Back in 2018 I was fortunate to be featured in the film MAMIL which was produced and directed by an Autralian film company led by Nicholas Bird and Eleanor Sharp. I had a great time being filmed for the movie and became good friends with Nick and Eleanor.
MAMIL was narrated by Phil Liggett, and I can only assume that it was this interaction that led to Nick and Eleanor embarking on this, their next project, “Phil Liggett: The Voice of Cycling”.
I helped do a little bit of research for the film for Nick (who graciously gave me a credit in the film roll) and as a result was given the first rough cut to feed back my thoughts about it.
Some reworking of the film has taken place between that rough cut and the final offering which I just watched as a publicity screener. The film itself will be launched to the public very soon and is being distributed by DemandFilm.
Phil Liggett has, for anyone over the age of about 40 and who likes the sport of cycling, been the ubiquitous voice of the Tour de France, and many other cycling events (Olympics etc.), through the years. So it’s deeply pleasing that a film should be made chronicaling the life of someone who has become famous for being predominantly a voice and a great promoter of a sport, rather than a player in that sport itself. (Although as the film tells, Phil had a pretty impressive amateur cycling career before becoming a journalist and broadcaster).
The film itself chronicals very specific and different aspects and periods of Phils life, and something that becomes very apparent and that the film highlights is that Phil is someone who shines in a partnership. Whether it’s the early partnership with David Saunders, his partnership with his wife of (almost) 50 years Trish and with whom runs some crucial Rhino conservations efforts in South Africa, or his best known commentary partnership with Paul Sherwen.
Much is made of his charitable work to raise money to help fight the poaching of Rhinos on the doorstep of his home in South Africa. It’s a cause that you can tell is raw with emotion for him and something that he will likely do well beyond his days in the commentary box.
The film also covers the infamous Lance Armstong era of cycling. Phil was always the biggest supporter of Lance, both on the bike, but also with all the Cancer charity work that Lance did and Phil saw first hand. Phil is quick to remind us that irrespective of the sins that Lance comitted, there were thousands upon thousands of Cancer sufferers for whom Lance helped raise over $600m for, but almost more importantly, gave then real hope. Clearly Phil is troubled by the ultimate deception, being as Ned Boulting says, “being the last man standing”, and realises how it has made him look. But therein lies the reality. The film depicts a man who is a thoroughly honest and decent man, who loves the sport of cycling, and whilst it is his job, also loves to promote it. Believing anything else would be to belie himself. Ultimately, I sat here as disappointed for Phil as I did for the sport itself, but I don’t and wouldn’t ever blame him for believing. Even if towards the end he let that belief get the better of him.
There were 2 professional relationships and losses that the film highlights and really impacted Phil. The loss of David Saunders, the man who kickstarted his career on the Tour de France, and Paul Sherwen, the ex-pro who became Phil’s co-commentator from 1986 untl his un-timely death from heart failure in 2018.
It’s this second loss which sees the present day Liggett, commentating solo and now stripped of the UCI World feed and the ITV contract, but still supporting thankfully NBC for the Tour de France.