer's dream as well as a very accomplished young racer.
His rivals for the Telegraph award included such notables as British Superbike star Michael Laverty, his main rival last season Alastair Seeley, rising star Glenn Irwin and a raft of other top Irish names.
"I'm delighted to get this award as it recognises all the hard work put in last year," he acknowledged. "Not just by me, but my team and especially my dad, who deserves as much recognition as I do for this award."
Elliott, like main award winner Jonathan Rea, has come up through the Red Bull Rookies programme and also had a spell in the German IDM series and European Superstock 600cc classes under the watchful eye of our former Grand Prix ace Jeremy McWilliams, who tipped the quietly spoken Fermanagh lad for greatness when he was just 14.
As so often is the case in motorcycle racing, the younger Elliott replaces veteran 15-time North West 200 winner Alastair Seeley in the Tyco BMW squad for this year.
Last year was a season-long battle between the old master and young apprentice in the British Superstock 1000 class, but after a schoolboy error at Brands Hatch mid-season, Elliott kicked on to take the championship by a comfortable margin of 52 points over Seeley.
Looking back, he said: "I learned a lot from Alastair in the early rounds last year, and while he maybe had a little bit of bad luck early on, I knew after my mistake at Brands in July that I could go on and win the championship. I really felt I had the measure of him.
"The Tyco BMW is a very fast and stable bike and was very hard to pass, so I'm delighted to be riding for them this season, where the goal is to defend my title then move into the British Superbike class - hopefully with Tyco BMW - in 2017."
It's fair to say he deserved a shot in the British Superbike class this season as the Stock 1000 champion, which will see Seeley make a return to the premier class for the first time since 2012 with the RAF Reserves' BMW team.
There were options for Elliott to possibly join one of the lower rung teams, but he wasn't prepared to just make up the numbers.
"It's okay if you are jumping into British Superbike as a rookie with a top team like Glenn Irwin has done," he said of the Carrick rider, who has joined Paul Bird's factory BeWiser Ducati squad alongside four-time champion Shane Byrne.
"It's too tough a championship to step into with inferior machinery, and if I'm not winning my goal is to be competitive.
"Another year in Stock 1000 will not hurt, especially in a team like Tyco BMW, which gives me a direct link with a factory-backed Superbike team."
Valentino Rossi may have Royal approval for now, but watch Josh Elliott as he accelerates up the New Year honours list.