The Luxury Channel interviews Sonia Irvine; Formula One events mastermind and sister of ex-Ferrari driver Eddie Irvine….
We meet Sonia Irvine in London, just a week after she put on a spectacular three-day event over the Monaco Grand Prix race weekend. Her events company, Amber Lounge, provides a luxury nightlife experience for F1 stars, sponsors, and celebrities.
Congratulations on the Amber Lounge Monaco weekend!
Thank you! It was fantastic, such a great event. We had three fantastic nights.
Amber Lounge Fashion, your charity fashion show, was really successful. I hear Heikki Kovalainen donated a huge amount?
He did. For the past three years now I have raised money for the Elton John AIDS Foundation, but this time I wanted to do something that was more socially aware, so the auction prize was very specific. It was to build 320 houses for individuals and families living with HIV. I expected to divide it into lots, so at the end of the day we would have maybe 10 different people who would contribute to building the houses, but in the end Heikki just did it all – he bid 300,000 Euros and so paid for all the houses!
Had you any idea he was planning to do that?
He was actually due to model in the fashion show, along with Lewis Hamilton and the other drivers, but he came up to me just beforehand and said ‘‘Sonia, I’m sorry but I’ve chickened out, I can’t do it!’’ So I told him it was alright and he should just take a seat and watch his girlfriend Katherine, who was also modelling in the show. Anyway, that is why he had done it – he had to be out at the front so that he could bid in the auction.
You were a physiotherapist with your own practice before becoming your brother’s physio. How did the transition from F1 physio to Amber Lounge mastermind come about?
A good physio needs people skills and the ability to analyse problems. You solve problems as a physio, that’s just what you do. When I moved into F1, I ended up doing physio for my brother and the Ferrari team, and I also ended up managing his businesses, running his PR schedule, doing a lot of things – I think in those four years, I crammed in eight years of work! So when Eddie moved to Jaguar in 2000, I decided it was time for me to stop and do something different. The launch of his book and the launch of his TV programme was the last work I did for my brother, and while I was organising that, I was approached to negotiate sponsorship deals with drivers. Then I did some consultancy, running black tie events, and it just evolved from there. I realised there was a need for something that all the teams and all the drivers could enjoy, where they could all come together in an environment that didn’t affiliate itself with anyone in particular – and so Amber Lounge was born.
So you were uniquely placed to do something like this?
Formula One is like a big family – every two weeks we meet up somewhere else, so we’re all close, we socialise and they have became my friends. I think partly they pitied me – I worked hard and I gained a lot of respect. So when Amber Lounge came along, they all turned up – Ron Dennis, Flavio Briatore – they were very, very supportive of me. The first year I did Amber Lounge, I was selling thin air – I had no pictures to do a brochure; it was built on trust and reputation. But it was a success.
You’ve taken Amber Lounge to Abu Dhabi and Singapore now – any plans to expand it further?
I do four Amber Lounges a year. I’ve done Barcelona, Monaco, Singapore and Abu Dhabi. When I bring on a new event, I drop an old one. I want to keep them exclusive. I want everyone to look forward to the event.
Why Singapore and Abu Dhabi in particular?
Monaco is the mother event, but Singapore was the first night race so it was exciting. It was definitely the right choice; the people there are very commercially-minded, they do what they say what they’re going to do, and the tourist board worked with us very well. Abu Dhabi is just an exciting place and the circuit they built has to be one of the best circuits in the world – and it’s the last race of the season, of course, so we wanted to go out with a bang.
Are you planning to expand Amber Lounge in the future?
I’ll stay with four events a year in F1, but we’ve also been approached to do Amber Lounge events outside of Formula One – in football. Hopefully we’ll be launching that soon, so there’s going to be a lot coming up with that and India.
For more details, visit www.amber-lounge.com.