Tamara Ecclestone: 'Dad wants me to enjoy my money'
The billionaire daughter of Bernie talks to Deborah Ross about Ferraris, doggy facials and the perfect stocking fillers
Tamara Ecclestone, daughter of Formula 1 supremo Bernie, is one of the wealthiest people on the planet, and she is in for a special treat today. Today, I am taking her Christmas shopping to my local north London stamping ground, Wood Green, known locally as 'Hood Green' for all the prowling hoodies and their dogs called Killer or Tyson or Razor or Asbo. Today, I'll be showing the '1 per cent' how the other '99 per cent' live. No, no. Don't thank me. Glad to be of service. And it'll be fun, I tell her, because I am a liar. We'll do Primark. We'll do Poundland and Poundworld and Poundstretcher because if you give Wood Green a pound, it will build a land round it, or a world, or will stretch it. And we'll do TK Maxx which can be overwhelming for first-timers – this is the truth, as it happens – but stick with me, and I'll see you through it and if you are well-behaved and don't whine I will let you off early and buy you a pie from Greggs.
Have you ever been to, say, Primark, by the way? "Yeah, I've been to Primark," Tamara says, "because I went on a school camping trip when I was 12 and my mum wanted me to have a whole new wardrobe." So it didn't matter if it got ruined? "Basically." So it was all chucked out on your return? "No, my mum's not into throwing anything out. She washed it all and I probably played sports in it or something, or she gave them away. She's so into recycling and always says, 'Just because you don't want something doesn't mean someone else won't wear it'." Tamara is similarly-minded and is currently auctioning off some of the dresses she no longer wears in aid of Great Ormond Street Hospital via tamaragivesback.com. If she has a charitable philosophy I suppose it could be summed up as: 'Let them eat Balmain!' or 'Let them eat my fuchsia-pink Hervé Léger bandage dress!'. I don't think I'm sticking my neck out when I say she may well be the Marie Antoinette of our age.
On the appointed day I travel across London to pick her up at her west London home. I think I put myself to the extra trouble so she doesn't do a runner. I am worldly enough to know that the prospect of a Greggs' pie doesn't do it for everyone. She lives in £4 million gated house in Chelsea with her boyfriend, Omar Khyami, a stockbroker, although next year they'll be moving to a £45 million pound mansion in Kensington Palace Gardens which is currently undergoing a £10 million renovation, or a £15 million renovation, or a £20 million renovation, depending on what you read. I have seen some of her Channel 5 reality show, Billion $$ Girl, and can tell you the new 55-roomed house will have a bowling alley and a cinema and a nightclub and a swimming pool and a fully operational beauty salon and a dog spa and an illuminated bath carved from Amazonian crystal. "Will it be unique?" I ask, not knowing what else to ask about an illuminated Amazonian crystal bath. "There is one for sale in Harrods," she says, "but no one has bought it yet, unsurprisingly." How so? "In Harrods it's a million pounds but in my house it's going to be half that. It's amazing what Harrods charge!" I think she is an honest girl and possibly a sweet girl but the trouble with the super-rich is that have no idea how they sound to the non-super-rich. It's as if their brains are wired differently.
Anyway, here we are at her Chelsea place, with the Land Rover outside, and the red Ferrari, plus a turntable so she never has to reverse into the street, which may be common. (Is reversing into the street common? I do it all the time and had no idea!) She later says she rarely drives the Ferrari because it attracts too much attention. I say a Nissan Micra is excellent, if you just need a decent runabout. "Thanks for the tip," she says. I wanted to have a snoop around here. I wanted to see the swimming pool and the art (Sam Taylor-Wood, Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst) and her Louboutins and her collection of Hermès Birkin handbags, which she appears to buy by the lorry-load, and which are housed in an especially-designed closet but, alas, she is ready to go, and has already had her hair and make-up done. She uses the same hair and make-up person as Katie Price, which seems a pity, as she is obviously extremely pretty under there, somewhere, and her eyes are absolutely beautiful. "They're my dad's," she says. I say I once read that daughters are always shorter than their fathers, but that does not appear to be true in your instance. "No, definitely not true," she says. Thank God, I say. "Yes!" she says. I always think your dad looks like a squashed Andy Warhol, I add. Thankfully, she laughs and says: "He does, he does!" She then says she also has the same hair as her dad. Come on! I say. I'd kill for your hair. It's fabulous hair. Your dad's hair is rubbish. She says: "My hair is naturally really thin and dead straight, with no movement." Doesn't look it. "I get a lot of help!" She adds. "My mum used to always say to me: 'You've got your dad's hair' and I was, like, 'Don't say that! You're traumatising me!'."
We hop into the waiting cab. We are chaperoned. Tamara's publicist, Steph, is with us, as is Lucy, her "personal stylist". Lucy later proves useful carrying Tamara's shopping bags. "I wish I had a Lucy," I say to Lucy later, and she says sorry, "but Tamara keeps me very busy!". Tamara, who is 27, is wearing a jumper from Wild Fox Couture and Louis Vuitton boots and is carrying a Hermès Birkin (graphite). She is absolutely game and is looking forward to Wood Green (oh dear) but has a lifeless quality, perhaps because she's bored of answering questions about her money, even though it may be the most fascinating thing about her. I am certainly fascinated. What is it like to know you can buy anything? What kind of number does that play on your psyche? Is there anything you want that you don't have? "A Birkin Himalayan handbag," she replies. "Victoria Beckham is the only person I know that has one. I would die for that bag." Why? "Because no one has it. It's the Holy Grail." It's just another handbag, I say, before I can stop myself. She says I'm like her dad. "He's like: 'Do you actually need more than one handbag? You just put stuff in it, does it really matter?' I'm like, 'Of course it matters!'."
Wired differently, like I said, with no sense why the 99 per cent might find her infuriating. I think she hoped Billion $$ Girl would present her as a serious businesswoman – she wants to launch her own shampoo range for hair like hers – rather than a socialite whose sole purpose is spending daddy's cash, but in the opener she says, "I am misunderstood" and "People see me as a pointless, really spoilt, empty human being", while a hairdresser is titivating her hair and a beautician is massaging her feet and various faceless staff are darting hither and thither picking up her dogs' poo. (Perhaps they are "toileting stylists"?) I prayed for her and tried to communicate telepathically that the best way to prove you aren't pointless and spoilt and empty isn't by ordering a £50,000 bottle of champagne or hiring a £300,000-a-week yacht or buying yet more Melissa Odabash bikinis even though you already have drawer-fulls of Melissa Odabash bikinis or taking the dogs (she has five, including a British bulldog called Alvin) to the Harrods pet spa so they can experience blueberry facials, but my prayers failed, and my telepathy has never been up to much. Do you think dogs like facials? "Alvin loved it!" she exclaims.
Tamara is bright enough on paper. She has four As at A-level. She tried university twice. She went to University College London, and then the London School of Economics, but dropped out of both. Why couldn't you stick it? "I was going to lectures and then coming home and having lunch with my mum, so I don't think I was really getting the university experience in any way."
What is your father like, I ask. "Really smart, very pragmatic, very practical, think with your head not your heart, addicted to work. He's a problem-solver." Affectionate? "Yeah, he definitely did show me and my sister affection but not in the same way that my mum did. My mum is Croatian and obviously she's female and she's very emotional, very hot-blooded, very touchy-feely, whereas I think my dad's quite British." Her mother, Slavica, a former model, was married to Bernie for 23 years until their divorce in 2009. Bernie's father was a trawlerman. Slavica's mother sold fruit and veg. Didn't they ever say to you: Enough, already, Tamara, duck, go get a job? "They definitely don't want me to ever worry about my money and they definitely want me to enjoy it and my dad's like: 'Of course, I worked hard for you to have a completely different life than I had and I don't want you to struggle' but at the same time, my mum does come into my dressing room and she's like: 'This is crazy!'." She then says she has had proper work. She has interviewed F1 drivers for TV and also did a spell at F1 Racing magazine, although I couldn't tell you if there were other candidates for these particular jobs. She hated F1 Racing. "I think a lot of people there wanted to prove a point." How? "Just by making me do things that probably weren't my job, like get dry cleaning and make tea." That is what first jobs are like, I say. "It was a learning experience," she says. So will today be, I say. "Every day's a school day," she sighs.
We are approaching Wood Green Shopping City and I, at least, get quite animated. I give her the full spiel. That's JD Sports, I say, and that's Poundland and that's a bus. "I know what a bus is!" she protests. Do you ever use public transport, I ask. She can't, she says, because she suffers from claustrophobia and would get an anxiety attack. "I once got stuck on the Tube, and oh my God!"
She is going with Omar to the Maldives for Christmas. She loves the Maldives. "I'll get a chance to go to the spa, eat yummy food and just feel really rested and chilled." More Odabash bikinis? "Yes!" How many? "Three or four." You don't think you have enough bikinis already? "I definitely realise I have enough bikinis and I don't think I particularly need any new ones but they were so lovely, I couldn't say no. My boyfriend thinks it's crazy that I wear a different bikini every day on holiday. He recycles his trunks and I'm like, 'No, no, I can't be doing that!'." She is ahead with her Christmas shopping. She has bought her father "some art" and her mother "clothes and a handbag because she never buys anything for herself" and Omar a personalised number plate for the new car he is buying next year – "a Lamborghini, he has wanted one for ages" – and she has bought Petra, her younger sister, a handbag "although I haven't finished her yet". Petra married last May, had a £12 million wedding at a medieval castle outside Rome, and now lives in a Beverly Hills mansion which has so many rooms one is used solely for wrapping presents. (I have just rung my own dad to chastise him for not buying me a similar starter home but he said what he always says: "Do you want to talk to your mother? She's right here".)
We tip out the cab at Shopping City, the indoor mall that always smells of something, and today smells of BO and warmed meat products. "Nice," I say. "Nice," says Tamara. She adds she is hungry. We go to Burger King, where we sit at Formica tables under harsh strip lighting. She orders a sausage roll, eats the patty, leaves the bread. I think it may be an Atkins thing. A down-and-out visits our table. "Morning beautiful girls," he says. "Thank you, kind sir," I say. He gives some sob story, so Tamara hands him a crisp £20 note. He nearly faints with happiness. That was generous, I say. "I can't not give money to people," she says. Can I have some, then? She says Omar is more generous than she is. "He gives out £50 notes." (That'll do!) She's been seeing Omar for nearly two years and I wonder, is he good around the house? No, she says. "He made me a cup of tea for the first time in our relationship this weekend because I was ill and he called me from the kitchen on my mobile phone to ask me how to turn the kettle on!" She says his least favourite chore is emptying the dishwasher. Doesn't your housekeeper do that? "She doesn't work weekends," she says. You can't use the same plate over and over all weekend? That's what I'd do, if my housekeeper took the weekends off. She does not look impressed by this tip, even though it's a good one, up there with the Nissan Micra.
We start in TK Maxx. "It is overwhelming," she announces at the threshold. I say, don't whizz through the rails too fast or all the polyester will make your hair stand on end. She wanders around in her rather listless way. We are not big on super-grooming in Wood Green and some people do stop to stare. She is like some kind of exotic bird who has landed among pigeons. She says she is looking for stocking fillers for Omar whose stocking must come in at less than £100. Per item, or all of it? "The whole stocking, so I do have to put serious thought into it." Indeed. I see some SuperDry hoodies at less than half the retail price. I'm so thrilled, I all but hyperventilate. "Tamara," I say, "it would be an excellent purchase", but I fail to arouse her interest. Lucy finds some kind of Liverpool FC inflatable bed which, she says, "you must buy for Omar". She purchases it. We then move to Primark, where she buys him a Santa sweater and leopard-print underpants of the kind that are commonly known as "budgie smugglers". These are joke gifts but I wonder if she realises that for most people this kind of shopping isn't a joke. I put it to her straight: do you have any empathy for people who struggle on what they earn? "Yeah," she says, "because both my parents had that kind of life. Obviously, it's not my life and it's not my reality but, of course, there are so many people..." her voice tails off. Don't you ever, I continue, get bored of your reality? Don't you get bored of going to Cipriani for dinner? She says that she doesn't do Cipriani every night. "I might order a Chinese or Indian takeaway or go to the Hard Rock Café for a burger. Yum." Alas, after Primark, we have to call it a day because, as Steph says, "I think Tamara is about to expire". I say that's a shame as we've yet to have a Greggs pie and I wanted to take her to the market where you can buy anything you like so long as it's made from unnatural fibres. Perhaps next week? "Sure," lies Tamara. I hug her goodbye. She has been a sport. She is what she is through accident of birth, and there you have it. And once she's departed, I sneak back and buy that SuperDry hoodie. So I got something useful out of the morning, at least.
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