Some people have a sound track for poignant memories in their life time. A song that reminds them of a loved one, an amazing trip or special moment.
For many racing fans there is only one cherished voice that has accompanied our true sporting love over the past 60 plus years. That one true voice of racing, the one that accompanied many great racing occasion’s and wether it was accompanied by a chorus of cheers or the sound of torn up betting slips Sir Peter O’Sullevan’s words have always been the accompanying voice to take us through all the highs and lows.
Sir Peter was born in Kenmare Ireland in 1918 and was the son of Colonel John Joseph O’Sullevan and Vera O’Sullevan. Peter went on to be educated in Switzerland before moving to England to settle before finding himself working for the BBC.
Sir Peter will be recognised by the current generation as the early voice of racing on the television but his voice has been covering the sport much longer than this. His radio commentary on various sports started in the mid to late 1940’s.
He covered all the major races throughout his career and some lesser known events as well. From the likes of the Cheltenham Festival, The Derby, Royal Ascot, Glorious Goodwood and of course Grand National up until his retirement in 1997. He also called races from overseas with 30 years of commentating on the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe as well as races in Ireland and the United States and not forgetting commentary on trot racing in Rome during the 1960’s.
No matter what race his voice accompanied his tones always made it even greater to the viewing public and elevated televised horse racing into the hearts of the British public.
He will be best known for the near 40 years of coverage of the biggest steeplechase in the world The Grand National. He will always be synonymous with that race and on a personal note the race just doesn’t quite sound the same without hearing him call it. He held the mic for great Grand National moments including Red Rum’s all three victories, Bob Champions victory on board Aldaniti and the ill fated and voided race in 1993. He was a part of the Grand National furniture and received a plaque which is situated at Aintree racecourse when he was named one of the eight inaugural “Grand National Legends”.
Aside from O’Sullevan lending his voice to this great sport he was also an avid owner. With horses such as Be Friendly who won both the Kings Stand Stakes and Prix de l’Abbaye and fan favourite Attivo who won the 1974 Triumph Hurdle which prompted the following words from the great man himself. “And it’s first Attivo, owned by, uh, Peter O’Sullevan…”
Peter became officially known as the “Voice of Racing” in a television interview before his 50th and last Grand National in 1997 with this honour quickly being trumped when granted his knight hood in the same year. He was the first ever sports broadcaster to be bestowed such an honour.
After his retirement Sir Peter was actively involved in various animal welfare charities and helped fundraise for such good causes as the ILPH “International League of the Protection of Horses” and the Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Centre.
His ever lasting memory to me will be of a man that dedicated not just his voice but his time, efforts, money and gentle nature to a sport I love and for that I will always be duly grateful. I feel very sad that the new generation of racing fans will not have the utter pleasure in hearing him call a live race but I am happy to be one of the many that had such a privilege in my lifetime. His voice could be equally rapturous and soothing in equal measure and without question a voice that will transcend not just the National, Horse Racing or Sport but British Broadcasting as a whole.
With a sport that is synonymous with Irish bred legends he is by far one of the greatest.
In honour of Sir Peter we encourage you to make a charitable donation to one of his great causes here.