“Bernie: The biography of Bernie Ecclestone” reviewed

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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.

Have you got this book? What did you think of it? Leave a comment below.

RaceFans rating

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

Buy “Bernie: The Biography of Bernie Ecclestone” by Susan Watkins

Pre-order “No Angel: The Secret Life of Bernie Ecclestone” by Tom Bower

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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10 comments on ““Bernie: The biography of Bernie Ecclestone” reviewed”

  1. It’s pretty ironic Bernie and Max were to later find themselves confronted by a very similar rebellion against their own regime years later. Bernie survived, which says a lot about the guy, but did Max really fail? His cost-cutting measures didn’t survive, but they were introduced in a less radical form and for all the demagoguery about the prospect last year (which I fell for), F1 had a two-tier championship this year anyway.

    I’d worry about what will happen when Bernie’s gone but really he’s just a shrewd businessman. There’ll be no-one like him in personality, but F1 will continue in the direction it’s going long after Bernie departs the scene.

  2. Whatever you think of him, you can’t deny that Bernie is a very complex man. Sometimes he comes across as more of a comic book character that an ordinary person. And I think he likes it that way.

    1. well, put. That watch add after the mugging is a good example of him making something out of his misfortune – a very clever, and complex man. I do admire him in a way, but I am pretty sure I don’t like him. Of course, he will probably fine with that – as long as I spend money on F1.

  3. To me it actually seems fairly simple:

    There’s 2 Bernies – One I like, the other I dislike.

  4. I wonder whether Bernie would like a protégée…I’m looking for a new job… ;-)

    1. Sounds like a good idea…

  5. At times it feels like punches have been pulled.

    As opposed to last month’s mugging ;)

  6. his idea of business shouldnt be motorsport.
    it should be something else….

  7. MarcusAurelius
    5th January 2011, 15:34

    I’ll buy this one.

    Especially because of Sid Watkins wife writing it. I’ve read two Sid Watkins books and they were the most entertaining F1 books I’ve ever read.

    I prefer the inside view instead of the other book which seems to be more from the outside.

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