For about twenty years now, Sonia Irvine has been organising Amber Lounge parties: well-known events that celebrate the Monaco Grand Prix and raise funds for charities. Sister of the famous Northern Irish Formula 1 driver Eddie Irvine, she spoke to Monaco Tribune about her family values, the secrets behind her success, and how she went from a career in gerontology at a London hospital to becoming a physiotherapist working on the Formula 1 racetracks. The key? Working hard and never giving up!
During the 90s, her brother used to drive a Ferrari here, slaloming around the Monegasque circuit at impressive speeds. Now, at the wheel of her small electric Twizy, Sonia Irvine drives around these same streets, “her little village”, where she chose to settle twenty years ago. “I really appreciate the Monegasque community. Here, it is possible to be yourself”.
A way of life that reminds her of her childhood spent in a small town in the heart of the Northern Irish countryside, Conlig, east of Belfast. “I am definitely not a city girl… Urban life is not for me, I need to be in nature and see the sea everyday”. She sometimes misses certain aspects of her childhood, from the friendliness of the Northern Irish to the typical habit of “leaving your car keys under the mat”.
Motor racing, a family passion
“My brother and I had an amazing upbringing,” recalls Sonia Irvine, reminiscing about the strong sense of freedom that marked her early years and the value of hard work instilled in her by her parents, “not expecting to get what we wanted on a silver platter”. “We were not given our pocket money, we had to earn it and we learnt very early on that no task was ever too menial to do”.
During the holidays, we used to go to the Silverstone Grand Prix, in England, in our motor-home
Their mother did small jobs, from selling vegetables in a shop to taking care of the elderly, even cooking meals that Sonia Irvine would then deliver to them. Her father was passionate about motor racing and owned a second-hand car dealership.
“During the holidays, we used to go to the Silverstone Grand Prix, in England, in our motor-home. As children, we were able to watch the race from the trees or fences we had climbed up. These were fantastic family moments!”
From the NHS to Formula 1
After graduating in physiotherapy, Sonia Irvine began her career working in British hospitals, first in Newcastle and then in London, where she opened her own sports clinic, whilst still working as a physiotherapist in a gerontology unit with the NHS. “It was a real challenge to help people who had suffered from a stroke, for example, and to give them their mobility back,” she explains. “It was a very satisfying job to make such a massive difference to their lives.”
A few years later, she joined the world of Formula 1, a sport that had been such a huge part of her life whilst growing up. She joined the field working as a physiotherapist, alongside her brother, who had gone on to become a racing driver. Their parents joined them for every Grand Prix in Europe. “Once we left the circuit, we met them in the motor-home to spend time with them over a cup of coffee”, she recalls.
In the early 2000s, Sonia Irvine’s career took another unexpected turn, as she began to organise events and society parties. She put together one particularly enjoyable event, giving Formula 1 drivers the chance to relax and have fun away from the cameras and the media.
Unsure what name to give it, she toyed between using the words amber or carbon in the title, before finally going with “Amber Lounge”. “The first edition left me with an unforgettable memory: I remember standing from a balcony looking at the spectacular masses of cars dropping guests off at the event.” Every year, the Amber Lounge welcomes a thousand people, including drivers, celebrities and members of high society.
When you can, you give back
Supporting charity organisations
In 2006, Sonia Irvine launched the Amber Lounge fashion show in Monaco “to provide the media with an activity” that would involve them in celebrations that had previously been entirely private. As part of this event, annual auctions have raised funds and awareness for charity organisations such as the Elton John AIDS Foundation and the Race Against Dementia charity created by former driver Sir Jackie Stewart.
A memory that still moves the CEO of Amber Lounge, since her mother has been suffering for several years with Alzheimer’s: “a disease about which little is known and which remains, for the moment, without any cure”.
This year, Sonia Irvine hopes to raise as much money as possible for the British charity Caudwell Children that helps disabled kids. “When you can, you give back,” she concludes”.
To participate in this year’s auction, visit Caudwell Children