Although she’s 27, pretty, amusing and bright, Tamara Ecclestone starts with another huge advantage, apart from millions in the bank thanks to her multi-billionaire Formula One supremo father, Bernie: she knows she’s thought of as a spoilt airhead who’s easy to mock and even hate in these financially troubled times. “I’m a prime target,” she agrees, adding, “I’m naive, impulsive and sometimes don’t think things through.”
We meet in what she calls her Chelsea “girly pad” while a home in west London is refurbished. She denies suggestions it cost £45 million (“although I won’t say the exact price”), and is dismissive of reports she’s had a £1 million bath installed. “I won’t lie – I love luxury. But it’s just not me to spend that on a bath.”
She’s just been photographed in six-inch Louboutins and a blue wraparound dress of such easy access she’s now, less than a minute later, curled on a sofa and changed into low-cut pink Juicy Couture pyjamas that reveal a sinuous, callipygian body and bosoms that show her sunbathing is done topless. She plays prettily with lustrous brown hair. A large gold Rolex glints on her wrist. You would not call her a feminist icon.
“I like chunky things,” she explains, giggling, and is immediately contradicted when she caresses a chihuahua, Duke, who jumps onto her lap. “I’m crazy. Dogs are so much work. I have a walker, but still have to do it in the morning and last thing at night.” She has five, cared for at Harrods’ pet salon where Alvin, a bulldog, has toenails painted pink and a blueberry facial. “They love you whatever – the truest kind of love.”
Outside, on a turntable, so she doesn’t have to reverse into the street, is a £400,000 Ferrari 599 GTO bought for her by her stockbroker boyfriend Omar Khyami, 37. “It takes a strong person not to be threatened by my family. I’d like to marry, but I want to concentrate on my career first [a line of hair products], as does he. I’ve worked for Great Ormond Street Hospital for five years, and threw a massive party where we raised £600,000. I try to do as much as I can.”
She answers antagonistic questions with good humour and contemporary Sloaney modulation: ending each sentence on an upward syllable. There are nine tattoos on her body, some visible. “I’ll regret a few, but hopefully in five years there’ll be technology to get rid of them without leaving a scar.” They include a butterfly (her first, when she was 16) on her back, which is complemented by a picture on the wall – “a Damien Hirst called Butterfly, I think, which I bought at a charity auction”. Slavica, the name of her 6ft 2in Croatian mum, is on her back with an angel. Her right foot boasts a padlock and key inscribed with “the best is yet to come”, “which I had done one Saturday just before I met my boyfriend”.
On the inside of her left wrist is her name and a tiara. “That’s me sending myself up as a princess; sometimes it’s funny, for five minutes. You can’t take yourself too seriously. That’s not who I am. It’s a persona.
“People assume I’m a monster, have no emotions, and bad things haven’t happened to me. I’m vulnerable like every other girl in the world, good days, bad days, arguments with my boyfriend. I had spots as a teenager, which made me massively insecure. I diet, have hair and make-up done, which I wouldn’t if I felt secure.” Her beautician, Gary Cockerill, has just left. “He and his husband [DIY expert Phil Turner] are two of my closest friends. They came on holiday with us to Las Vegas and Greece.” He’s also responsible for Katie Price’s look. Tamara blanches when I mention this. “He doesn’t do that if you don’t want it, which I don’t.”
Nevertheless she’s following Ms Price in the most dangerous way possible: with a three-part reality series (which started on Channel 5 on 4 November). “At first Mum thought I was a lunatic, but now she understands. Viewers couldn’t have a worse opinion of me, so I’m in a win-win situation. This is my right to reply. It’s a bit of fun. If they’re going to hate me, they will. Listen, at least it will be who I am and not because a journalist has misquoted me. I wanted access to all areas of my life, otherwise what’s the point?”
True enough. She has a row with Omar at a nightclub in Cannes (private plane – £10,000, £5,000 hotel suite, £5,000 dress, VIP table £25,000) when he meets a previous girlfriend. “No one is perfect and if you try to come across as that, people won’t believe it. It would be like Made in Chelsea – contrived and not even fun.” She hopes it will lead to more TV work.
“I presented Formula One on Sky Sports Italia in Italian for two years, so I can’t be a complete moron.” She bridles when called “England’s Paris Hilton”. “You can’t deny she’s created a brand of some description, but I’m different.” Brighter? “I hope so. I watched her World According to Paris, which was really boring.”
By way of diversion, she shows me her wardrobe – a room with 20 Birkin handbags (starting at £4,200), 210 pairs of shoes (£500 each), numerous dresses. “I have OCD so have to hang them in order. You know what – buying shoes – I love ones that sparkle. And clothes make me happy. Is that bad? But I’ve come to realise it’s not the most important thing in life – like true love and peace of mind.” She feels no guilt about money. “My parents came from nothing and worked so hard. I feel proud of what they achieved. Money hasn’t changed them. They both ask for discounts. Mum flew easyJet on holiday to Sardinia. When we were at school, Dad dropped me off on his way to work and Mum picked me up and made spaghetti bolognese when I had friends over. I love cooking, too – a roast, pasta, cottage pie – but not clearing up, so I have help. My boyfriend says he likes my cooking more than any of our housekeepers’.”
After private school in London (four A* A-levels) she dropped out of University College, London and the London School of Economics – “because I never wanted to go” – and began modelling, notably for an FHM cover, in knickers and bra. “Dad [now 81] was traumatised. He’s a complete control freak and I was demonstrating, probably subconsciously, that I’m a woman and can do what I like. He doesn’t feature much in my day-to-day life and doesn’t understand reality TV. He’s so shy, but has a thick skin and doesn’t care what’s written about him. I hope I’ve got his dry sense of humour and I’d like to think I’ve inherited one per cent of his business brain. I get on well with him but don’t have a relationship with his girlfriend [Fabiana Flosi, a Brazilian 49 years his junior]. I’m so close to my mum – we’re both hotblooded. I pour my heart out to her.”
Their divorce (in 2009, after 24 years’ marriage) was difficult. “It can affect you worse when you’re older. We had Christmas together all those years. I thought they were a couple whose dynamic was to argue and make up. Maybe I was in denial. I don’t worry about the same thing happening to me. I’m a hopeless romantic, optimistic about love, but anxious. I worry if we have milk in the fridge or what I’ll cook for dinner, or the dry cleaning needs collecting. Then I realise, ‘You’re a freak. Who cares?’” Surely someone does it for her? “Like, I had a housekeeper who left and I was in the lurch when Omar had this massive operation on his knee recently and was, like, bedridden.”
She’s close to her younger sister Petra. “I’ll tell you why: we’re so different in looks and personality, so there’s not a lot to be hugely competitive about. We decided this year was Petra’s.” And how! She bought a $85 million house in Beverly Hills, and in May had a wedding that reportedly cost £5 million at a medieval castle outside Rome. Some might think such ostentation obscene for a 22-year-old, I suggest.
Tamara agrees. “But, knock on wood, it’s something that only happens once in a life and she and my parents made large donations to charity. Petra lives in Los Angeles, and is launching a range of handbags. I’m not sure if we’ll move there. We went in September and I loved it – weather means a lot to me – and it’s an easier lifestyle. Even stupid things like valet parking are helpful.
“I’m not going to sit here and say, ‘Woe is me.’ Obviously I’m very fortunate and don’t have to worry about electricity bills, but sometimes it’s hard: people can be friends for the wrong reasons. I don’t want to be cynical and put up barriers, but my first serious boyfriend at 17 did a kiss and tell – that was hard to deal with. I pretend not to care, but deep down things hurt.
“I wonder if I’ll get tougher over the years, or if it’s possible to have it all. You see so many people in the public eye whose marriages break down. At this moment, though, I have a wonderful relationship, a great family, friends, enjoy my career.”
Omar hobbles in. “She’s been a good nurse,” he says. “A new vocation – if all goes wrong.” Or come the revolution.