Editor-At-Large: Three kinds of sorry, and I know which one I trust

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The Independent Online

Formula One racing is not really my kind of sport, but I can see why it attracts millions of fans. Its very existence is a kind of two-fingered salute to the green lobby, and the combination of macho men and glamorous women a jolly reminder of a previous, less politically correct era when having fun was so much simpler. Today's German Grand Prix will have fewer viewers than usual, however, because of remarks made by one of the two unpleasant men who run the sport.

We all know that Max Mosley (who is to step down as president of the Formula One Association next year) likes S and M orgies, in which he is abused by highly paid women dressed up in uniforms who speak to him in German and knock him about a bit. He won considerable damages from the News of the World when they printed this (claiming it was a gross intrusion into his private life). Which brings me to Mr Mosley's repellent sidekick, the diminutive Bernie Ecclestone.

I realised that things were a bit rum in Bernie-world when his loyal wife (who did her own housework and rarely saw her work-obsessed hubbie) walked out last November, saying she was filing for divorce. Funnily enough, Bernie seemed to think all was hunky-dory in their marriage. Now the statuesque Slavica is on course for one of the largest divorce payouts ever.

Maybe because he's a lonely bachelor these days, Bernie has well and truly put his foot in it. Last week he claimed to admire Hitler for "getting things done" and said that Max Mosley "would do a super job" of running Britain. As the furore erupted on all fronts, leading German politicians condemned Ecclestone and refused to meet him to discuss building another F1 racing track in Hockenheim. So what has Bernie done to rectify matters? Given an interview to The Jewish Chronicle, saying, "I'm sorry – I was an idiot.... I sincerely, genuinely apologise".

Now there are three kinds of sorry in my book. The blatantly self-serving insincere (which politicians excel at), the heart-felt variety, and the unspoken kind, which you just have to take on trust. Ecclestone can go on saying sorry for ever, as far as I'm concerned, and it would mean nothing. He is a bigoted, arrogant fool, and getting his PR man to sort out a couple of grovelling articles and a chat with The Jewish Chronicle cuts no ice. He had the cheek to add, "I have done an awful lot for the Jewish community though charities", as if writing a few big cheques wipes the slate clean.

Sometimes people say sorry and we have to search pretty deep in our hearts to accept that they mean it. Last week David Cameron was criticised for talking to Garri Holness at the unveiling ceremony for the memorial to the 7 July bombing victims. Holness lost a leg in the attacks and was awarded more than £100,000 in compensation. After he had taken an active role fighting for compensation for the survivors of the bombing, it emerged that he had been part of a gang that had raped two 16-year-old girls in 1985, for which he had received a seven-year prison sentence. His two victims received just £7,000 each. Holness has said time and time again that he is sorry and has moved on, and we have to find the compassion to believe and forgive him. We can't get worked up every time he meets a prominent figure or is seen in public. He has served his sentence and must be left to get on with his life.

The third kind of sorry – the kind that remains unspoken – must surely apply to Ronnie Biggs. I can't see what is served by making a sick old man die in jail, at considerable cost to the taxpayer, so that Jack Straw can score a cheap political point. Just because Ronnie hasn't actually written SORRY in block capitals, doesn't mean that we should continue to think the worse of him. Let's just be grown-up and assume Biggs regrets his actions. I am not sure the same could be said of Bernie Ecclestone.

Top see: An opera where everything is fresh, even the audience

Manchester is a hot spot culturally at the moment. On Friday night, Rufus Wainwright chose the city for the world premiere of his first opera, Prima Donna. Not only did this multi-talented musician compose the score, he also co-wrote the libretto, in French. Commissioned by the Manchester International Festival and produced with the excellent support of Opera North, this was an ambitious undertaking by any standards. And it can't have been easy to find a first-rate soprano willing to take the leading role of a washed-up superstar who can't sing the way she used to. Janis Kelly does a great job. It's a thoroughly engrossing piece of work, with some really moving moments, and, most importantly, it attracted a new audience into the Palace Theatre to sample opera for the first time. Let's hope it does the same when it comes to Sadler's Wells in London in the autumn. Meanwhile, there's the highly entertaining prospect of seeing the reality TV star and former glamour model Abi Titmuss make her debut in a new work entitled Gutter Press, The Opera, which will be performed in the opera festival at the Riverside Studios in west London next month. The company is called Rat Pack Productions, and it has subtitled the piece A Kick up the Aria... Makes a refreshing change to dreary reruns of Madam Butterfly.

Poor show from the First Wives

Another summit meeting and another chance for the First Wives Club to tour something totally uncontroversial and wear an outfit that will be picked over by the fashion police. This time they toured the areas of L'Aquila most affected by the earthquake, but were not allowed to meet or interact with another group of women who call themselves The Last Ladies – some of the tens of thousands of local residents who are still forced to live in tents three months after the disaster. Carla Bruni, who seems to think herself above these group activities, didn't turn up in time for the tour, opting for a private one a day later. While the world's leaders slept in swanky linen sheets supplied by Berlusconi and feasted on food prepared by his personal chefs, ordinary residents of this city were having a pretty grim time, and the First Wives Club should have insisted on meeting them, instead of inspecting a few historical ruins from a safe distance.

Free speech is stifled again

It's hard to believe that a hard-working woman can lose her job for having the temerity to insult Hazel Blears, a task many of us would think praiseworthy, but that's what happened to Lisa Greenwood from Widnes in Cheshire. Lisa was a civil servant working for the Department of Children, Schools and Families in Runcorn. One day she was checking the spelling of Blears' name on the internet when she saw an image of Blears flashing that £13,000 cheque she said was to pay back capital gains tax she'd avoided by "flipping" her homes. Outraged, as this was just £3,000 less than she earnt in a year, Lisa sent a disgusted email to Blears' official website. When she sent it from her Hotmail account it bounced back, so she used her work email. Now the thought police have called her in and sacked her. Well done, everyone. You've proved once again that there's no place for free speech in the totalitarian world of New Labour. Lisa, sadly, wasn't on-message.

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