Legacy of Norfolk powerboat racer to be immortalised at new museum

Powerboat racer Tom Percival's daughter, Katie, is donating her father's trophies to a museum

Powerboat racer Tom Percival's daughter, Katie, is donating her father's trophies to a museum - Credit: ARCHANT

They are the relics of a lasting legacy that began on Norfolk’s waters more than half a century ago. 

Now, more than 200 trophies belonging to a powerboat racing legend are to become available for fans across the globe for the very first time. 

In 1984, during the seventh round of the 1984 F1 Powerboat World Championship, spectators watched on in horror as Tom Percival’s boat crashed into wreckage from a crash. 

Monday's EDP about a memorial powerboat racing night being held in Oulton Broad this Thursday<13th>

Tom Percival - Credit: ARCHANT

During the fifth lap of the first heat of the Belgium Grand Prix on the River Meuse course in Liège, some 400 meters after the upstream buoy, Percival came up to pass Italian Fabricio Bocca.  

At a point on the course renowned for rough water, Bocca's boat hooked and overturned, exploding into hundreds of pieces. 

Percival tried to avoid it but hit the wreckage and lost control of his boat, which flipped upwards through the spray high into the air before sliding up a grassy riverbank towards the road. 

Both drivers were injured and were taken immediately to Liège hospital, where Bocca was operated on during the night.  

The Club on the Park. Professional racer, the late Tom Percival, still holds the outright lap record

Professional racer, the late Tom Percival, still holds the outright lap record at Oulton Broad, which he set in 1984 - Credit: Archant

Katie Percival with her father Tom Percivals trophies. She has over 200 of his trophies which will s

Katie Percival with her father Tom Percival's trophies. She has over 200 of his trophies which will soon be donated to a museum - Credit: Brittany Woodman/ Archant

Katie Percival has a large collection of her father, British powerboat racer Tom Percivals photograp

Katie Percival has a large collection of her father's - British powerboat racer Tom Percival - photographs and press appearances - Credit: Brittany Woodman/ Archant

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Percival, who had sustained severe head injuries, lapsed into a coma. At 10.50am on August 20, 1984, he died. He was 41 years old and left behind his wife, Gilly, and children Guy and Katie, then aged 16 and 14 respectively. 

Sharing his legacy with the world 

Almost 38 years on from that harrowing moment, his daughter, now aged 51, is able to marvel at the career of her father. 

Speaking from her family home in Wymondham, Katie, a married mother-of-three, has become the custodian of her father’s hordes of memorabilia. 

Katie Percival with her father Tom Percivals trophies. She has over 200 of his trophies which will s

Katie Percival with her father Tom Percival's trophies. She has over 200 of his trophies which will soon be donated to a museum - Credit: Brittany Woodman/ Archant

Katie Percival has a large collection of her father, British powerboat racer Tom Percivals photograp

Katie Percival has a large collection of her father's - British powerboat racer Tom Percival - photographs and press appearances - Credit: Brittany Woodman/ Archant

Spanning around 300 trophies and more than 60 scrapbooks of newspaper clippings and photographs, Mrs Percival is ready to share her father's achievements with the rest of the world and has joined forces with the charity Fast on Water. 

Founded in January 2013, the organisation aims to create a lasting legacy to preserve and record the history of powerboat racing in the UK and worldwide. 

Setting out on an ambitious dream to create a museum to archive its heritage, Fast on Water has managed to obtain a temporary home in the west of the country in Bristol. 

Tom Percivals Griffin Golden Helmet Award, 12 June 1977. Pictures: Brittany Woodman

Tom Percival's Griffin Golden Helmet Award, June 12, 1977 - Credit: Brittany Woodman/ Archant

British powerboat racer Tom Percivals trophies. Pictures: Brittany Woodman

British powerboat racer Tom Percival's trophies - Credit: Brittany Woodman/ Archant

Katie Percival has a large collection of her father, British powerboat racer Tom Percivals photograp

Katie Percival has a large collection of her father, British powerboat racer Tom Percival's photographs and press appearances - Credit: Brittany Woodman/ Archant

Many of the trophies have never been seen before, as they were always kept in the family home. 

“They are remarkable,” Mrs Percival said. “Dad worked really hard for these and they should be shared with the people who still admire. 

“It’s been a bittersweet feeling, especially as I don’t know if I’ll ever see of the trophies like this together again. But I know I’m doing the right things passing them over. 

"We are going to keep some of them, because they are really special, such as the golden helmet. 

“We also have a handful in the dining room and other family members have expressed an interest in certain ones, ear-marking some of their favourites.” 

The life and times of Norfolk’s Tom Percival 

Born Thomas Colin Percival on March 28, 1943, in North Walsham, he began racing in 1964 at Lowestoft and Oulton Broad Motor Boat Club (LOBMBC) - where he still holds the outright course record at 27.78 seconds, set in 1984. 

A former pupil of Gresham’s School, Holt, he set up a sailing team there and would alternate weekends sailing at Wroxham. 

Tom Percival

"Gentleman", Tom Percival - Credit: Archant

He met his future wife, Gilly, through Kit Bartram of Bartram Books, a mutual friend of the couple. They married in Norwich on October 1, 1966, and lived in Horning, near Wroxham. 

Outside of his sporting career, Percival was as a boat dealer who had come from a long line of boating enthusiasts and sailors. His father ran Percival Boats and they would eventually work together via their boating yards. 

This also explained why despite starting out in motor car racing, he moved into powerboat racing. With that early love of cars too, he developed a friendship with Lotus cars founder Colin Chapman and would often dine with the family at East Carleton manor, near Wymondham. 

 Monday's EDP about a memorial powerboat racing night being held in Oulton Broad this Thursday<13th>

Tom Percival's impressive career has gone down in the history books - Credit: ARCHANT

Tom Percival

Tom Percival in powerboat Players No 10 - Credit: Archant

And while John Player Special remained his main sponsor, along with Long John Scotch whiskey, he also drove a bright yellow boat at one point in homage to Norfolk sponsor, Colman’s Mustard. 

An unusual childhood fondly remembered 

Reflecting on her childhood, Mrs Percival described it as “one like no other”. 

“We had a big American mobile home that we would travelled around in. 

“I remember we’d leave school early on a Friday afternoons, to catch a ferry either from Felixstowe or Harwich, and return back on Monday mornings. We’d travel all over the world going away to powerboat races, places such as Spain, Italy, Holland, all over Europe really, even America. 

“Although we were going to all of these places, we didn’t always get to see much as the powerboat racing was very full-on. 

Katie Percival with one of her father, British powerboat racer Tom Percivals trophies. Pictures: Bri

Katie Percival with one of her father's - British powerboat racer Tom Percival - trophies - Credit: Brittany Woodman/ Archant

"As soon as the boat docked back in England, dad would stop and use a payphone to call the EDP to tell them how he got on so a reporter could do a write-up. He would then ask his secretary to find all of the articles in the papers, including the nationals, and stick them in a folder. 

“He was fastidious about collecting them. He was always in the paper and people knew him - he touched a lot of people’s lives. 

“He was my charming, lovely, incredibly fair, inspiration, and funny dad.” 

One of the stand-out phrases which became synonymous with Percival was “a gentleman” - a phrase which has been etched into history on his headstone at St Benedict’s Church, Horning. 

Career highlights for the history books 

Despite Percival’s career abruptly ending in tragedy, he achieved phenomenal success within the powerboat racing world in a relatively short time. 

British powerboat racer Tom Percivals trophies. His daughter Katie, has over 200 of his trophies whi

British powerboat racer Tom Percival's trophies. His daughter Katie, has over 200 of his trophies that will soon be donated to a museum - Credit: Brittany Woodman/ Archant

Some of his proudest career moments include: 

  • Meeting Princess Margaret 

  • Winning the British Championship ‘72, ‘73, ‘75 and ‘76 

  • Winning the Paris Six-Hour '76 and ‘77 

  • Winning the European Championship '76 and ‘78 

  • Winning the British Grand Prix in '76, ‘77