With her £1 million bathtub and 100 (and counting) pairs of shoes, Tamara Ecclestone seems to want for nothing – well, nothing except the love of an honest man. Nigel Farndale meets an heiress in search of her happy-ever-after.
Before I meet Tamara Ecclestone, I meet her dog, a small and, as it turns out, territorial long-haired chihuahua.
He has tracked me down to her upstairs sitting-room in Chelsea and is yapping at me in a determined yet unintimidating fashion.
I am waiting here while Ecclestone is downstairs finishing our photo-shoot. There are jars of sweets and novels on the shelves that are decidedly more chick than lit: Louise Bagshawe, Jodi Picoult and so on.
On the coffee table are piles of Hello! magazine and Grazia. And taking up the whole of one wall, more or less, is a giant television.
All this evidence of an unserious life is fair enough, because she is only 28, and she did drop out of university, twice.
There are also dozens of framed photographs, mostly of Tamara with her mother, Slavica, and sister, Petra; Tamara with her father, Bernie Ecclestone, the Formula One mogul; and Tamara with her boyfriend, a stockbroker called Omar (I know, I know, he’s not her boyfriend anymore. But the first part of this interview happens before all that business with him).
Some are just of Tamara – which may or may not be odd, I can’t decide. After all, she does do a bit of modelling – push-up bras mostly – so perhaps such apparent vanity is not so unusual.
A swimming-pool runs along one side of the room separated by a glass wall, which, compared with the £1 million crystal bath and the bowling alley she is having installed in her new £45 million house in Kensington Palace Gardens, doesn’t seem so decadent.
When I head downstairs past some of her art collection – which includes pieces by Sam Taylor-Wood, Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst – I find her in a long room next to her cinema.
She is wearing jeans, has a Chelsea blow-dry and is friendly, polite and open. She is also slightly breathless and punctuates her sentences with a short clipped laugh, which could indicate a certain nervousness.
She has that Sloaney ‘like, totally’ way of talking and she raises her intonation at the end of statements to make them sound like questions? She is a little insecure, I find myself suspecting.
Her father wasn’t wild about her reality show, Billion $$ Girl, on Channel 5 last year. At one point our heroine was rushed to hospital because she had a pimple.
Was that self-parody? ‘People don’t get my sense of humour. I knew it wasn’t a medical emergency, but the flip side of that is that I had bad skin growing up, and when one surfaces I’m, like, s—!
‘There was a time in my life where I didn’t even want to look at people because, like, I’d think that was all they could see. I didn’t feel confident and that’s not a nice feeling.’
None the less, ‘[My father] told me that I would never change people’s perceptions of me. Somewhat annoyingly, he knew best. At the end of the day I’m not a bad person; I don’t hurt anyone. It didn’t reflect my personality.’
Talk me through this personality then, I say. How would she describe herself?
‘I think I’m a very loyal friend, I think I’m honest and down to earth, I’m very true to my star sign because I’m a Cancerian and I’m a home bod. My sister would say I’m a feeder because I like cooking for people. Sometimes I couldn’t be happier than with a Chinese in front of The X Factor.’
When I ask her if she enjoys being photographed she says, ‘I do enjoy it, but I am impatient with all the hair and make-up. I’m the sort of person who takes a camera to dinner or a nightclub because I enjoy taking pictures of people. I tweet all my pictures, which is bad.’
Is she relaxed about others tweeting photographs of her? ‘It is bizarre when it happens, like when we were on holiday in the Maldives and these photos appeared online of me on the beach bending over in my bikini. You feel a bit violated.’
She doesn’t seem to mind being photographed in her underwear for modelling assignments, though. ‘Well, when I pose for those I’ve always been on a diet and in the gym. And you are in control of those pictures. You can say, “Stop, I don’t feel comfortable with that.”’
Well, at least there hasn’t been a sex tape of her going viral on the internet, à la Kim Kardashian or Paris Hilton.
‘No. There will be no sex tape,’ she says. ‘I don’t think it could happen to me because I trust the people I am with. I trust my boyfriend implicitly. If you are famous you must take extra precautions and not put yourself in a situation.’
A few days after my interview Tamara Ecclestone is summoned to her father’s office where he shows her a video of her boyfriend in a ‘sordid sex act’.
Omar maintains that it was a one-off event at a stag do before they knew each other but Ecclestone insists she can see the two £30,000 Cartier love bangles she’d bought him on his wrist.
She breaks up with him. Tweets about how she has broken up with him. Changes the locks on their gated house in Chelsea. Heads off to LA to stay with her sister, Petra.
I’m sorry to hear about Omar, I say when I call her.
‘It was a really grim time. I’ve been mortified for my parents. They were both there and we looked on a laptop. I think it was better to find out now rather than a few years down the road when we had children.’
A lucky escape. ‘I suppose. I spent three and half years with someone and feel like I hardly knew him at all.’
At our original meeting she said, ‘If you burn me once, that’s it. I don’t believe in going back and giving people second chances, because I put so much into my relationship and friendships.’
Her first boyfriend sold a story to the papers when she was 17. Has all this left her cynical about men?
‘I still believe there is someone out there. I do believe in happy-ever-after.’
So she’s a romantic? ‘Yes, even with my parents divorced, they were so happy for many years, and my sister recently got married and had a beautiful wedding, so I do believe in happy-ever-after.’
She has a number of dogs. In her reality show she took them to be pampered at Harrods. Is it true the new house will have a dog spa?
‘No, and they haven’t been back to Harrods since. They were so unruly.’
But, she says, ‘they don’t require much in return for their love, apart from a bit of chicken.’ Pause. ‘I need to cut Duke’s balls off [he’s the chihuahua I met]. But you can now get fake balls for dogs, cosmetic ones, so I’m going to get him those so he doesn’t feel emasculated.’
So now that she no longer goes to the dog spa, what does her typical day entail?
‘Since January a lot of my time has been spent organising the Great Ormond Street party that has just been. And I’m launching my hair care [range] in November. So it’s charity and hair care this year.’
And there’s her website, tamaragivesback.com, on which she auctions three items of clothing for Great Ormond Street every 10 days. She seems to have a lot of spare stuff. ‘Girls love to shop!’
Indeed. How many shoes are we on at the moment? ‘I don’t know, over a hundred, I guess, which is absurd, according to my mum.’
Does she get tired of being labelled an heiress first, I say, rather than a charity organiser or a model.
‘Yes, and it really bothered me for the longest time. I wanted to change it and be my own person but now I’m OK with it. I could be lying around doing nothing all day but that’s not me.
‘For a while I was, like, “Why do people always want to judge me and put me in a box?” But I’m over that.’
Presumably she is talking about the time an Australian politician called her ‘pointless and stupid’ (he was lashing out about the cost to taxpayers of the Melbourne Grand Prix).
‘Yeah, that was bizarre. He used this word I’d never heard before, “bogan”. What’s a bogan? That seemed a low blow and really unnecessary. Why the hell was he watching my show?’
She got good A-levels and a place at university, but then, well, ‘I dropped out because I never really wanted to go anyway. I did a year reading psychology at UCL but it was all about statistics, which I didn’t like.
‘My parents said I couldn’t bum around so I went to work at Armani and then I started a social policy and sociology degree at the LSE, but I was, like, so desperate to leave. I did a year at both.’
Hmm, psychology. Has she ever been to a therapist?
‘Yes, when my parents got divorced, but it wasn’t for me. They didn’t say anything; they just listened.’
That’s what they are supposed to do! ‘Yes, but I could have been talking to one of my dogs and saving myself the money. I’m a talker. I talk to everyone. But I wanted answers. I could find the answers myself in the bath, or running round the park.’
She wouldn’t describe herself as contemplative, then? ‘Sometimes it’s best not to be. Sometimes it’s good not to over-think things.’
It has been reported that her father is worth about £2.5 billion. Is that about right? ‘I don’t know. I don’t think so.’ So is it more or less? ‘I don’t know. I don’t really like talking about money.’
Is she a reader? ‘I’ve just finished reading the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy.’
Shame on her! ‘I know, but it was great. I don’t know what to do with myself now. It made my life sound so dull. I thought: really? This is what other people’s relationships are like?’
And as to her own happy-ever-after? You wouldn’t imagine that a lingerie model who drives a Ferrari, is smart enough to be offered a place at the LSE and lives in a house worth £45 million would struggle to find a new suitor.
But perhaps that is me being cynical. Ecclestone seems to have a kind and guileless nature and is surprisingly unaffected by her wealth, all things considered.
And just because you are rich it doesn’t mean you can’t get hurt. I hope she does find the right man and live happily ever after, like one of the heroines in those novels she likes to read.