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.


James Blunt

It could be the homes around the world; his military bearing; or that he’s our biggest musical export since Elton. For whatever reason, being called annoying, a philanderer or – worse – middle class doesn’t exactly keep James Hillier Blount awake at night. Nigel Farndale met him

It’s not the sight of the groupies that haunts me, but the sound, or rather the absence of sound, as they ghost past us on their way up the stairs to the dressing-room. It takes me a moment to figure out that the reason they aren’t talking to each other is that they don’t know each other. One of the band members, the keyboard player, I think, has picked them from the audience on the basis of their looks. Half-a-dozen of them, all in their late teens and early twenties, and all, surprisingly, in pretty frocks, as if they were going to a Sunday school meeting. They have been separated from their friends like lambs weaned from their mothers. The silence of the lambs.

The ‘us’ they are filing past is James Blunt and me. He has a bottle of beer in one hand, a cigarette in the other, and not a hair in place – tousled just so, like a Renaissance painting of John the Baptist – but they don’t realise it’s him because he has changed out of the suit he was wearing on stage and is now in jeans, T-shirt and leather jacket, as well as a pink feather boa and star-shaped novelty sunglasses. But I’m getting ahead of myself. This is the end of the day; we need to go back to the start, well, to the middle, when the seats are empty and the Texan sun is at its most unforgiving.

A barefoot and unshaven Blunt is wearing normal sunglasses and shorts as he plays his piano, strums his guitar and sings his plaintive songs into the microphone for the sound check, all the while looking out with his soulful eyes over an empty, open-air arena in Houston. At 5ft 7in, he’s not a tall man, but he has presence and an unaffected manner – a certain maturity, too, one that you wouldn’t normally associate with a pop star in the ascendant.

But then he is 34 and this is his second career, his first being as an officer in the Household Cavalry. He joined after graduating from Bristol University with a degree in sociology. He became a champion skier for the Army and not only saw active service in Kosovo, but also guarded the Queen Mother’s coffin when she was lying in state.

Tonight he will be supporting Sheryl Crow, though, since his second album ‘All the Lost Souls’ and the single from it, ‘1973’, went straight to number one in America, he is arguably the bigger act these days. Indeed, not since Elton John has there been a more successful British singer-songwriter in the States.

His first album, ‘Back to Bedlam’, also went to number one over here, as it did in 18 other countries, making it the biggest-selling album of the millennium. It even entered the Guinness Book of Records as the fastest-selling album in one year. But it was his first single that really put him on the map. You’re Beautiful became the sound of that summer. It was everywhere, and still is – having become a favourite at weddings, funerals and bar mitzvahs. I even heard a brass band playing it at an agricultural show in the Yorkshire Dales this summer.

As well as millions of sales, James Blunt has won Brit awards, Ivor Novello awards, MTV awards and various Grammy nominations. In terms of credibility, he’s headlined at Glastonbury and won the respect of the world-weary music press. Yet not everyone loves him, as he points out when we get something to eat in the canteen area back stage.

‘After Back to Bedlam really started selling,’ he says, ‘there was this sudden aggression towards me in the UK, for whatever reason, and that focused my mind, made it clear to me what I was doing and why I wanted to do it. I write songs for myself. I don’t write them for you, or for anyone else, I write them because I have experiences that I need to process. I don’t have the answers all the time, but I do have lots of questions, and I express them in the songs I write.’

He is, I think, alluding to a poll last year of ‘the most annoying things in life’, which put him at number four, just behind cold-callers and queue-jumpers. ‘I haven’t met anyone who voted in the poll, have you?’ he says when I mention this. ‘That poll probably came from a website that was after some publicity. You and I could do the same poll very quickly right now and it would count as a poll. We could do one about annoying newspapers, for example. I promise the Sunday Telegraph wouldn’t be in my list. My parents take it.’

His father, a retired colonel in the Army Air Corps, manages his son’s finances. His mother arranged the purchase of his six-bedroom villa in Ibiza (he also has a chalet in Verbier and recently bought a place in Chelsea). ‘I’m not married,’ he says, ‘and so the support structure in my life is my parents. I’m closer to them now than I have ever been.’

He certainly isn’t married, as the photographs of him emerging from nightclubs with various high-profile women on his arm attest. Tara Palmer-Tomkinson was probably the best known socialite, Jessica Sutta, of the Pussycat Dolls, the most glamorous. He also seems to be photographed regularly cavorting on beaches with bikini-clad models such as Petra Nemcova, whom he dated and then dumped – unceremonious dumping being his way of ending relationships, according to the tabloids. He once said he found himself in a swimming pool in LA with nine naked women. ‘I was the only bloke. It was the only time I wished my mates were there, purely to spectate. I had arrived. It was a moment.’

Now he says of the tabloid interest in his peripatetic love life: ‘Last week I went to my home in Ibiza and was photographed by the paparazzi in my swimming trunks with girls. What is the point of that? I’m not that bothered, but maybe the media should be concentrating more on global warming or the Russian invasion of Georgia.

‘Looking at me in my swimming trunks is not a great sight. It’s a waste of time. There generally is a long lens pointing at me wherever I go, these days. I’m comfortable with it. I appreciate how things work. But my record label said something about my always being photographed coming out of nightclubs and I thought, “But this is what I do. I was doing it before the second album came out, so what is different now? You didn’t tell me to stop then.” I’m not going to change my life because of these people. I don’t see why I should.’

His label also gets him to dye his grey hairs and be enigmatic about his love life, which is an old tactic dating back to the Beatles – they had to pretend they didn’t have wives and girlfriends so that fans could fantasise they were in with a chance.

Actually, at the time of going to press, Blunt seems to be going out again with one of his old flames, Verity Evetts, an Oxford-educated barrister. He has also stayed friendly with some of his other exes, the socialites at least. He told one – an ex who got married not long ago – that he doesn’t feel ‘centred’ at the moment and would like to get married as well. Then again, he also said that he never tires of singing You’re Beautiful night after night because it gets him laid night after night.

Either way, he tells me he has grown used to the idea that his mother will probably find out from the papers what he has been up to, and with whom, before he has had a chance to tell her. ‘And my [two] sisters are quick to email me about things in the papers, laughing their heads off. I get healthy, ritual abuse from them, and give it back myself.’

As we are talking, I can’t decide whether the way Blunt smiles all the time is disarming or disturbing. He’s like a victim of a religious cult, smiling at the beginning of the sentence and at the end. I guess he has a lot to smile about, but also I sense a great deal of insecurity to disguise.

Then, I’m distracted by the sight of Sheryl Crow playing table tennis across the room. She has been holding her adopted son in one arm as she bats with the other, and now, even more distractingly, she is heading straight for us. ‘Are we going to have one of our little conversations on stage again tonight, James?’ she says. ‘That flirting thing. I think it worked well last night.’

They discuss the duet they will sing – a cover of Cat Stevens’s The First Cut is the Deepest – then we both watch her shimmy away, her blonde curls bobbing. ‘She’s very down to earth,’ he says. ‘I’d met her a couple of times, which was why she asked me on this tour. We do end up playing a lot of table tennis on the road. We’ve done 117 shows so far this year, in 117 cities, and there are a lot of hours to fill in the day.’

As he sleeps on his tour bus with his band, one city tends to blur into another. When I joke that he is in Cincinnati now, he looks genuinely confused. ‘No, this is?… Oh, right. Actually, I always get the tour manager to say where we are just as I’m going on stage. I still managed to get it wrong the other night, saying “Hello Dallas” when I meant Austin. I’m surprised I got out alive.’

He is funny on the subjects of things that go wrong. ‘People are normally surprised by my show, which is more energetic than you might think. Jumping on the piano. Jumping out into the audience and running up and down the aisle high-fiving them. But going off the stage can be quite dangerous. I broke my finger once. My legs carried on when I jumped off, and I smacked down on the ground. The spotlight was on me, and when I got back to the piano I hit the wrong note and thought, “Why did I do that?” And I looked down and saw it was because my finger was broken, sticking out an angle. Look,’ he says holding it up. ‘It’s still crooked.’

On another occasion, in Chicago, he jumped 8ft off the stage. ‘When I began running to the audience, a security guard stuck his arm out and I thought, “Does he want a hug?” Then next thing I know he’s rugby-tackled me. He wouldn’t release me and I was screaming in his ear, “I’m the f—ing singer.” I had to wait for the other guards to pull him off.’

I would have thought Blunt’s training in unarmed combat would have helped. I presume he still works out. ‘No, never. Couldn’t handle it. Too boring. I am a hyperactive person though.’ He likes an adrenaline rush, as well, having recently bought an 1100cc Moto Guzzi V11 Sport motorbike. There’s also the skiing, which he still does, and the riding. Actually, he tells me, he never really liked horses before joining the Life Guards. So why did he join that particular regiment?

‘Well, it is a reconnaissance regiment.’ But they are all so tall in the Life Guards, did that not make him self-conscious? ‘Some are. The Foot Guards tend to be taller regiments, though. The Life Guards take a few shrimps, as well. Besides, they are on horses, so height isn’t so important. Also being in that regiment had the benefit of being in Knightsbridge. I got a chance to be in London and meet people in the music scene.’ And groupies, as it happens.

As he paraded up and down the Mall in plumed helmet and shiny breastplate, girls would stick their phone numbers down his knee-length boots. But it was his time in Kosovo that really made girls swoon. He used to strap his guitar to the outside of his tank, because there wasn’t room for it inside. He had learnt to play the violin at five, the piano at seven and the guitar at 14, while a pupil at Harrow.

He writes his songs on piano and guitar. ‘But mainly guitar because it is easier to carry around. It’s like a child messing around with a toy. If a tune comes to me I don’t record it instantly. I think if I remember it, then it must be worth remembering, and if I forget it, then it was forgettable.’

Does he have any anxiety dreams about forgetting lines or chords? ‘Not yet. Perhaps I will tonight. Perhaps you’ve jinxed me. But audiences aren’t judgmental, and if things go wrong and you can look them in the eye, that is fine. The only people who are judgmental are the journalists. I will be conscious of you being there in the audience judging me.’

Blimey. Sorry about that. Is it true he signs breasts? ‘Not that I remember. Not that I’m fussy what I sign. A lot of men started coming to the shows after I appeared on Top Gear last year. That was such fun. I spun the car five times. I thought I might as well make the most of it. I am competitive.’

He recorded one of the fastest laps, but I’m surprised blokes didn’t think him manly before that, given his tour of duty in Kosovo. ‘It’s because I sing songs that are heart-on-your-sleeve and therefore I must be overly emotional. Nothing I can do about it. I could pose more, but I am comfortable with my masculinity.’

He has said that his lyrics are autobiographical, in which case, are we to assume that the lyric on his new album, ‘I killed a man in a far away land’, means he killed a man in a far away land? I only ask because in the past he has said that he would never try to exploit what he went through, what he saw. ‘You should ask any soldier how many lives he has saved. How they do it is no one else’s business. What I took from my experience in Kosovo is that you are told from one day to the next who your enemy is and it keeps changing. That’s what is happening in Iraq, too. I believe in looking people in the eye, looking for the common humanity.’

He is a great believer in looking people in the eye. He will use the phrase again later and it seems to reveal a Christ complex, or a John the Baptist one. That direct and challenging stare of his. It would also explain the hair.

It is time for him do some photographs before he goes on stage and, endearingly, he says he is ‘not fussed’ about the grooming he is offered before they are taken.

On stage his features contort with passion when he sings. The big video screen goes in tight on his face. His voice is by turns soft and tremulous and forceful, but always high. Having seen him in concert once before, a couple of years ago, I notice the tone of his banter has changed.

‘Wow it’s hot tonight,’ he says now. ‘I’m surprised any of you are wearing any clothes. We could all take them off and get friendly.’ It is suggestive, designed to get the teenage girls in the audience screaming. Before he used to joke about his ‘girlie voice’ and taking helium to get it that way, and being ‘a bit wet’ and the ‘housewives’ favourite’. I think now he has realised that, actually, he is a proper musician, a popular one, too, and that he doesn’t need to apologise for it.

Afterwards, back in the dressing-room, he strips to the waist as he talks because he wants to take a shower before going back on to do his duet with Sheryl Crow. ‘Things got a bit hairy out there when I jumped into the crowd,’ he says. ‘Did you see that? Some thought it was some kind of sport to grab me.’

I watch his duet from the side of the stage and notice he whispers something in Sheryl Crow’s ear and then she starts running her hands over his trousers suggestively, patting them. Afterwards, I ask what he said. ‘”Is now a good time to ask for your phone number?” She was checking my pockets, pretending to look for a pen.’

He shows me round the gold-coloured tour bus where he will be sleeping tonight as they drive to their next gig in Dallas. It is full of hi-tech equipment and is nicely air-conditioned but there isn’t much space in the bunks. ‘We do live in close proximity,’ he says. ‘Some of us stay up late. This is the crew end, they have to get up early.’

Where do the groupies go? ‘Never have groupies on here. Never. They’d only get in if we invited them in. But we’d only ever invite friends in.’

Does he sleep OK? I heard he has to take sleeping pills. ‘It is a bit of a rough sleep, but better than a hotel and taking planes all the time because you have to get to the airport two hours early, which is miserable. Then your flight gets delayed.’

He is drinking champagne from a plastic cup. ‘This is for your benefit,’ he says. ‘The tour management went out and bought a bottle of champagne because he thought I should be seen drinking it. Better for my image. Isn’t that sweet? Normally, we drink vodka and beer. In fact, I think I’d rather have a beer, now. Want one?’ He opens a well-stocked fridge then takes me to the back of the bus where there is some seating space. He has one small case which he pulls out from a cupboard. It continues a few pairs of socks, T-shirts and a spare pair of jeans. No photographs or mementos. ‘This is all I have for 14 months on the road,’ he says. ‘I’m not known for style.’

Does he know how much he is worth? ‘No I don’t, not very interested in it to be honest. I travel with hand luggage only. That is why I always seem to be wearing the same clothes in photographs. If a tabloid says my clothes aren’t fashionable or my hair looks stupid, I really don’t worry about it. Don’t have any hair gel.’

In London, he takes the Tube or the bus. He prefers pubs to restaurants. When he goes to Ibiza, he flies easyJet. Still, that’s at home. Presumably on the road he can afford to be more self-indulgent.

Another lyric that we can only assume is autobiographical is ‘I’ve taken a s—load of drugs’. It is. Though his only comment on the subject is that he has ‘a comfortable relationship with drugs’. His relationship with fame is less comfortable. Oscar Wilde said there were two forms of tragedy: not getting what you want, and getting it. Is that how it felt for him when he went to number one? ‘Actually, I don’t think I had been dreaming about it. Certainly, I hadn’t anticipated being so recognisable so quickly.

‘I do remember getting a phone call from the record company, who said both the single and the album have gone to number one, and thinking, “S—, this is not what I expected.” I hadn’t prepared myself for it. Number two is great. Number two is nice. I sensed then it would mean having to change from being a musician to being a celebrity and that that would be a change for the worse. Fame doesn’t affect me, but it does affect everyone else around me. As for celebrity, it is the worst invention of the modern world. Gossip columns treat your life as if it were a cartoon. Relationships reduced to cartoons.’

Although there are other public-school bands around at the moment – Radiohead, Coldplay – Blunt seems to have suffered more than most from a perception that he is too posh to be credible. His family name is Blount (and his middle name Hillier), but he changed it to Blunt to sound, well, blunter and more proletarian.

When he tells me he would nevertheless still send a son of his to Harrow – ‘I think I would. I think I would. Public schools make individuals rather than sheep’ – I ask what he makes of the mood change now that the old Etonian David Cameron has made it OK to be posh. ‘Is it? I must come back to Britain immediately. Is it really safe to come back?

‘It’s not a dirty word to be posh, people come up to me and no one gives a damn if I’m posh. It’s about having a normal conversation and looking people in the eye.’

We head back to the dressing-room where he puts on his feather boa and novelty sunglasses then we wander back downstairs to have a word with Sheryl Crow, who is signing autographs. This is the moment at which the keyboard player says: ‘This way to the good-time room girls’ and the silent groupies dutifully appear.