BOYS WILL BE BOYS I've been drawing cars all my life. From an early age I'd go to vintage hill climbs and old motor racing events with my father. He was a vintage-car enthusiast and had an Alvis Speed 20. It was the smell of the cars and the speed that I loved. I was seven when I started building my own go-karts out of wood.
By the time I was around 13, all I wanted to do in life was design cars. So I went on to study transport design at Coventry University [in Britain], then to the Royal College of Art, in London, where I got a master's in automotive design.
BAGS, PLANES AND AUTOMOBILES At home in Coventry, I drive an XK Coupe and have an old military-inspired Land Rover. I also love motorbikes, planes and vintage aircraft. My father was an architect, so he taught me to appreciate architecture and design in general. I absorb all these things and bake them into my designs. I also keep a close eye on fashion trends, from Bulgari handbags to Rolex wristwatches.
On trips like [the one to Hong Kong], it inspires me to come out of my context and expose myself to different environments. I walk the streets, observe the car culture and try to understand what makes people tick. For example, why do Middle Eastern customers want gold-plated badges and white cars?
IT'S A DIRTY JOB I've always loved Jaguars, so getting a career with them after working with Citroen for six years was a big break. I've been working with the design team for seven years now and it's definitely a dream job. We turn the music up loud, get our hands dirty, lose track of time and work late. I won't say it's caused a lot of divorces but we've certainly had a lot of angry girlfriends on the phone. Sometimes I have to pinch myself to remind me that we're actually working against a deadline. We work with full-size clay models so I leave work with clay in my nails and all over my shoes, from scraping and perfecting the form with the design team and sculptors. Clay allows for a very human piece of design. It's a very fast-moving, emotional place to be, once you've got the car into 3D.
ME AND MY PROGENY I feel that there's a lot of me in the new XJ. As chief designer, my role is to bring all the necessary attributes to my team and then nurture the car through the hurdles, protecting the original design. It depends from car to car; sometimes you start with a fantastic sketch, but know that you'll have to make a compromise for it to be producible. But this time we started with a very inspired design and the passion of the original sketch is all there in the car.
I have a four-year-old son and a seven-year-old daughter, and they take after me in very different ways. My son loves to look at things up close, right in front of his eyes, and study the mechanics of how they work. My daughter loves to draw. She's very artistic, so we have to leave pens and paper all around the house for her.
GETTING PAST THE PAST The XJ is a deliber- ate step away from a period of retro design, whereby the design team tended to look to past Jaguars for stylistic solutions. Our founder, Sir William Lyons, would never have done that. He was a great inventor, engineer and a natural artist. He used to pen the designs himself, like Coco Chanel did. So we don't let our heritage constrain us. [For the XJ] we've used lightweight aluminium that's 50 per cent recycled and we're aiming to make that 70 per cent in the future.
My reason for being is to deliver the most beautiful fast car possible. If it's not a head-turner, it won't do. But beauty cannot be skin deep; a Jaguar must be technically superior. Beauty is all about proportion; the way the car sits in its wheels. A Jaguar always looks ready to go fast, even when it's standing still. [It's] not just parked there like a pudding.
WITH FRIENDS LIKE THESE [The Jaguar] has been a favourite in the rock 'n' roll and celebrity world since the 1960s, when people like Mick Jagger, the Beatles and Twiggy used to drive the E-type. There's a saying: 'A Jaguar will get you off'. Not to be misinterpreted, it means the car can get you out of any situation.
I've always admired people who customise their cars; the people who do this are often the ones who know most about cars and how they work. It's a form of artistry in itself; you take the best elements of the design and amplify them. Who knows, maybe years from now, when I'm retired and my kids are in college, I'll finally find the time to do it myself. If I were to 'pimp my Jag', I'd love to create from scratch my own C-type saloon in a nice metallic colour ... maybe black. That said, I'm a purist at heart.