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Life in the fast lane: catching up with British racing driver and Outstanding Alumna Charlie Martin

We've been keen to chat to Charlie for months, but an international schedule of motor racing has kept getting in the way. Fortunately, this time, luck was on our side.

Charlie Martin
Charlie Martin

Graduating with a BA (Hons) in Graphic Design from NTU in 2004, Charlie is now a successful racing driver with a top-flight career in motorsport. She has competed in multiple disciplines including single seaters, prototypes, and GT cars.

In 2020, Charlie made history as the first-ever transgender driver to compete in the ADAC TOTAL 24hr Nürburgring-Rennen, where she finished fourth in class racing a BMW M240i. In 2021, she came third in the Praga class of the Britcar Endurance Championship.

Given Charlie’s career continues at pace, it’s been quite a challenge to find a slot in her diary.

But we’ve managed it. And, seeing as we’re the alumni team, we first need to ask about her memories of life as an undergraduate.

“Hazy,” she says, “Because it’s getting on for 20 years ago – scary really. All good though. I really enjoyed the course because graphic design is always something I wanted to do. I was always into art and design as a child. The one thing I loved about graphics is there’s a commercial element of that – how you communicate, the briefs. The flat we were in in Basford had a mixture of people studying art and design and then photography, so we had a ready-made group of friends.”

Of course, Charlie isn’t working as a graphic designer now. Would it be safe to say her career has been non-linear?

“Well, in a funny way,” Charlie says, “I do still use graphic design a lot. In terms of developing my own brand ID with everything I’ve done to promote myself in motorsport, from video editing – which is something I did a lot at my last year at NTU – making presentations and all the other things people just don’t get to see. People just assume you spend all your time driving round a track – I wish it was that simple.”

People just assume you spend all your time driving round a track – I wish it was that simple
Charlie Martin

“I always wanted to be a fighter pilot when I was a kid,” Charlie says, “and that seemed to just morph into racing and motorsports. But not coming from a family or people doing that, I had to find my own organic way in. It’s not easy – let’s be honest. You need a lot of money and on tap – maybe from rich parents, and I’ve never had that at all.”

Are there any tips for someone considering a career in motorsport?

“For me,” says Charlie, “it started racing on my console. On my PlayStation and my Xbox. In many ways it’s gone full circle now – people going from SIM racing into real-world racing. People like Jimmy Broadbent [English racing driver], who I raced with last year – there are people around the world now who are proving that’s a pathway. My advice would be, get yourself a SIM, get racing online, and if you’re passionate about motorsport, it’s just great to go to races and have a wander round the paddock and stick your head into garages – you never know who you might meet.”

Charlie was recently named one of our Outstanding Alumni. That must have been a great feeling?

“I was blown away when I got the email. I’m very proud because I’ve not had many things like this in life really where the hard work you’ve put in gets recognised in such a significant way. I think back to where I was at and what I was doing at university, and I never ever dreamt my life would look the way it does now.”

Charlie has an ambition to make LGBTQ+ history by competing at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Having overcome huge adversity since transitioning mid-way through her career, she works with leading LGBTQ+ charities Stonewall, Mermaids, and Athlete Ally to improve visibility, acceptance, and inclusion in motorsport.

There’s a lot we can still do to improve LGBTQ+ accessibility, to celebrate the diversity that already exists
Racing car driving around track

Does Charlie feel there is enough diversity in her profession?

“We live in a time where, certainly in the context of my sport, there’s a lot we can still do to improve LGBTQ+ accessibility, to celebrate the diversity that already exists, and to encourage people into the sport from all kinds of backgrounds who perhaps wouldn’t have seen themselves in that industry. Being visible, open, and comfortable about my experience within the sport is important. Yes, there are times when I’d prefer to focus on racing, but if you have an opportunity to make a positive impact, it’s good to use that.”

We could have talked for hours. We had ten minutes. But what an inspiring life, and one lived, genuinely, in the fast lane.

Photo credits: Jamey Price Photo

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