Paul New­man’s daugh­ter Clea on their shared com­pet­i­tive spirit

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - Flashback - — In­ter­view by Eleanor Steafel

I RE­ALISED EARLY ON that my par­ents were fa­mous. Walk­ing down the street in New York City with my sis­ters, peo­ple would tap us on the shoul­der and – point­ing at our mum and dad a few strides ahead – say, ‘Do you know who that is? That’s Paul New­man and Joanne Wood­ward!’ ‘Who?’ we’d re­ply, smil­ing to each other. I was once tram­pled on in Los An­ge­les by a rush of pho­tog­ra­phers try­ing to get to my par­ents. A lit­tle un­nerv­ing, but I brushed it off quickly. Crowds of them would of­ten trail us out of a restau­rant and down the street. But Mum and Dad wore their fame lightly, and were al­ways so gen­er­ous and calm when peo­ple ap­proached them, that it never felt too in­tru­sive. If some­one came up to Dad and he wasn’t in the mid­dle of a pri­vate din­ner with the fam­ily or some­thing, he’d say, ‘Well, do you wanna have a beer with me?’

But though fame wasn’t some­thing that pre­oc­cu­pied my dad, I know he cher­ished the times when he could just be him­self. Dad never wanted his legacy to be his act­ing. He re­ally wanted his char­ity work to be what peo­ple remembered – he started a free camp, Se­ri­ous Fun Chil­dren’s Net­work, 30 years ago where sick kids could, in his words, ‘raise a lit­tle hell’.

For both of us, our hob­bies were our great lev­eller, the thing that kept us grounded and fo­cused. For Dad it was rac­ing-car driv­ing, for me it was showjump­ing. And both of us loved noth­ing more than watch­ing each other com­pete. I think I was about 23 in this pic­ture, which was taken at a horse show in Tampa, Florida. It’s one of my favourites be­cause we are so en­joy­ing each other’s com­pany. Know­ing my dad, he had prob­a­bly just told me a dirty joke to make me laugh.

Dad was com­pet­i­tive (I in­her­ited that par­tic­u­lar gene) and had al­ways been a pretty good ath­lete, but de­spite spend­ing his life on film sets, he al­ways said he never re­ally found his peo­ple un­til he started rac­ing in his 40s. In rac­ing he found this com­mu­nity that he just loved to be around. It was a tight-knit group of guys who didn’t care that he was ‘Paul New­man, the movie guy’. I felt the same way about horse rid­ing, and he loved that I was so pas­sion­ate about it. It’s the most im­por­tant les­son he ever taught us, I think – to find your pas­sion and pur­sue it wholeheartedly.

Dad came to watch me com­pete all over the coun­try, when­ever he could. I had a hor­ri­ble fall once when I was jump­ing at Madi­son Square Gar­den, aged 16. My par­ents were sit­ting in the stands, and when my horse and I flipped over a jump (I was told after­wards that my horse appeared to cart­wheel across the ring), ev­ery­one thought I was dead. My dad ran down the back of the seat­ing and jumped over the bar­rier into the ring. He was by my side be­fore I sat up. I re­mem­ber open­ing my eyes and look­ing up at him stand­ing over me and say­ing, ex­as­per­ated, ‘Dad, what are you do­ing in the ring?’ When you’re com­pet­ing at a high level, the most em­bar­rass­ing thing is to have your dad leap into the ring mid-com­pe­ti­tion.

I’m sure there must have been some side­ways glances ex­changed when Paul New­man bounded on to the course, but it was so typ­i­cal of him. Be­cause first and fore­most, be­fore the Hol­ly­wood movie star or the cham­pion rac­ing-car driver, he was just my dad.

When my horse and I flipped over a jump, ev­ery­one thought I was dead. My dad ran down and jumped into the ring

Clea New­man at an event with her fa­ther Paul in Tampa Bay, Florida, 1988

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