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Founder of Cookham's Gravity Grand Prix dies aged 67

Founder of Cookham Gravity Grand Prix dies aged 67

The founder and driving force behind a popular charity soapbox race has died aged 67.

Peter Bartlett organised the first Cookham Gravity Grand Prix in 2007 as a member of fundraising group, The Kaffirs of Cookham Dean, now known as The Cherry Pickers of Cookham Dean.

Since the race began Thames Valley Air Ambulance has received annual donations from the event totaling about £150,000.

Peter’s son, Oliver, 26, recalls the holiday to a village in North Devon which inspired his father to bring a soapbox grand prix to the village.

“They had a pub on a big hill, and that road led down to the beach and they had a soap box car event,” he said.

“The whole village came together and there was a big old party, and everyone was loving it, and dad just thought ‘that would be perfect for Cookham’.”

The 700-metre downhill course Peter had in mind was from the junction of Church Road and Spring Lane, to Uncle Tom’s Cabin pub at the bottom.

Oliver said the fact The Jolly Farmer pub was midway down the course made it ‘even better’ in Peter’s view, who Oliver describes as ‘quite eccentric, always having a laugh’.

In 2014 Peter spoke to the Advertiser about what he had seen in Devon, he said: "Although in health and safety terms it was an unmitigated disaster, as a social event it was a triumph.

“The partying at the pub went on for hours, everyone was talking to one another about the day."

"That set me thinking, what better place than Cookham Dean to hold a similarly dangerous and irresponsible event?"

Peter entered the Cookham Grand Prix all but two years since it started, and Oliver thinks his ‘mini grand piano’ soap box, which he drove dressed as Liberace, was probably his favourite.

“He put a mini grand piano on some wheels and then sent that down,” said Oliver. “It was just so over the top, there were speakers in it as well, it was the whole shebang with a candelabra on top.”

The resolve to follow through with what could have been called a whim before it became a reality is testament to Peter’s entrepreneurial roots.

Peter’s elder son, Charles, 29, said his father, who grew up in Greenford, in the London Borough of Ealing, was a bit of a ‘Del Boy’.

After dropping out of school aged 17 Peter earned himself an engineering apprenticeship at British Airways but made the decision to throw in the towel in favour of following his nose for business.

After a few attempts to start lucrative ventures, in 1979 Peter had the idea of selling sandwiches and the business 'Breadwinner' was born.

He started the business working from a factory's staff kitchen he rented out at night, but soon had a factory of his own and was supplying the lunchtime staple to the NHS, vending machines, and service stations.

In 1980 Peter met wife-to-be Christina through mutual friends.

The couple married in St Peter’s in Marlow in 1989, but stayed in West London, living in Brentford and Chiswick, where they welcomed Charles in 1990, and Oliver in 1993.

In 1998 Peter sold Breadwinner and moved his family to Berkshire, living initially in Bourne End before settling in Cookham Dean.

Here, charismatic Peter amassed a great many friends, who gave him the nickname ‘sandwich’, and spent quality time with his much-loved family.

He was still in business, now with the company Advanced Food Technology which made sandwich-making machines, but he had much more time on his hands.

Charles said his father was a ‘great dad’ entertaining his sons with jokes, and his skills as an ‘amateur magician’ – palming coins and slights of hand.

There were also cherished family holidays, 'big Christmas', trips along the Thames in a slipper boat in the summer, and fireworks parties.

Also a musician, Peter played the ukulele, the acoustic and electric guitar, and for a time bass in the band ‘Mid-life Crisis’.

In more recent years Oliver said his father’s favourite pubs were like a ‘a second home’ to Peter, who loved nothing more than having a chat and a laugh with his mates.

Christina, Charles, and Oliver said: "He was the most wonderful father and husband anyone could have hoped for.

“Caring, generous, oh so funny and charismatic. Everyone who knew him will feel his loss. We'll miss him terribly."

Peter suffered a stroke at home and passed away seven weeks later in hospital on Wednesday, April 8.

His burial will take place on Wednesday and a celebration of his life will be held later in the year.

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