Tom Bower’s new book on Bernie Ecclestone has been eagerly anticipated. And not just because there are surprisingly few biographies of the tycoon who has dominated the sport for four decades.
Bower has previously written celebrated books on high-profile figures such as Conrad Black, Mohammed Al-Fayed, Gordon Brown and Richard Branson.
The latter book is a particularly stinging account which the subject denounced as a “foul piece of work” and “really rotten, nasty stuff”. Those quotes are blazoned on the dust jacket of “Branson” like badges of honour.
Is Bower’s work on Bernie Ecclestone likely to provoke such a condemnation? I suspect not – Bower has not given Ecclestone the scathing treatment he dished out to Branson.
The most surprising details in the book are not about his business deals, but his relationship with now-estranged wife Slavica.
Bower reports her public temper tantrums and humiliation of Ecclestone, an aspect was completely overlooked by the other recent biography of Ecclestone by Susan Watkins.
This and Ecclestone’s early days are the smaller part of a book whose central theme is his growing domination over Formula 1 – although Bower makes repeated and telling references back to Ecclestone’s former life as a used car salesman.
Those who have read Terry Lovell’s 2004 biography “Bernie’s Game” will inevitably find some re-treading of familiar ground in the early part of “No Angel”.
The prose is succinct and fast-paced but at times it falls victim to the unavoidable problem of myriad company names, deals, offers and counter-offers making some portions complicated to follow.
What makes Bower’s work stand out is the access he had to Ecclestone. The man who is notorious for being less than forthcoming in interviews is quoted throughout the book.
His words give revealing new insights into F1′s most recent scandals: ‘spygate’, ‘crashgate’ and the showdown between FOTA, Ecclestone and Mosley in mid-2009.
As in his other works, Bower fires invective at lazy journalistic standards, criticising those who have gone before him for failing to test Ecclestone’s accounts and allowing myths to build up. He gets in a few more swipes at Branson, too.
Given Bower’s track record many might have expected him to present a damning account and a ‘smoking gun’.
Although it’s not as scathing as some of his other works, “No Angel” leaves you under no illusions about Ecclestone’s methods.
The surprise here is that while Bower’s portrait of Ecclestone confirms many assumptions about his tactics and razor-sharp business acumen, he also reveals an unexpected, more vulnerable side to his subject.
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“No Angel: The Secret Life of Bernie Ecclestone”
Author: Tom Bower
Publisher: Faber and Faber, 2011
RRP: £18.99 (UK)
More books on Bernie Ecclestone
- “Bernie: The biography of Bernie Ecclestone” by Susan Watkins
- “Bernie Ecclestone: King of Sport” by Terry Lovell
- “Bernie’s Game” by Terry Lovell
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