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For Patrick Dempsey, vintage takes pole position
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For Patrick Dempsey, vintage takes pole position

Friday, 26 April 2019
By Frank Rousseau
Frank Rousseau

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5 min read

Patrick Dempsey is rated for his acting talent and as a racing driver at the head of his own team. As a TAG Heuer ambassador since 2014 and watch collector, he has worn the cream of the Swiss brand’s timepieces. A diehard fan of James Dean, Steve McQueen and Paul Newman, he explains how watches and race cars have a lot in common.

Do you remember your first Le Mans?

I’ve been into cars since I was a kid. I’d always imagined what it would be like to compete in Le Mans. Finishing on the podium was the ultimate dream. I started out by racing with the local Porsche club. Years before that, I was given a Matchbox model of a Porsche 917. I identified with the drivers. I remember it was blue and orange. I’ve always had an eye for that kind of detail and it’s the same with watches. Rather than focus on the overall design, I look for the one thing that will set a watch apart. In 2004 I went to Le Mans as a spectator. Five years later I was driving a GT then in 2014 I became an ambassador for TAG Heuer. The brand has helped me achieve my dream. Even so, it’s never been a question of chance or luck. It all comes down to hard work and sacrifices.

Patrick Dempsey
Patrick Dempsey
How would you describe your relationship with TAG Heuer?

Close. Like family, really. It’s as though I’d always known the brand. My father was a big fan of motorsports and he passed that on to me. Every Friday night he’d bring home a Matchbox car. There was a TAG Heuer logo on them but I never knew what it stood for. I had no idea it was a famous watch brand. Without realising, I began to associate TAG with motor sports. Still, it never occurred to me that one day the brand would be sponsoring my team. You know, watches and motor racing have a lot in common. Both demand excellence and reliability. Whether it’s a watch movement or a car engine, it’s a question of mechanical parts working perfectly together. Also, the numerals on the dial are like the numbers on the speedometer. There’s always that notion of time and performance, when every second counts. Whether it’s for pole position or crossing the finish line, a single second makes all the difference. I feel immensely proud knowing that Jo Siffert, Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost have all worn the brand’s colours. The first TAG Heuer I owned was a Montreal chronograph from 1972. And I bought it long before I became an ambassador for the brand. Most of the watches in my collection were purchased at auction.

There's something quite moving about a watch that shows the marks of time.
Patrick Dempsey
So you prefer watches that have been around a while?

You could say that. What we now call “vintage” definitely appeals to me. I like beaten-up leather armchairs, old wood floors, the upholstery and the smell of 1950s, 60s and 70s cars. When I pick something up, I want it to tell me a story. Its story. An object has a “memory” that can rekindle an era or bring back a particular moment you maybe shared with someone. I also like the idea of something being passed down through generations. A father who gives his son the watch he received from his own father. There’s something quite moving about a watch that shows the marks of time. Not that I’m stuck in the past. I love modern technology – even more so when it’s packaged in a retro design!

Patrick Dempsey
Patrick Dempsey
Have you always been competitive?

I never wanted to be an actor. When I was young, my ambition was to become the second Ingemar Stenmark [Swedish skier and slalom champion in the 1980s]. At fifteen, I won the state slalom championship but then I was forced to give up skiing after a fall left me with a compression fracture. My face was black and blue, and my back was a mess. It hit me hard. Until then, I’d been this kid who was afraid of nothing, always eager for the next challenge, but after that fall my confidence really took a knock. You have to understand that I lived and breathed sport. Skiing was my life and from one day to the next, all my projects, my ambition to compete in the Olympic Games, were pulled from under me. I could have sunk into depression. Instead, I started looking for things I could do that would make me feel positive about my life and, most importantly, feel good about myself.

Until the age of 12, I couldn't read or write.
Patrick Dempsey

I learned to juggle and I also played a kind of clown-cum-magician character with a street theatre troupe. It was about using laughter to heal my wounds. By then I’d become something of a showman, so acting followed on naturally. Proof that you should never give up. Never feel sorry for yourself. Without that fall, I imagine my life would have followed a different path. But it hasn’t prevented me from taking to the slopes as an amateur, whenever I get the chance.

How do you explain this immense appetite for life?

It stems from when I was suffering from dyslexia. I had huge difficulties focusing and would get into fights. Because I couldn’t read or write properly, I was put into special education classes until I was 12 years old when my disability was diagnosed. It was a tough time but it gave me the strength to persevere. It also taught me to be wary of putting labels on people.

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