Sex, one suspects, loses something of its spontaneity when it requires not two people but six, and, instead of loving caresses, needs £2,500, the synchronised appearance of five unshockable women, the rent of a riverside apartment, some chains, a birch cane, notebook and pen, torture bench, leather strap, an old Luftwaffe jacket, sundry other costumes, a quantity of high-heeled shoes, a German-speaker, razor, bandages, ointment, and, afterwards, a pot of tea for the glowing participants.
Such, however, are the sexual requirements of Max Rufus Mosley. And we now know – thanks to the wonders that have been revealed in Court 13 of the Royal Courts of Justice last week – that variations on such S&M themes have been his bag for fully 45 years. In all this time, he managed to keep these elaborate soirées secret – from his friends, colleagues, but, most of all, from his wife. Never once, it seems, did Joan take a look at the Mosley derrière of an evening, and wonder why it had that "I've just been to see the headmaster" look.
Until, that is, the appearance of the News of the World on 30 March. There, on pages 1, 4, and 5, was her husband exposed, in the paper's uncompromising words, "as a secret sado-masochist sex pervert". And, said the paper, that was only the half of it. The setting for his S&M session was a "Nazi-style orgy", where, it was claimed, he "barks ORDERS in GERMAN as he lashes girls wearing mock DEATH CAMP uniforms ... and plays a concentration camp commandant in a FIVE-HOUR torture chamber video". For the boss of Grand Prix motor racing – son of Sir Oswald Mosley, founder of the British Union of Fascists – it could hardly have been more damaging had it involved the local Girl Guides.
Despite his denials that there was any Nazi theme to the sexual proceedings, a whole globe of condemnation descended. Soon, he was persona very non grata from Bahrain to Monaco, and his job was in jeopardy. More painful to Mr Mosley was the impact on his unwitting family and wife. "That headline in the newspaper was completely, totally devastating for her," he told the court, "and there is nothing I can say that can ever repair that."
A legal action for breach of privacy was therefore served on the News of the World's owners, and events set in train that led to Court 13 in the Strand last Monday. At stake were the issues of a person's right to privacy, the freedom to publish, the fluctuating meaning of the "public interest" (the paper's defence for the story), and also something which has meant a great deal to many male members of this country's establishment: the right to get smacked on the botty.
Flagellation has a long and almost entirely comical history here. Much of the British Museum's erotica collection consists of works written in its literary heyday of the mid-Victorian era. Former public schoolboys drooled over Birch in the Boudoir and The Whippingham Papers, and the doings of Lady Harriet Tickletail. If they wanted to do more than read, they could repair to Mary Jeffries' flagellation house at Rose Cottage, Hampstead, or Mrs Theresa Berkley's establishment at 28 Charlotte Street.
Today, our research speedily located Lady Nina Birch, Mistress Lubyanka, and Miss Beltem, Headmistress of Beltems Academy, Glasgow – all found on one of many websites (such as spankeefinder.org.uk) catering to what is clearly a popular pastime. Mr Mosley is not alone. Many another captain of industry, peer, and judge has a similar secret, from time to time meeting with some Midlands divorcee who pretends, in her M&S stilettos and flea-market basque, to be matron, or some unforgiving gothic harpie. Off will come the pin-stripe, over bend the figure of authority, who, in a pip-squeak voice, says sorry for not doing his homework, before taking his schoolboy punishment like a man. It may be undignified (which, perhaps, is its point); it may be open to those with more money than sense (£125 an hour for even the most dowdy whip-wielder), but, as Mr Mosley told the court, it is "a perfectly harmless activity provided it is between consenting adults who want to do it, are of sound mind, and it is in private".
That is not how the NoW saw his particular swishings. Its stories were based on a video secretly shot by one of the women participants, who would later be known as "Witness E". In it, said the paper, Mr Mosley – who footed the £2,500 bill for the occasion – is seen being told to undress, has his head and groin inspected "to see if they have been keeping you clean at the other facility", and is ordered to lie face down before being birched 21 times. It left him, according to the paper, "whimpering", and gasping for breath. Before leaving the room, he says, "Thank you, mistress." In Act Two, he reappears as a fully dressed sadist, speaking in German with a woman in a Luftwaffe jacket, and beating two women who wore what the paper called "striped concentration camp-style uniforms". The story went on: "With a Nazi swagger, he counts each stroke in German before having sex with his 'victim'." Further shenanigans, involving a sex toy and a "lesbian act" ensue, before the five-hour session ends with drinks all round.
Come the case, and four of the women – known as A, B, C, and D – said they were shocked – shocked, I tell you – by the paper's suggestion that their "party" had a Nazi theme. Au contraire, it was merely a "prison fantasy". D said: "No Nazi images, uniforms or material were used." She, a PhD student, is something of a specialist in these matters, advertising on her website uniform options including adult schoolgirl, naughty nurse, British Army and Navy uniforms, and, for sports enthusiasts, tennis. It was, she explained, her particular fancy to be held prisoner and interrogated in a language she didn't understand, hence the use of German that fateful day.
B, the wearer of the Luftwaffe jacket (below which she sported suspender belt, stockings, and black patent leather high-heeled shoes), turned out to be the obliging German speaker, a language chosen because it was "guttural and sexy". She took umbrage at the idea of any Nazi tinge to events in the flat. "It is an insult and offence if a newspaper equates German with being Nazi," she said. Witness A, the party organiser, was equally adamant in her denials, as was Mr Mosley. "Had I wanted a Nazi scene," he said, "I would have said I wanted one and A would have got some of the inexpensive Nazi stuff from the joke shop and would not have gone to Marks & Spencer and got quite expensive jackets." So, this was not just any old prison-themed orgy; it was a fully tailored, machine-washable M&S orgy.
The Nazi claims stung Mr Mosley on a very sensitive part of his psyche, his parentage. His fascist party-founding father, a great striker of poses and wearer of uniforms, seems rather preposterous now, but at the time was less comical, especially when mustering his black-shirted and anti-Semitic followers in a Jewish quarter of the East End. His wedding to Nazi-worshipping Diana Mitford had Adolf Hitler among the guests and was held at the home of Josef Goebbels. Five years later, Max was born. Few people have had to live down more notorious parents. "All my life," he told the court, "I have had hanging over me my antecedents, and the last thing I want to do in some sexual context is be reminded of it."
The longer the case went on, the more nervous the News of the World camp seemed to grow about its claim of a Nazi concentration camp theme. Especially telling was the appearance on the stand of the paper's editor, Colin Myler. Mosley's advocate, James Price QC, showed 93 different stills from the video and, in each case, asked Mr Myler if there was anything Nazi about them. In all but a handful, Mr Myler had to concede there was not. Upon what, then, was based the editor's opinion that this was a Nazi scenario? His general knowledge of history, he told the court.
This was a dangerous answer. Anyone who has viewed highlights of the video (and 3.5 million have) can see that the women said to be wearing "concentration camp uniforms" (vertically striped, pyjama-like garments) were clearly sporting costumes with wide, horizontal stripes. They resembled nothing so much as Queens Park Rangers footballers. Mr Myler's confession that he had not had the German translated, nor watched much more than "brief snippets" before publication, caused more coughing and shuffling of feet on the News International side. Reporter Neville Thurlbeck was more bullish, insisting that "you might argue it was a German theme ... It certainly wasn't Hansel and Gretel".
Then, on Thursday, a "sensation in court". Mark Warby QC, for the paper, rose to say that Witness E, the woman who had made the clandestine video, was paid £12,000 for her trouble, and who was expected to be the defence's star witness, would not be appearing. A professional and dungeon-hardened dominatrix, her "emotional and mental state is such that it would not be fair or reasonable to call her to give evidence". It was, added Mr Warby, "a most regrettable situation to have arrived at". Indeed. Adjournment followed, leaving the lawyers' closing speeches and Mr Justice David Eady's judgment for this week.
Max Mosley may well walk from Court 13 the victor, whether or not he gets the punitive damages he has asked for, but he will never live down what the News of the World revealed about his desires and the convoluted tableaux needed to satisfy them. He may still run a multibillion-pound business, sit at boardroom tables and travel first class, but, whenever anyone looks at him, they will have the option of seeing not a millionaire boss in a tailored suit but a naked old man bent cringing over a bench while he has his bottom spanked.
There are some who say this is how it should be, and that the case has added immeasurably to the gaiety of the nation. But, as the laughter dies away, you can't help but wonder if our cackling amusement is justification enough for invading the private, if comical, life of Max "Spanker" Mosley.
Behind the headlines: What the court didn't hear
There are two curious sub-plots to the Mosley privacy case, neither aired in court. Before the 'News of the World' story was published, Mr Mosley says he was warned by two sources that his private life was being investigated by "a group specialising in such things, for reasons and clients as yet unknown". The implication was that this was being done by rivals in the world of motorsport. Was there any link between these investigations and the 'News of the World' story? Second, there is something that came to light during inquiries by Quest – former Met Police chief Lord Stevens's security firm – which had been asked by the FIA, the organisation Mr Mosley heads, to investigate. After it tailed the husband of one of the women hired by Mr Mosley for his S&M sessions, it found he was an MI5 officer. MI5 learnt of his connection to prostitution and he was forced to resign. It was allegedly his wife who filmed Mr Mosley's "orgy" for the newspaper.Reuse content