Heiress Tamara Ecclestone and her husband Jay might not know how many rooms their mansion has, but they do know how to make their marriage work. (Hint: it involves puppy love, Cockney rhyming slang and definitely separate bathrooms).
Tamara Ecclestone. Don’t pretend you haven’t got an opinion about her; everyone does. The stories are legion. Some of them are even true. Airhead reality-show star with too many Birkin bags and not enough common sense. Head-in-the-clouds daughter of down-to-earth F1 boss Bernie. Still breastfeeds her four-year old daughter Sophia. Doesn’t know how many rooms there are in her £70 million palatial house. High heels, high maintenance. And the rest.
So why is Tamara – make-up-free, hair unwashed, in leggings and a T-shirt – drinking a mug of builder’s tea when I arrive at her imposing Kensington mansion on the most expensive street in London? Here she is, looking the very antithesis of her usual groomed, glossy photo-shoot persona, bickering hilariously with Jay Rutland, her husband of five years. They are in their vast kitchen, seated at a breakfast bar roomy enough to host the next G7 summit.
There is pop art on the walls, what looks like a Swarovski-encrusted cereal box in a glass case and all the cupboard door handles are golden panther heads. He is complaining about his yoga practice. She thinks yoga is silly.
‘What have you done to the gym?’ he demands, having just emerged from their state-of-the-art in-house fitness den. ‘You’ve entirely ruined the zen.’
‘I just moved the running machine,’ she says, mildly.
‘What, so you could be closer to the TV and tune in to nightmarish reality shows?’
‘Yes,’ she responds, airily. ‘I know you think I’m a moron but I like to watch them as I exercise.’
‘While eating a doughnut,’ scoffs Jay.
They lock eyes, fail to out-stare one another and break into reluctant smiles. He shakes his head in mock (or maybe not mock) exasperation. Opposites attract. But so do shared values: the importance of family, hard work, loyalty. Granted, they can afford to charter private jets, holiday on mega-yachts and enjoy the sort of access-all-areas privilege that comes with wealth and influence. But there’s something quite reassuring about hearing this gilded, ultra-high net worth pair rile and rib one another just like any other couple.
Tamara, 33, is fresh faced, feminine, curvaceous. She used to be a size 6; now she’s a lovely size normal. ‘I was really obsessive about slimming into a certain dress, but I’ve realised it’s madness to pin all your hopes and dreams on being a number. There are children at my daughter’s nursery who don’t eat carbs! At four years of age they already have a warped idea that some foods are evil. I want to set a good example of moderation with the occasional gelato.’
Jay, 37, is a handsome chap, with East End vowels and the dress sense of an Italian aristocrat. She complains about his lackadaisical punctuality. He wishes that once, just once, she could stay awake for a whole movie. But they both agree on one thing: their winsome daughter Sophia is the centre of their world. Photographs of her clutter every surface. On the kitchen worktop her tortoise is asleep in a pristine vivarium. Her clownfish swim about in an equally pristine aquarium. The three of them still co-sleep in an enormous bed. Tamara still gives Sophia – whom they affectionately call Fifi – a quick breastfeed as she falls off to sleep. Did I mention she’s now four?
After posting a photo online of her feeding her daughter, then aged three, Tamara was fêted and slated in equal measure. She has since become an unlikely advocate for breastfeeding, and for continuing it well beyond the six-month norm if it feels right. It’s admirable. It’s eccentric. Tamara and Jay are unruffled by the reactions. ‘I don’t care what trash people talk about me on social media,’ says Tamara. ‘I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t. People are going to throw all sorts of s*** at me whatever I say, so I may as well say something important. I get women coming up to me thanking me for inspiring them and that makes it all worthwhile.’ She means it, but it’s hard to square her lactation activism with the ostentation and conspicuous consumption of her TV show Tamara’s World.
Her father Bernie wasn’t a fan of her reality shows and at the time expressed concern that she was under pressure from producers to ramp up the rich-kid ante rather than reveal her true character. He has a point: the Tamara telling me today she likes to be in her pyjamas by 6pm is a far cry from the TV Tamara trilling with excitement over her wall of Chanel handbags. But by her own admission, motherhood has changed her: she had planned to bring on board as many nannies as necessary to continue her lifestyle with minimum disruption; instead she refused even to hire one and morphed into an earth mother. ‘I see children in the park every day who reach for the nanny when they hurt themselves while their mother sits on a bench texting,’ she says. ‘I couldn’t bear the thought of my baby being comforted by someone else. She is everything to me. I have no idea when I last bought anything for myself, but when she was at nursery the other day I went shopping. It was far less fun than I’d remembered.’
She and Jay didn’t have their first date night until Sophia was three and even then it had to be no further than five minutes’ drive away in case their daughter woke up and found she was being looked after by the housekeeper. It sounds like a lot of pressure on any marriage, I suggest. Jay is laidback to the point of being horizontal. A traditionalist, he loves having a wife who is so devoted to their child. ‘Tamara is such a great mum, I feel so proud of the way she’s taken to the role,’ he says. He’s mustard-keen to have another but Tamara would prefer to wait because she’s so besotted with Sophia. I’m more concerned about there being space in their American super-king-sized bed for recreation, never mind procreation.
‘There’s room in the bed for another baby, but we might need to rethink the dog’
‘There’s room in the bed for another baby,’ assures Jay. ‘But we might need to rethink the dog, who gets quite territorial and won’t always let me get in.’ The dog, Teddy, is a sweet little powder puff bought for Sophia. The other 14 (yes 14) pooches are quartered downstairs. Conventional it is not. But it obviously works for them. They really do seem to have a special bond. I ask Tamara to describe her husband in three words. ‘Loyal, funny, hardworking,’ she responds, lickety-split. ‘Oh – not handsome?’ says Jay, crestfallen. Then it’s his turn. He freezes. ‘Oh, God, I’m hopeless at this sort of thing,’ he says. ‘I’ll have to get back to you.’ Tamara rolls her eyes and warns me to expect a long wait.
‘Jay is brilliant at giving presents,’ she offers, holding aloft a photographic mug of her cuddling Sophia, bearing the legend ‘Mumma’. ‘For my birthday he gave me a DVD of pictures of us all, taken since Sophia was born. Personalised gifts mean so much to me.’ Her presents to Jay tend to be clothes bought from the website Mr Porter, most recently a pair of camouflage swimming shorts. She used to try to trendy him up a bit but he was having none of it. ‘I don’t want a pair of ripped jeans,’ he grumbles. ‘I’m 37, for God’s sake.’
Tamara gives the sort of resigned sigh familiar to wives everywhere. ‘Sometimes we could kill each other and other times we are completely in love,’ she murmurs. ‘He snores so much I’m planning to sew a tennis ball into the back of his T-shirt to make him lie on his front when he’s sleeping. But Jay wouldn’t have married me if I was actually crackers.’ I’m not sure anyone could describe their lavish £7 million wedding in the South of France, where they were serenaded by Mariah Carey and Elton John, as entirely sane, but we’ll let that pass.
Tamara – and her younger sister Petra, aged 29, who has moved to Los Angeles after an acrimonious divorce – are heiresses to billions thanks to their father’s hard graft and good fortune. Bernie is 87 and, having divorced their Croatian model mother Slavica Radic, is now married to 39-year-old Fabiana Flosi. Although privately educated, Tamara and Petra enjoyed an upbringing that was relatively restrained: their mother was hands-on and there were no nannies. But as they became young women, their taste for decadence was legendary. Newspaper articles damningly described them as ‘socialites’ as they were routinely snapped in couture and skyscraper heels. Tamara has since set up two businesses and is determined to be successful in her own right. But her choice in men was, to be blunt, woeful.
One ex, Derek Rose, tried to blackmail her for £200,000. Another, Omar Khyami, cheated on her and later went to court over their £380,000 Lamborghini Aventador. Her bespoke Range Rover now has her name emblazoned on the bonnet to avoid any future misunderstandings. But then she was introduced to former stockbroker Jay by a mutual friend. They immediately hit it off and, with giddy speed, announced their engagement within a month. He had a colourful past of his own, having been banned for insider trading. But he has subsequently reinvented himself as a property developer and creative director of the Maddox Gallery chain, which deals in contemporary ‘investment-grade’ art by the likes of Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst and Banksy. He gets on with Bernie because they talk about football, and although he has his own business interests, I can’t help wondering whether he feels like the family breadwinner? Jay grins at the notion of her wealth undermining his masculinity.
‘Tamara doesn’t need anyone to provide for her financially,’ he says, smoothly. ‘Before we got married I was adamant there should be a prenup to protect her; I wouldn’t dream of walking away with anything I hadn’t brought into the marriage but it was important to have that formally recognised.’ For her part, a prenup – or a Grand Prix-nup – wasn’t even on her radar, but when her dad suggested it, she agreed it was the ‘smart’ thing to do. ‘The fact that Jay was so willing to agree to one did reassure me about his motives.If he’d refused I would definitely have had second thoughts; instead he said, “Give me any piece of paper and I’ll sign it.” That was a real reflection of his integrity and I knew I could trust him.’
Over and again, ‘trust’ is a word that Tamara repeats like a mantra; that’s why she misses her sister so badly. Her eyes glitter with tears as she talks of Petra’s heartbreak. ‘I am so pleased to see her regaining her old spirit and enjoying her new life, but I used to see her every single day and it’s really hard.’ She has mum friends – every few months she hosts a Mums Go Wild Night, which goes on past 2am – but does not dismiss out of hand the idea of eventually joining her sister stateside.
But back to her and Jay. ‘People have used me and I have learnt to be cautious, but I wasn’t some poor little rich girl that Jay had to save,’ she says. He smiles at her: ‘Tamara is very down to earth. I could tell from the moment I met her. She understood cockney rhyming slang and that impressed me.’ We talk about her Show Beauty empire of haircare and blow-dry salons and her upmarket online parenting hub-cum-shop Fifi & Friends that sells hypoallergenic baby toiletries. Needless to say it was inspired by her daughter. Tamara may be amusing and self-deprecating but when it comes to Sophia, she comes over all tiger mother.
‘Jay was so willing to agree to the prenup, I knew I could trust him’
For Sophia’s first birthday there were puppies, ponies and a petting zoo. When I suggest maybe the zebra foal was overdoing the whole magical moment thing, especially as Fifi wouldn’t even remember it, she doesn’t so much as crack a smile. It’s quite a shock to see her big blue eyes turn so steely. ‘I want Sophia to have the very best,’ she says. ‘I keep everything in boxes for her. There is a birthday box for each year containing cards, general memories and school art. When we have our next child I will do exactly the same because there are so many more photographs of me than of my sister growing up.’
At least now we know what all those extra rooms are for: storage. Incidentally, Jay doesn’t know how many there are in the house either, but he is circumspect: ‘Yes, we could live somewhere smaller but we like it here and it’s a great investment. We are very fortunate to be able to travel by private jet and take more holidays than most people,’ he reflects. ‘But the reality is we work, we look after our daughter, we lie on the sofa watching TV. Don’t get me wrong, money cushions you from a lot in life but it doesn’t guarantee happiness.’ Really? Tamara has her own theory: ‘We don’t just have separate dressing rooms, we have separate bathrooms. That’s why I think we’ll be married for ever.’
Tamara insists she’s no spendthrift but her daughter is a weak spot. ‘Sophia probably has too many clothes, but it’s not all Fendi dresses. I buy from Next, Zara and Marks & Spencer, so it doesn’t matter if she gets mucky. I was a tomboy growing up and I want her to have that freedom, too. As she outgrows clothes and toys, we bag them up and give them to charity. I like to support Great Ormond Street Hospital and I want her to grasp the importance of giving something back.’
Finally, just as he’s about to go off to work, Jay comes up with his three words for Tamara: ‘Caring, loving, funny.’ Her smile is so wide, it’s difficult to imagine even a new Birkin could bring anything like as much delight.
Dream dinner guests Elvis for me and Julia Roberts for Jay.
Style icon Sophia Loren combines elegance and beauty. She also dresses for her shape.
Beauty essential Show Beauty dry shampoo. It’s a godsend.
Go-to outfit You can’t go wrong with a little black dress and heels.
Tipple of choice Green tea – I don’t drink alcohol.
Can’t live without My phone. I’m ashamed to say that I’m addicted to it.
Biggest fear I worry about the sort of world Sophia will grow up in.
Most annoying habit I say ‘like’ too much.
Dog or cat? Dogs are the best. And I’m allergic to cats.
Interview by Judith Woods