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Bernie: The Fully Authorised Biography of Bernie Ecclestone Hardcover – 4 Oct 2007
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Hardcover, 4 Oct 2007
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This title has had more than one rescinded publication date and it has also had more than one cover photo. The actual published cover photo is the `Smilie Bernie' version, which seems like the least appropriate but, I imagine, the one he insisted upon. (This, unpublished `Cold, Lonely, Windy Bernie' seems much more suitable.)
Watkins is an accomplished biographer and her writing style is informal, extremely well informed (as you'd expect), bright and intelligent. She does well in explaining the bizarrely complicated business interests of Ecclestone and succeeds in telling a deep, almost bewilderingly multi-facetted story while managing to maintaining a sense of journey: you do still want to find out `what happens next'.
The author's style is not without it's irritating girly quirks though: `[Bernie's] sense of fun is always... just below the surface, fluttering like a jar-full of butterflies'. Fortunately, these are very few and I only noticed two or three, appearing in the first half of the book. I also didn't like the whole attempt at making Ecclestone seem `cuddly': like many super-rich, super-successful people that I've read about, he seems perfectly happy to use people mercilessly and nothing, but nothing, is as important as making money. (Despite Watkins protestations that relationships are the most important thing to Ecclestone, wives, children, business colleagues and partners all fall by the wayside where his companies, and he energies to sustain them, never does - not under any circumstance whatsoever.)
One or two sections of the book made me so angry that I nearly stopped reading. The most offensive of these is Chapter 14 `Smoke Alarm', dealing with the previous tobacco sponsorship of Formula 1. We all remember Ecclestone's remarkable £1 million donation to the Labour Party (since returned) and the subsequent `permanent exemption' of Formula 1 from the tobacco advertising ban. Watkins describes the problem as all the (then Labour) government (and Tony Blair's) fault: the PM's advisers were in `a tizzy' and `disingenuous': `panic reigned in the Labour Party.' And, quoting Ecclestone, `It was third-rate behaviour by a bunch of clowns'. Ecclestone, on the other hand, was just `showing [his] approval for the [Labour] party's decision not to put up income taxes at the top rate'.
The bit that nearly stopped me reading was the re-iteration of `the lack of evidence proving tobacco sponsorship of Formula 1 caused people to start smoking', in spite of the fact that `[tobacco] companies would move their investment to circuits in Asia, the Pacific and South America... where... they wished to increase their sales.'
This, along with the cover photo changes noted above, illustrate the most unpalatable aspect of this book - and, indeed, why it has taken years to come to publication: Susan Watkins was apparently ready to publish by 2005 but her `contract with Bernie' prevented it. This tight, but, I imagine very necessary, contract has resulted in a portrait of Bernie Ecclestone as a surprisingly warm and fluffy person, but which also acknowledges that Ecclestone is hard as flint (particularly in business): this dichotomy simply does not sit well as you read.
In the end, Susan Watkins writes a very good biography. However, I ended up finding the book a bit of a slog at times. This was not due to any literary deficiencies but, bizarrely, because I found I disliked Mr Ecclestone so much. I've never had this before - and I've read stuff on some of histories' worst. I'm a keen fan of Formula 1 and I've enjoyed several books about it (including Prof. Sid's). `Mansell' is the best by a vast margin. Watkins' `Bernie' describes or alludes to most of Formula 1's behind the scenes shenanigans and so is a fascinating eye-opener in many respects - including the vastly complicated Silverstone scenarios. But Bernie Ecclestone is revealed as someone who would, and has, sacrificed anything and anyone for his businesses. For me, this truth darkened an interesting tale so much that, at times, it made it difficult to read. Still, a must have purchase for Formula 1 (and big business) fans.