Ever think you’ve had a varied career? Well, you’ve probably got nothing on Aston Martin’s artist in residence, the Rev. Adam Gompertz. Or as he’s known, the scribbling vicar. I caught up with him at the Goodwood Festival of Speed to find out a bit more about him.
He’s also, as you’d probably expect from a Pioneer Minister in the Church of England, a really sound guy, and a joy to talk to. For Aston Martin he’s posted to events and asked to draw live for crowds, to celebrate the brand in his own art style, and to talk to the crowds.
He wasn’t always a man of the cloth who designed cars, either. It started in reverse.
“I got the car design bug when I was very little,” he said. “We had a family friend who had an Aston Martin dealership and he used to bring Astons over or brochures over, and that was it. I was hooked. And I would sit there and I would sketch, and I would sketch, and I would sketch. And I think I’ve been sketching cars since I was about five.”
He added: “It took a while to venture into university. So I went to uni when I was about 27 and I went to Coventry University, which was the course that all car designers did back then. And did four years there, then worked at Rover.”
Yeah, he worked at MG Rover, but as you might guess that ended up not being a long-term position.
But it worked out fine for him in the end: “When Rover went bust, I spent three years working abroad for consultancy and doing cool stuff like tractors and things. Then did some yacht design, and ended up at Rolls-Royce.”
His consultancy work led him to design all manner of stuff, his favourite being an Austrian tractor brand, Lindner. “I really thought the tractor’s going to be so rubbish. I wanted to be on the pages of Autocar and I’m going on the pages of Farmer’s Weekly instead. And, actually, it was brilliant. It was one of the best projects I’ve ever done because it was something so different. And the team that we worked with was just so brilliant that it stands out as a kind of real highlight of my brief design career.”
And then to Rolls-Royce, where he worked on bespoke projects for clients with specific needs. He couldn’t share much of what he did there, but he did have one shareable, memorable project: “No, although there was somebody who did want a wood burning stove. And we said no to that.” Probably for the best, eh?
Gompertz worked in car design for eight years before he decided to become a priest, though it wasn’t initially an easy decision for him to make.
“I’ve always had a Christian faith of my own since I was a kid,” he said. “My dad was a vicar and so I kind of always wondered would that ever be something for me. And to do it you have to feel called, really, there’s no other word for it. But I kind of just kept batting it away, thinking, ‘No, I’ll leave it.’ And before I got the job at Rolls, I went for a selection conference with the church and they do.”
He added, “It’s kind of like training for the SAS, I guess. You do this three day really intense election course, really intense.” The idea behind the course was to ensure that candidates knew what they were getting themselves in to, and to give them an idea of what to expect. Kinda like a free sample, but with a career in the church after.
“I went for three days and then the next week, they tell you they’ll tell you in two weeks, so the very next week after I’ve been at this selection conference, I started at Rolls-Royce. Two weeks into my job at Rolls-Royce I thought, ‘This is great. I’m loving it. Great. Brilliant.’ And my wife rang and said, ‘The church has sent you a letter, you’ve been accepted.’ So, I had to choose whether I was going to do Rolls or whether I was going to do the church.”
Obviously, Gompertz decided to go with the big man in the sky rather than the flying hood ornament lady. But he still drew, and drew, and drew, posting his daily sketches on social media.
So how do you go from scribbling (very well) to being Aston’s artist in residence? He sent his work to the boss: “I started sending those to [Aston CEO] Andy Palmer and he really liked them because… I think he started technical drawing when he was quite young in the industry. And so he can always appreciate that. So I sent them in, and it just went from there.”
He’s been a familiar face at Aston events for the last year, Goodwood is his last event before handing over to another artist. He’s there to meet people and celebrate Aston’s history with crazy good drawings.
“It involves being particularly at events like this, and drawing live, chatting to people on the stand or in the VIP suite, chatting something of the history where they are at the moment and some of where they’ve come from and possibly their future too,” he said.
You’d expect someone with his talents to find it a pretty easy gig – he’s a designer, remember, so creating cars on paper isn’t an alien concept, but actually it’s taught him something.
“What I tend to do is just enjoy being up close to the cars,” Gompertz said. “I was seeing this stuff that a very talented design team churn out, and the current range of Astons I think are really quite stunning. I get to be up close to them and that’s when you kind of see things that you didn’t think you knew.
See a car in a picture or a magazine and you can only take so much, but getting right close to a car and sketching it, really studying it, it just shows more and more how talented they are and all the little hidden details, and all the lines that will disappear and then reappear as you walk around the car. It’s incredible, really.”
Something may seem out of whack with Gompertz, a priest, being involved in the world of fast cars. They’re about money, status, and excess, things that don’t usually sit well with religion. (At least, not in theory. There aren’t any prosperity gospel-style Megachurches in the UK.)
However, it’s not as strange a fit as you might think. “It’s the love of money that Jesus had a problem with,” he told me. “So money, per se, I mean, we all need a bit of money to get through. We can’t do without it and this is one of those necessary things.
I think it’s the love of money above all things, even above people, that Jesus was really kind of challenging people about. I can still appreciate the fact that an Aston Martin is handmade. I still love beauty and creation and design and that’s about as biblical as you can get, really, in lots of ways. It’s also about people and there’s some fascinating people around.”
People are central to Gompertz’s life, and after his tenure at Aston Martin is over he’ll be focussing on what he calls his automotive ministry, REVS. It mixes cars and religion, not by forcing people to attend a service sat in their motors, but by going out to see car people in real life and, if they like, discussing matters of faith.
“So we run a cars and coffee event twice a month up in the Midlands, where people come, they have breakfast, cup of coffee, they bring their cars, we chat about cars, which I can do because of my background,” he said. “I’m not making it up to try and get in with everyone… I wear my collar so people can see that they can come and talk about other stuff if they want. We offer prayer for people if they want prayer and it’s a way that the church engaging with people where they’re at, not where we think they should be, really.”
While we were chatting, I asked Gompertz to scribble a motor on my iPad. This is the result of 20 minutes of chatting and scribbling. I asked what it was, and he commented that it ‘wasn’t really anything’, but it looks a hell of a lot like an old Vanquish, doesn’t it?
People from all walks of life end up in plenty of different jobs. Gompertz has managed to combine two things close to him, cars and faith, and make something truly special.
It just goes to show it takes all kinds of folks to make the global auto industry happen.