“Bernie: The biography of Bernie Ecclestone” reviewed

This new biography of Bernie Ecclestone hit the shelves last Friday after a five-year delay in its publication.
Originally planned as an “authorised” biography, Ecclestone withdrew his endorsement of the book and it is now considered ‘unauthorised’.

On top of that, another new biography of F1′s 80-year-old tycoon is expected in just two months’ time. So should you shell out for the nearly-authorised version or wait for the next one?

“Bernie” was written by Susan Watkins whose relationship with Ecclestone goes back almost three decades. She is the wife of Professor Sid Watkins who was F1′s safety and medical delegate from 1978-2005.

Having written biographies of several historical figures, this subject marks something of a departure for her in that he is still around to be interviewed.

Not that this necessarily means the notoriously evasive Ecclestone would be more forthcoming than Elizabeth I or Mary Queen of Scots might be if you tried to interview them today.

However Watkins’ access to Ecclestone has helped her gain more first-hand material than can be found in the first major work on him, Terry Lovell’s 2004 book “Bernie’s Game” (updated and re-released as “Bernie Ecclestone: King of Sport” in 2008).

This has yielded plenty in the way of reminiscences and amusing anecdotes. But on the hard details of pivotal deals Ecclestone seems as hard to pin down as ever.
What we get is a more fleshed-out portrait of Ecclestone the person: his working-class upbringing, relationships with key figures, family life and so on.

For several years Ecclestone was wearing two hats (at minimum) as the head of a world championship-winning F1 team and the leader of the Formula One Constructors’ Association through which he and Max Mosley waged their infamous battles with the sport’s governing body. The book is split into two parts along these lines.

Among the more light-hearted moments include Ecclestone and Mosley winding up FISA President Jean-Marie Balestre by ringing him up and pretending to be Nelson Mandela.

Perhaps inevitably, this book presents a more sympathetic view of Ecclestone than that which has gone before. The cheeky, wisecracking character that comes across here is somewhat removed from the hard-edged figure in Lovell’s book. You get the impression that the real Ecclestone lies somewhere between the two.

In the opening pages Watkins quotes Ecclestone admitting “I’ve hurt people”. But when you get into the meat of the book those quoted seem more frustrated at their inability to stop him getting the better of them than bearing a serious grudge. At times it feels like punches have been pulled.

That doesn’t stop it from being the most illuminating and revealing book on Ecclestone’s life published so far. Never before have we has as detailed a portrait of the man who has made an art of ducking questions and frustrating interviewers.

Another book on Ecclestone is set for publication by Faber and Faber in February. It’s written by Tom Bower, who has made a name for himself with a series of revealing biographies of public figures including Gordon Brown, Mohammed Al-Fayed and Richard Branson. In July last year he won a legal battle with Richard Desmond over a claim made about him in a biography of Conrad Black.

Expect Bower’s “No angel: The secret life of Bernie Ecclestone” to be a very different proposition. Despite the withdrawal of his endorsement, “Bernie” may be seen as Ecclestone’s means of getting his version of events across before Bower does.

“Bernie: The biography of Bernie Ecclestone”
Published by Haynes
ISBN 9780857330338

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