Story goes that a couple of months ago Bernie Ecclestone was spotted in a restaurant sharing a table alongside Tom Bower, whose biography on the F1 supremo was released a few weeks ago.
Bower’s past books on people like Mohammed al-Fayed, Robert Maxwell and Conrad Black haven’t exactly presented their subjects in a very flattering light. Richard Desmond was so incensed by Bower’s writing that he tried, and failed, to sue him for libel.
So appropriately, his appearance with Ecclestone this particular evening was something of a surprise to his friends.
Eventually one of them felt he had the need to say something, but Bernie seemed non-plussed about the whole thing.
“But,” the friend continued, “you are going to read the book about you, aren’t you?”
“Why would I read it?” Ecclestone replied, “I haven’t read any other books.”
Shame really, as it would have been interesting to know what his opinion is on Bower’s exploration into his life. I would wager it wouldn’t be too favourable.
No Angel: The Secret Life of Bernie Ecclestone attempts to unravel some of the mystery that surrounds Ecclestone, and explain how he progressed from selling sweets in the school playground to becoming a major player in one of the biggest global sporting events – and netting a few billion along the way.
It is genuinely interesting reading how, over a period of more than 30 years, Ecclestone transformed F1 from a spit-and-sawdust sport into one of the world’s most watched events – from a sport to a form of entertainment – and Bower does tell the story rather well.
It also reveals what a ruthless, somewhat sinister, individual the 81-year-old can be when it comes to business. But he gets off relatively lightly in comparison to Bower’s portrayal of his ex-wife Slavica, who comes across as temperamental woman the likes of which you hope to never meet. It’s perhaps somewhat unfair how she is portrayed, given that she refused to meet Bower, so he relies on third-hand accounts.
But as we’ve come to expect, Bower’s job isn’t to paint his subjects in a wholly favourable light – but, like any decent scribe, it is to ensure that the facts actually stack up, and this is where No Angel descends into a bit of a farce.
The BRMs in 1971 weren’t painted pink; the first turbo car wasn’t a Ferrari, but a Renault; Ayrton Senna crashed in Alain Prost in 1990, not 1988 and so on. The book is littered with errors which will no doubt rile F1 enthusiasts, although these mistakes are mere details and don’t necessarily detract from the story. They do, however, undermine faith in the description of some of the more complex matters described within.
Overall, No Angel does a half-decent job of retelling the life of Ecclestone and redeems itself by including a stream of anecdotes, highlighting his off-beat sense of humour – mostly at the expense of others.
Racing fans will probably enjoy Susan Watkin’s version of his life more. I say “probably” because I haven’t been able to read that yet (hint, hint).