Richard Godwin: Proof positive that billions bring no joy
Bernie Ecclestone needs your help. You might think that the head of Formula 1 has it all: an enviable £3 billion fortune; a slag-heap of cars; a genuinely original hairdo; a commendable work ethic for an 82-year-old; regular badinage with Jenson Button.
But in one crucial area, he is deficient. “I am not sure I know what happiness is,” he explained to a reporter from The Times. “What do those feelings mean?”
His wealth certainly doesn’t make him happy. “It is just a means of keeping score,” he said. But he isn’t stirred by victory, either. When his team won races, he revealed, he didn’t stay for the chequered flag. Not because Formula 1 is marginally less stirring than sitting by the north circular with a Ginsters steak and pepper slice — but because he doesn’t do joy. He also walked out on his own ninth birthday party and his wedding party to his second wife, Slavica. “I don’t celebrate. I don’t see the point.”
We shouldn’t be surprised. As children, we learn that money doesn’t make you happy. However, as adults, the language we use to describe the rich suggests the opposite. Fortunes are “enviable”, success is “inspirational”, while Knightsbridge, the charmless emirate that lies just west of Belgravia, is routinely described as “desirable”.
We read the boasts of Stakhanovite billionaires like Ecclestone and I think we are meant to be inspired — when any sane person knows that a life of 5am rises where you never see your friends and family is scarcely worth living.
Not that the leisured rich seem any happier, to judge from the recent revelations from super-yacht recruitment. Would-be servants are instructed to discard any bottle of sun cream that is less than half full (it looks cheap) and keep one eye out for assassination attempts. On a recent cruise, two females were required to jump into a fluther of jellyfish to clear a path for a guest who fancied a swim. “They got stung to bits, and were in a bit of pain the next day,” said one agency chief approvingly. “They got a big tip at the end of the week.”
Never mind the servants — what kind of miserable human being requires another to do that for them? This is why it is a mistake to see wealth as evidence of success. Rather, it is the result of unnatural overindulgence, much like a fat kid’s belly is evidence of a debilitating fondness for cake.
As for poor Ecclestone, my first thought was to organise some sort of appeal. For just five hugs a month, you could give Bernie a glimpse of what life is like for normal people. For a more fulsome commitment — but, actually, Slavica and others seem to have tried that too, and still he remains a desiccated misery-gnome, worthy of pity, not envy.