Give me Jimmy Savile over Tamara Ecclestone any day

Ostentatious shows of wealth didn’t detract from the late Sir Jimmy Savile’s generosity.

Ostentatious shows of wealth didn’t detract from the late Sir Jimmy Savile’s generosity.

Is there anybody more tasteless than Tamara Ecclestone? With her haut-chav dress sense, cupboards stuffed with once-worn Louboutins, garages full of Ferraris and, on Friday, a TV programme dedicated to her absurd life, Ecclestone is surely the airbrushed face -- actually, the entire embodiment -- of unacceptable capitalism.

Like Peter Mandelson, I can do filthy rich, and I have no problem with people like Ecclestone having huge piles of inherited dough. What gets me is the ostentatious consumption and the showing-off. If I were as rich as Ecclestone, I'd keep quiet about my gewgaws, and certainly wouldn't parade them on TV or in some Desmond glossy.

It's not only vulgar, but deeply insensitive to those who are paid badly, if at all. Besides, someone should tell Tamara that stealth wealth is far more attractive than her über-garagiste bling, but then maybe she's not trying to impress the likes of me. Her type of man probably wears those heinous blue suede slipper-shoes with crests on them, and wears £1,000-jeans and an untucked white shirt and smokes the type of fags you can only buy in Monaco.

In his way, the late Sir Jimmy Savile was just as tasteless, with his chunky gold jewellery, massive cigars, heinous tracksuits and insistence on the latest Roller or Bentley. On the surface, Sir Jimmy was certainly Tamara's kind of guy. But that's the point - it was just the surface. Sir Jimmy's appearance was purely an act, all for show, part of the brand.

The point about Sir Jimmy was not the bling, but the giving. According to his obituary in the Times, Sir Jimmy was said to have given away 90 per cent of his earnings to charity. Thanks to the £12m he raised, the National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital was established. For many years, Sir Jimmy worked one day a week as a hospital porter at Leeds Infirmary. He was a regular visitor to Broadmoor, and even headed a group that helped to run the hospital.

"But what about all my charity work?" I can hear Tamara screaming. "I'm an ambassador to PETA! I was creative director of the 2010 Great Ormond Street F1 party! I'm active with the Dogs Trust!" Chief among Tamara's charitable achievements is her campaign against -- wait for it -- foie gras.

According to her website, and this is hard to read without laughing, Tamara has "personally contacted all the teams and sponsors involved in Formula 1 motor racing to advise them about this cruel food and to ask them to pledge never to serve it at events". Wow, way to go Tamara! Well done! And such a pressing and important issue for you to throw your wealth behind!

If Tamara really wants to live her life well, she should take a look at Sir Jimmy. You're allowed your bling and your cash if you really give to charity, and I don't mean accepting twinkly ambassadorships and going to fundraisers.

What Tamara should do is to take off the Manolos and the slap, tie her hair back, and quietly and anonymously work in a local hospital or hospice.

Maybe she already does that, in which case, I apologise and I shall give up foie gras. But somehow I doubt it.

 

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Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue