I once had to chase Bernie Ecclestone around the paddock at the Monaco Grand Prix, trying to get a quote for a piece I was writing about Flavio Briatore. He would squint at me with a pained expression and explain that he just had to pose for a photograph with the Crown Prince Albert or sit down to lunch with Liz Hurley or slap the back of Eric Clapton. I never did get anything out of him, but it was an intriguing glimpse into Bernie’s world, of a man who’s the very hub of F1’s Eurotrash glamour, yet who waddles around with all the can-do enthusiasm of a line manager at Morrisons.
Indeed, anyone buying No Angel, Tom Bowers’ new Ecclestone biography, hoping for a racy tale of decadent sinning and rampant bed-hopping is going to be pretty disappointed. Bowers’ a fine storyteller, but it very quickly becomes apparent that Bernie’s in love with The Deal and that’s it. The book can be pretty hard going when attempting an overview of Ecclestone’s financial manoeuvrings. Byzantine business plots congeal in an eye-glazing glut of contract negotiations and cross-ownership deals, the F1 empire expands and the money piles up, in ever-more obscene amounts.
He might be sitting on a mountain of cash (apparently paying himself £1million a week), but Bernie doesn’t do bling. A man of determinedly provincial tastes, his big culinary treat is eggs on toast (with a blob of brown sauce), while he once famously jumped on a private jet to France loaded down with carrier bags full of sausage rolls because he didn’t want to eat “any of that French rubbish”.
Slavica buys a £45million Gulfstream jet so she can fly a few mates over to visit the Dalai Lama. The couple’s divorce settlement cost Ecclestone £2.4billion.
Much has been made of the story of when Bernie was a used-car dealer in south London, threatening to cut the off the fingers of an unsatisfied customer, but it’s pretty tame stuff. Most of the fun comes with the allegations surrounding Bernie’s private life and, in particular, his relationship with his Croatian model ex-wife Slavica, 28 years his junior and a full foot taller. She is, if Bowers’ anecdotes are anything to go by, a bat-shit mad firebrand. He gets bashed about quite a bit; suffering a black eye after putting his arm around a model and having his head slammed against the windscreen for driving too fast on the way to the local cinema.
On one particularly wincing occasion, sitting down to dinner at the Monaco Automobile Club, Slavica asked former McLaren boss Ron Dennis if he had sex with his wife. Dennis confirmed he did, before Ecclestone’s missus asked the same question to each of the increasingly embarrassed F1 bigwigs around the table. Finally she got to Bernie. “I get no sex!!” she yelled pointing at her mortified husband.
A £50million-mansion in Kensington Gardens is sold because his wife decides after two visits that she doesn’t like it (Ecclestone made a nifty £20million profit on the sale). Another property has to go, because it has too many stairs. Slavica buys a £45million Gulfstream jet so she can fly a few mates over to visit the Dalai Lama. The couple’s divorce settlement cost Ecclestone £2.4billion.
Modern F1, currently revving up for its biggest season ever, is absolutely his legacy. Before Eccelstone came along and gave it a kick up the arse, motorsport was a cosy gentleman’s club, run by posh engineers and amateur petrol-head enthusiasts. At times, despite the Hitler quotes, the Little Englander naffness and the gormless sexism, reading No Angel you really can’t help but warm to the cantankerous old git.
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