A Review of Tom Bower’s biography of Bernie Ecclestone: No Angel
April 7, 2011
I’ve just finished reading Tom Bower’s book on Bernie Ecclestone, one of two recent biographies to emerge on the little big man. I had often wondered why Susan Watkins’ biography of Bernie, which had been due to appear several years ago, had been blocked by Ecclestone, then someone who is savvy in the ways of F1 suggested that maybe he was holding it back in case a less desirable biography came out and this could be used as a spoiler. So we now have Bower’s biography being published and, as if by magic, Susan Watkins book resurfaces, so we have two Bernie’s for the price of one, not bad.
So is Bower’s book the explosive exposé that it claims to be with the title: No Angel: The Secret Life of Bernie Ecclestone? No it isn’t. In fact as you read the book you get the impression that Bower quite likes Bernie, in many ways he is the hero of the story, this is in stark contrast to Bower’s book on Branson which appeared to have a clear agenda to undermine the Virgin founder’s reputation. Not everyone comes out as well as Mr E., the team principals, particularly Ferrari’s Luca di Montezemolo and McLaren’s Ron Dennis, are not portrayed in a particularly positive light. But the biggest casualty is Formula 1, which is consistently misrepresented through a range of the most appalling inaccuracies of any book I’ve read, and that includes a whole list from the Heathrow School of Management. Why on earth Bower, or the publishers, didn’t get one or two people who know a bit about F1 to check over the manuscript is beyond me. Aside from the clumsy interpretation of the technical side of F1, the book is littered with basic factual errors – I’m sure it came as a surprise to Ferrari to learn that they lost Philip Morris’s Marlboro sponsorship in 2007, particularly as they still appear to be enjoying around $100million per annum to this day.
However if you can get past the irritation of a poorly researched manuscript, there are some really good little stories and quotes in here, most of which bring out the intellect and humour of someone who is often greatly maligned in the media. My favourite piece was when Bernie had been asked to provide his first CEO’s report for CVC’s board meeting in Jersey, CVC having just paid $2.5billion for the commercial rights business of Formula 1. ‘Can I send it to you?’ He asked. ‘Yes’, came the reply. A one page fax was then received with the words: ‘There is nothing special to report.’ Priceless.