IT IS a wet Wednesday lunchtime in July and Liam Talbot is eating lunch in a private room at Cut, the new steakhouse opened by family friends the Gambaros, across the road from their famous seafood restaurant in Brisbane’s Caxton St.
Dressed in a stylish Hugo Boss suit, the 31-year-old son of late legendary mining entrepreneur Ken Talbot is an impeccably polite host. Charming and keen to be helpful, but clearly shy and a little wary.
This is his first media interview and he is somewhat surprised and embarrassed by the interest. “I just see myself as any ordinary person. I don’t see myself as attention-worthy … just one of the boys,” he says.
Fast-forward three weeks to the pits at the Queensland Raceway track at Ipswich and the same young man is relaxed and confident, wearing a racing suit unzipped to the waist and a broad grin that only disappears under a helmet as he prepares to slip behind the wheel of a 500-horsepower V10 Audi R8 sports car.
Here, amid the growl of perfectly tuned engines and the smell of high-octane fuel, Liam Talbot is in his natural environment. One of the boys.
But he is attracting interest here too. Despite making his race-driving debut only this year, he is already earning a reputation as a rising star after a string of wins and podium places. Mr Talbot leads the four-cylinder class of the national Radical series and is 11th overall in the Australian GT rankings.
“He is a natural talent. It’s a very rare thing to come across,” says David Hardman, who has spent more than two decades in advanced driver training and motorsports. “You find your calling in life. This is his calling.”
They have pulled together a group of experienced people that will next year be formalised with the launch of the Liam Talbot Racing team to compete in the Australian GT championship.
“We’ve put this together with the goal of achieving and winning. It’s not a weekend hobby,” says Mr Talbot, who has also been contracted by the Aston Martin test centre in Germany to drive their V12 Vantage and he is in Europe this month competing in qualifiers for next year’s Nurburgring 24-hour race.
The eventual goal is Le Mans – “the world’s greatest car race”.
“I never dared dream I could do it,” he says. “I always had an interest in fast cars as any boy does. I bought a Monaro when I was 21. Statistically, I should be a dead hoon.”
These days, his everyday car is a Holden HSV, but he also owns a $2 million Aston Martin One-77 – so named because only 77 were produced worldwide, with just this one making its way to Australia.
He says track racing is “humbling” and “nerve-wracking” – cornering at 242km/h at Phillip Island or red-lining the first turn at Eastern Creek at 222km/h.
“When you’re going in at that speed, you think this can’t possibly end well,” he says.
“It is such a leap of faith. You push your boundaries. You have to reach that point and then go further, go deeper. It’s like jumping off a cliff and someone telling you that you’ve got wings now and you can fly.
“It’s very physically demanding. You’ve got so much force on your body – 2G in cornering, 2.5G in braking.”
Preparing for that physically and mentally is a fulltime job. He has double training sessions daily – one with a regular fitness coach and one with a motorsport-specific trainer working on neck strength and reaction speeds, as well as hours on driving simulators and studying video of races to prepare strategies and technique.
“I’m just excited to see where it can go and committed to working hard to be the best driver I can,” he says.
Driving has also given him the platform for another passion. With a group of close friends, including John Gambaro and Ipswich Mayor Paul Pisasale, he is registering his new charity, KM4Kids, to be launched by late this year.
The concept is for motorists to pledge an amount of money per kilometre they clock up each week or month to be donated to groups working with disadvantaged youngsters, while also highlighting road safety issues.
“I’ve had some experience with Make-A-Wish Foundation. When you see these kids, it’s like a pause button in life to see their problems and be able to bring a smile to their faces,” he says.
“I was recently invited into Kids Helpline and I could not believe the amount of calls that they get – and the number they can’t physically answer.”
Mr Talbot says he’s driven by “the basic human instinct to want to help” and inspired by his father, who died tragically, aged 59, in a light plane crash in Africa in 2010.
Truck driver’s son Ken Talbot always referred to himself as “a simple coal miner” and never lost the common touch despite his pioneering role in Queensland’s resources industry that made him a billionaire.
His will directed that 30 per cent of his fortune go to the Talbot Family Foundation he set up in 2008. Executers are still working through liquidating the assets of the estate, which are currently estimated at $1.23 billion. About $860 million will be shared by Ken’s widow Amanda and his four children, with about $375 million going to create Queensland’s largest philanthropic foundation.
“I guess my father has had a big influence. He had a big heart and always wanted to help,” Liam says. “He was a country boy who came from a working-class background and worked hard his whole life and wanted to give back.
“Being around that plays a big part in the future and the fact that you want to continue the legacy.”
The young heir to a vast inheritance who races sports cars and runs a children’s charity – Liam Talbot could well qualify as Queensland’s most eligible bachelor.
He is startled by the suggestion and quick to quash it. “I’ve got an amazing girlfriend,” says Mr Talbot, who met Sydney-based TV presenter Iolande Skinner, 29, a year ago when she was filming a piece on motorsport.
“She’s a very passionate outgoing girl, loves motorsport, loves getting her hands dirty. We’re just very happy we’ve found each other.”
Mr Talbot’s dedication to driving leaves little time to indulge in his love of surfing but he retains an involvement as a partner in Nundah-based Primitive Surf, which has opened a second shop on the Gold Coast. Recent customers include Coalition leader Tony Abbott. “He’s caught waves with it that he didn’t think he’d get into. He’s stoked.”
He is also keen to return to the mining sector as an owner or investor in the future.
He began his working life in the industry, spending nine years at various mines in central Queensland.
“I started in school holidays. I worked from the ground up,” Liam says.
“I was a tradesman’s assistant in the workshop. A machine would break down and all the operators would be in the airconditioning while I was out there in 30-odd degree heat covered in hydraulic oil doing what you had to do to get the machine going.
“Then I graduated to operating the equipment and worked my way up. If anything, I was held back more from promotion because of the family name. But I respect that – I had to work harder and I was prepared to work harder.”