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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The decline of the north's sporting powerhouse

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Now, things are different.

On a drive between Sheffield and Barnsley, I spotted a striking painting of the Kes poster. Billy Casper’s two-fingered salute covered the wall of a once-popular pub that is now boarded up.

It is almost 50 years since the late Barry Hines wrote A Kestrel for a Knave, the novel that inspired Ken Loach’s 1969 film, and it seems that the defiant, us-against-the-world, stick-it-to-the-man Yorkshireness he commemorated still resonates here. Almost two-thirds of the people of south Yorkshire voted to leave the EU, flicking two fingers up at what they saw as a London-based establishment, detached from life beyond the capital.

But whatever happened to Billy the unlikely lad, and the myriad other northern characters who were once the stars of stage and screen? Like the pitheads that dominated Casper’s tightly knit neighbourhood, they have disappeared from the landscape. The rot set in during the 1980s, when industries were destroyed and communities collapsed, a point eloquently made in Melvyn Bragg’s excellent radio series The Matter of the North.

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Yet today, we rarely get to hear the voices of Barnsley, Sheffield, Doncaster and Rotherham. And the Yorkshire sporting powerhouse is no more – at least, not as we once knew it.

This should be a matter of national concern. The White Rose county is, after all, the home of the world’s oldest registered football club – Sheffield FC, formed in 1857 – and the first English team to win three successive League titles, Huddersfield Town, in the mid-1920s. Hull City are now Yorkshire’s lone representative in the Premier League.

Howard Wilkinson, the manager of Leeds United when they were crowned champions in 1992, the season before the Premier League was founded, lamented the passing of a less money-obsessed era. “My dad worked at Orgreave,” he said, “the scene of Mrs Thatcher’s greatest hour, bless her. You paid for putting an axe through what is a very strong culture of community and joint responsibility.”

The best-known scene in Loach’s film shows a football match in which Mr Sugden, the PE teacher, played by Brian Glover, comically assumes the role of Bobby Charlton. It was played out on the muddy school fields of Barnsley’s run-down Athersley estate. On a visit to his alma mater a few years ago, David Bradley, who played the scrawny 15-year-old Billy, showed me the goalposts that he had swung from as a reluctant goalkeeper. “You can still see the dint in the crossbar,” he said. When I spoke to him recently, Bradley enthused about his lifelong support for Barnsley FC. “But I’ve not been to the ground over the last season and a half,” he said. “I can’t afford it.”

Bradley is not alone. Many long-standing fans have been priced out. Barnsley is only a Championship side, but for their home encounter with Newcastle last October, their fans had to pay £30 for a ticket.

The English game is rooted in the northern, working-class communities that have borne the brunt of austerity over the past six years. The top leagues – like the EU – are perceived to be out of touch and skewed in favour of the moneyed elites.

Bradley, an ardent Remainer, despaired after the Brexit vote. “They did not know what they were doing. But I can understand why. There’s still a lot of neglect, a lot of deprivation in parts of Barnsley. They feel left behind because they have been left behind.”

It is true that there has been a feel-good factor in Yorkshire following the Rio Olympics; if the county were a country, it would have finished 17th in the international medals table. Yet while millions have been invested in “podium-level athletes”, in the team games that are most relevant to the lives of most Yorkshire folk – football, cricket and rugby league – there is a clear division between sport’s elites and its grass roots. While lucrative TV deals have enriched ruling bodies and top clubs, there has been a large decrease in the number of adults playing any sport in the four years since London staged the Games.

According to figures from Sport England, there are now 67,000 fewer people in Yorkshire involved in sport than there were in 2012. In Doncaster, to take a typical post-industrial White Rose town, there has been a 13 per cent drop in participation – compared with a 0.4 per cent decline nationally.

Attendances at rugby league, the region’s “national sport”, are falling. But cricket, in theory, is thriving, with Yorkshire winning the County Championship in 2014 and 2015. Yet Joe Root, the batsman and poster boy for this renaissance, plays far more games for his country than for his county and was rested from Yorkshire’s 2016 title decider against Middlesex.

“Root’s almost not a Yorkshire player nowadays,” said Stuart Rayner, whose book The War of the White Roses chronicles the club’s fortunes between 1968 and 1986. As a fan back then, I frequently watched Geoffrey Boycott and other local stars at Headingley. My favourite was the England bowler Chris Old, a gritty, defiant, unsung anti-hero in the Billy Casper mould.

When Old made his debut, 13 of the 17-strong Yorkshire squad were registered as working-class professionals. Half a century later, three of the five Yorkshiremen selec­ted for the last Ashes series – Root, Jonny Bairstow and Gary Ballance – were privately educated. “The game of cricket now is played in public schools,” Old told me. “Top players are getting huge amounts of money, but the grass-roots game doesn’t seem to have benefited in any way.”

“In ten years’ time you won’t get a Joe Root,” Rayner said. “If you haven’t seen these top Yorkshire cricketers playing in your backyard and you haven’t got Sky, it will be difficult to get the whole cricket bug. So where is the next generation of Roots going to come from?” Or the next generation of Jessica Ennis-Hills? Three years ago, the Sheffield stadium where she trained and first discovered athletics was closed after cuts to local services.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era