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A bitter blow to Bernie's heart

NEWS STORY
05/08/2009

Bernie Ecclestone has had a dog of a year. First, Slavica, his wife of 23 years, filed for divorce, then F1's top teams announced they would set up a rival series and after that he put his foot in it by praising dictators. However, despite facing all this at 78 years of age, Ecclestone has bounced back stronger than ever. His partners have re-confirmed their support in him, the threat of a rival series has faded and recently he has even been pictured with a good-looking brunette proving that there is life after Slavica. But there is one loss which Ecclestone could not rectify.

In billionaire terms, Ecclestone is as down to earth as they come. True, he has the private plane, owns hotels and a yacht but if his face wasn't on television every other weekend you would not know if he passed you in the street. He has no entourage, doesn't drip his clothing with gold and doesn't speak in highfalutin terms (as the public recently found out).

In the increasingly pretentious and technical world of F1 Ecclestone is becoming more of a breath of fresh air and comes across as some one you could 'put the world to rights' with over a pint in your local pub. In fact, in days gone by, this was not hard to do. Like clockwork, whenever Ecclestone was in London, you could find him at One O'clock sharp at his regular table facing the door in the Swag and Tails on Fairholt Street in the heart of Knightsbridge. But not any more.

On 29 May, after 20 years of service, the Swag and Tails closed its doors and, remarkably, it wasn't due to the economy. Despite being one of London's smartest-looking pubs with a string of awards to its name for its fantastic food (Ecclestone's favourite was the roast chicken), the Swag and Tails was apparently forced to close its doors due to complaints from neighbours.

The Swag's typical crowd was far from loud wide boys you might find in some London pubs but instead smartly-suited bankers and Ecclestone's long-time friend Barry Silver were the norm. It's no surprise that Ecclestone has little time for democracy when the voice of a small minority has the consequence of closing down a pub with this kind of civilised crowd.

When Pitpass' business editor Chris Sylt arrived for lunch with Ecclestone at the Swag in April the pub's charming landlady Annemarie Boomer was deep in conversation with the F1 boss. According to a senior source in F1, Ecclestone bought the building in which the pub was located but it seems that even he couldn't prevent its closure.

However, Pitpass isn't bringing this tale to readers because it is a fascinating insight into the day-to-day life of the man who runs F1 - someone who may wrongly come across as being detached from normality due to his wealth and power. No, there is a more serious consequence to the closure of the Swag.

Ecclestone has been parted from more than just a watering hole. In yet another indication that he is more down to earth than you may think, Ecclestone received some of motorsport's most glittering executives at the pub.

It's not so different to the 'good old days' when Ecclestone owned Brabham and held 'board meetings' with Gordon Murray and Herbie Blash over a pint and a sandwich in The Star on Leatherhead Road in Chessington, just down the road from the team's premises. Reportedly The Star was even the setting for negotiations between John Bannon, the then Premier of South Australia, and Ecclestone for the first Australian Grand Prix in 1985.

The Swag holds even more heritage and although a lesser man might be truly thrown off kilter at losing his local, Ecclestone will surely soon set up shop in another Knightsbridge haunt.

In the meantime, if Ecclestone is willing to head the Maybach down the A12, he will always find a warm welcome at the Marlborough, home of Britannia Racing and described on the beerintheevening website as "the worst pub I have been to".

More working man than executive, Mr Ecclestone can rest assured that within minutes of entering the Marlborough he would be made fully aware of what 'man down the pub' really thinks on all manner of topics. Sadly, food is not available, though Cloves Indian Takeaway is highly recommended, and Editor Balfe can vouch for the Pukka pies in the Mawney Fish Bar.

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