Magazine article The Spectator

Diary: Tom Bower

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary: Tom Bower

Article excerpt

This week marks another milestone in my 15-year battle with Richard Branson. Ever since he unsuccessfully sued me in 1999 to prevent the publication of my first damning biography, we have exchanged shots. His anointment on Sunday as Britain's most admired businessman coincides with my appearances to promote Branson: Behind the Mask , my second book. Inevitably, the book sparked his fury, summarised in a 29-page letter of complaint. Our war is now focused on whether Virgin Galactic, his Heath Robinson rocket, will ever carry him 62 miles into the border of space. For ten years his regular predictions of imminent take-off have proven wrong. Last Christmas he announced he would fly this month with his son and daughter. I derided his forecast. Now he says take-off will be next March. I say pigs will fly first.

The antagonism has denied me an invitation extended to Branson's media fans of a trip to Necker, his Caribbean tax haven. This home can be rented for £40,000 a night -- once again arousing my doubts that he is worth £3 billion, another source of friction between us.

But not everyone I write about hates me. Last Sunday I was among 70 of Simon Cowell's friends at Scalini's in Chelsea to celebrate the music mogul's 55th birthday. Although my biography of Cowell contained enough embarrassing material to fill the Sun 's front page for a record six successive days, we have become friends. The invited celebrities, including Cheryl Cole and David Walliams, naturally adore their employer. Guest speaker was Philip Green, the retail billionaire and the godfather of Cowell's son, who joked about Cowell's working hours: 'He doesn't know that there are two 11 o'clocks in the day. He complains when I fall asleep while he's talking on the phone at 4 a.m.'

I first met Green four years ago in Monaco. He had Mick Jagger and Jennifer Lopez in tow. I was having lunch with Bernie Ecclestone in his bus, aka 'The Kremlin', one hour before the start of a Formula 1 race. Ecclestone is the only other of my 'victims' with whom I have forged a good relationship. After hearing I was writing an unauthorised biography about him, Ecclestone offered his co-operation. 'I'm writing this book because I'm told you're a crook,' I told him over lunch. 'If that's true, it'll go in the book. …

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