The matador Juan José Padilla triumphs

Juan José Padilla tours the ring in triumph on the shoulders of our friend Adolfo Suárez Illana (click to enlarge)

Juan José Padilla is a Spanish matador whose generosity of time, spirit and courage allowed much of my book, Into The Arena: The World Of The Spanish Bullfight, to exist (click here to purchase at Amazon UK, and here for Amazon US). And, without him, as many critics pointed out, it certainly have been as widely praised as it was (nor shortlisted for Sports Book Of The Year 2011, I suspect.)

Juan José was the first matador I met in Spain. It was he who took me to my first training session with cattle at the ranch of Álvaro Domecq, ‘Los Alburejos’ (and then onto his own nightclub ‘La Lola’ in Jerez de la Frontera afterwards). This – including the club – forms chapter three of the book. He was also with my when I first entered the ring myself at the ranch of Fuente Ymbro (chapter four), and much, much more besides.

So, when I heard about his horrific goring, detailed in the post here, in which he lost his left eye I knew that I had to be present when he inevitably returned to the ring.

However, no amount of confidence inspired by Juan José’s words when I visited him at home two days before the fight, nor seeing the calm beauty of the bulls in their natural wilderness the day before that, could prepare me for his triumph in the ring, ending with him being carried out on the shoulders not of the crowd as is usual with a great success in the plaza, but on the shoulders of the top matadors of today – who had gathered to watch – and now jockeyed to carry the Maestro themselves.

However, should you wish to know more of Juan José, read Into The Arena, and then go and see him in Valencia on March 16th alongside the No.1 matador in Spain, José María Manzanares or they will both be fighting at my own favourite ring, in Seville at the April Fair, on the 20th and again, with his old friend Fandi (the technical no .1 in Spain) and El Cordobés on the 28th (you can buy tickets here). I would suggest that in Seville those on a budget stay at the Hotel Adriano (website here) next to the bullring, those who want old beauty stay with my friends at the Hotel Las Casas de la Juderia (website here), and those who prefer the boutique, with my friends at the Hotel Corral del Rey (website here). Direct flights from London are by Ryanair and Easyjet.

Alexander Fiske-Harrison

Juan José Padilla with his capote (Photo: Daniel Ochoa de Olza / APMore Photos)

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The Man of the Moment: Juan José Padilla

Screen capture of interview (videos embedded below)

I have embedded below, in two parts, Canal Sur’s Jesús Quintero interviewing the matador Juan José Padilla – and his wife Lidia at the end of the second part – about his forthcoming return to the ring in Olivenza on March 4th, following his horrific injuries I posted about here. Not for nothing did Continue reading

Mad Bulls and Englishmen by Giles Coren in The Times

This article of Giles Coren’s was originally published in The Times magazine on Boxing Day ’09 where it is still available along with Dominic Elliot’s film of our day bullfighting here. All photos are by Nicolás Haro.

Alexander Fiske-Harrison, the English bullfighter, takes on a ‘vaquilla’ of the Saltillo breed. Inset: with Giles Coren, attending a bullfight in Seville.

Writers and travellers have long been drawn to the drama and romance of the bullfight. Giles Coren is no exception, so when he was contacted out of the blue by the younger brother of his dead best friend, now training to be a bullfighter in Spain, Giles was intrigued. Here he describes his journey into a unique culture of noblemen, peasants and swindlers, all driven by deadly serious dreams of death and glory

I am in a bullring. Not in the seats, in the ring. On the sand. From the relative safety of a wooden barrier with a small room behind it, built into the stone wall, I have seen four vaquillas, young cows, “caped” by one of Spain’s most famous matadors, the son of the first post-Franco prime minister of Spain, Adolfo Suárez Illana, and by Alexander Fiske-Harrison, the younger brother of my best friend at school, who died in an accident the year we left, three months before his 19th birthday. Continue reading

Juan José Padilla, matador, friend, my “Spanish brother”

I hear, courtesy of our mutual brother-in-arms Adolfo Suárez Illana (son of the founder of democratic Spain and its first president, Adolfo Suárez), that the matador Juan José Padilla is recovering following a long operation to try to repair the terrible damage wreaked on his face by a bull in Zaragoza on Friday evening. As the photo shows, the bull Marqués no. 8, from the breeder Ana Romero, pounced on Padilla as he tripped and fell during the act of the banderillas – Padilla being one of the few matadors in the modern era who places his own banderillas, rather than delegating it to his banderilleros. The bull, which weighed 508kg and was 5 years and 8 months old (only four months short of the upper age limit) entered its horn under the left hand side of his jaw and drove it up and out through his left eye socket. As the bull was drawn off him by the other toreros’ capes Padilla got to his feet saying “I can’t see, I can’t see” before collapsing into the arms of his assistants and being carried from the ring to the infirmary and from there to hospital. The bull’s horn severed the main facial nerve of the left side of Padilla’s face, which is now paralysed, and the optic nerve of the eye which seems unlikely to recover its sight. The bull was then killed by Miguel Abellán, who wept as he did so, having only recently recovered from a similarly bad goring himself.

Whilst researching my book, I came to know Padilla very well and he features in a half dozen chapters in my book, Into The Arena. He is a force of nature who dwarfs everything around him, as I am sure he will this terrible injury. The best description of him I have heard is that of my mother who met him with me at a bullfight in Cazalla de la Sierra in ’09. She said he was like Scaramouche, who in the novel’s opening line is described as “born with the gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad, and that was his entire patrimony.” The photo below is from the tail end of one of our wild nights out, taken by my friend Nicolás Haro (as is the one above), with Padilla’s childhood friend, the great flamenco dancer Antonio ‘El Pipa’ in the foreground at his house. You can read the extract of that chapter of the book at The Pamplona Post here.

Suerte Maestro.

Alexander Fiske-Harrison

P.S. All of this has quite rightly taken precedence in my mind over my dispute with the philosopher Mark Rowlands in The Times Literary Supplement, which can be found here, and which I will follow up further soon. Needless to say, any man who can write, “Padilla is more likely to die trying to get to the arena than in it,” clearly hasn’t got the faintest idea what he is talking about, nor has the dignity to keep his ignorance to himself.