Developer who is a driving force
Graham Norwood meets a racing driver who hit the winning formula in his first major development
If you think there is little in common between fast driving and slow housing markets, have a word with Jamie Campbell-Walker, a British world champion driver who regards developing houses to be the perfect complement to the race track.
“I race during the summer and work on houses in the winter. It’s a good match,” says Jamie, 35.
He has developed five properties in the past, mostly small homes that he lived in during the work. But now he has spent well over a year on his biggest project, a vast seven-bedroom house in Wandsworth, south London.
“The house had been 12 bed-sits for Polish workers,” he explains. “I bought it for a song in late 2006, received planning permission in May 2007 and got down to business.”
He worked on it between race weekends and teamed up with Hertfordshire builder Mick Wadey to transform the property. “We ran 25 per cent over budget because party wall disputes meant we could only develop one half of the house at a time,” he admits.
The biggest task was turning a coal cellar into a 1,300 sq ft basement with 6ft ceilings.
“It’s a bit ambitious for a first full-scale development but it was worth it,” he says.
The project and Jamie himself faced disaster in April when he broke his back in a 147mph crash at Monza in Italy. He escaped paralysis but spent months in a back brace. The smash wiped out much of his 2008 racing season and stopped him working on the house.
“It was a critical time but I recovered, although obviously the housing market is now in poor shape,” he says.
But he is undeterred and, banking on the market bouncing back in 2010, will buy another house next year for a second long-term project.
Jamie spent the early 1990s in single-seaters — the sort Lewis Hamilton cut his racing teeth on — before graduating to sports cars. He now drives the world’s most powerful long-distance cars in the Le Mans 24-hour race.
Motor sport and property often go hand-in-hand. Lewis Hamilton is funding a scheme on the Caribbean island of Grenada, while Irishman Eddie Irvine, the F1 teammate of Michael Schumacher, has a global property portfolio worth £120million.
Jamie Campbell-Walker isn’t in that league — at least yet — but insists that there is plenty of overlap between racing and developing.
“They both require an eye for detail, a team that has to get everything right, and no weak link in the chain,” he says. “Otherwise, it’s catastrophe.”
Finishing line: the project completed by Jamie Campbell-Walker (right)