You don’t need a degree in marketing to realise that controversy sells. Create agitation and titillation to increase popularity – controversy and hyperbole are human attractors; they sell. And who better to know that than Formula One’s impresario, Bernie Ecclestone?
With money to be gained from future advances, royalties and other profits from the sale of his biography, Ecclestone eventually settled on Tom Bower to tell his life story. And there are few journalists who can stir up controversy like Bower, just ask Richard Desmond…
Unsurprisingly, Bower’s effort (No Angel) was a somewhat sinister affair that didn’t paint Ecclestone in a favourable light and, rather annoyingly, was riddled with more inaccuracies than I could keep count of.
Quite the opposite to Susan Watkins’s biography of the F1 ringmaster, however, which is by far the best insight into his life yet.
Bernie – The Biography of Bernie Ecclestone (to give it its full title) was originally intended to be the official account of Ecclestone’s past. That was until meddling behind the scenes resulted in vast delays and eventually the book being designated ‘unauthorised’. As a result, he no longer has any financial claim on the book, though it certainly has his blessing.
Comparing the two books is inevitable. Where Bernie scores one over No Angel is by extensively revealing Ecclestone’s roots. Watkins, wife of veteran F1 medical guru Sid, has known Ecclestone for over three decades and it clearly shows.
From his days as a used car dealer, then trading on the infamous Warren Street, to becoming owner of the Brabham F1 team; there’s plenty of meat on the bone, and it allows you to fully understand how he came to hone his exemplary negotiation skills.
The second part to this tome concentrates more on recent history and reveals just how much of a risk-taker and gambler Ecclestone is. His astute bargaining skills have pulled off some staggering deals, but these don’t necessarily make for easy-reading.
The last portion of Bernie is full of business and politics and, to understand fully some of the events described, you would probably need to be Ecclestone himself. The account of his later career lacks balance and, to be honest, is perhaps a touch too long and would have benefitted from editing.
I have no doubt that motorsport enthusiasts will enjoy Watkins’s version of Ecclestone’s life over Bower’s. There are some great racing stories – particularly from the Brabham days – with none of the malicious portrayals of certain individuals who have played a key role in his rise to power.
Bernie is ideal for those who wish to revel in anecdotes from 40 years of Formula One and is by far the best, most well-balanced, insight into Ecclestone’s life. A life which tells a fascinating story.