We’ve all seen the spirit of ecstasy hood ornament (also nicknamed “Emily”, “Silver Lady” or “Flying Lady”) but few actually know the story behind the beloved emblem. Who was she and how did she become such an enigmatic symbol of Rolls-Royce? The answer lies within the classic tale of two lovers bound by their undying passion for one another yet forced to hide their ten year relationship.
John Walter Edward Douglas-Scott Montagu (try saying that ten times fast) was a pioneer of the automotive movement as well as editor of The Car Illustrated magazine. Eleanor Thornton, John’s secretary and liaison, was a woman of magnificent beauty and poise and soon he developed an immense adoration for her. However, because of her low social class, a relationship between the two would not be publicly accepted. Although the couple knew they would never be able to marry, they carried out a ten year affair and even had a child together.
Though John and Eleanor treated their relationship with the utmost care, they were unable to keep news of their affair from traveling to their close circle of friends, one of these people being sculptor, Charles Sykes.
It was popular then to adorn the hood of luxury cars with unique hood emblems and so, of course, for his Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, John turned to his friend Charles to create a female figurine (Eleanor) in long drapery with her finger pressed to her lips—a symbol of the secrecy of his relationship. This specialty mascot was nicknamed ‘The Whisper’ and was the inspiration for the later “Flying Lady”.
When Charles Sykes was asked to create a mascot during February of 1911 that would later ride the hood of every Rolls-Royce, he remembered fondly back on the ornament that he had created for his friend, John. Sykes decided to make another model of the same woman, dressed in draped clothing, this time bent forward with her arms back and her face towards the wind, named “The Spirit of Ecstasy”.