When married to Petra Ecclestone, James Stunt enjoyed parading in London’s West End with a platoon of bodyguards and a fleet of blacked-out limos, like a dictator from a banana republic.
But those glory days appear to have vanished for ever. For I can disclose that the High Court has ordered Stunt & Co, his precious metals company, to be wound up.
The legal action seemingly had the blessing of his former father-in-law, billionaire Bernie Ecclestone, even though, according to Petra, Bernie had loaned the company £10 million.
James Stunt at The Family Court, Holborn
It was initiated by Formula One World Championship Limited, the firm of which Bernie was a long-standing director and of which he remains ‘chairman emeritus’.
‘Bernie’s not one to bear grudges,’ one of the tycoon’s old friends tells me, ‘but he’s fascinated by the slow, painful, public financial humiliation that James is experiencing.’
A year ago, Petra predicted her father would not be getting his money back ‘any time soon’.
Stunt & Co, billed as ‘a prestigious supplier of gold bullion’, reported a profit of just £23,000 for its most recent accounts.
But they were for the year ending March 31, 2017 — the year Stunt’s marriage to Petra ended in a lurid divorce case, during which Stunt called Bernie an ‘evil dwarf’.
Petra Ecclestone and James Stunt at the F1 Party at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 2014
Since then, Stunt’s fortunes have disintegrated. He was declared bankrupt in the High Court last year when the judge branded him ‘appalling’.
A few months later it emerged that 17 ‘Old Masters’ he had loaned Dumfries House — the mansion which the Prince of Wales saved for the nation — were copies.
And last month Stunt’s Belgravia house went on the market for £7.95 million, seven months after it was repossessed, together with two luxury apartments he owned in Chelsea worth £5 million apiece.
Bernie Ecclestone and his wife Fabiana Flosi leaving The Family Court
Perhaps Stunt, 38, will turn to his godfather, Terry Adams, for advice.
Jailed in 2007 for money laundering, Adams was back in court last year to explain he now lived in a council flat and was unable to pay £46,000 legal costs.
Told that he faced another year inside, he managed to find the money within three hours.
Depp’s pal brands his libel defeat ‘appalling’
Film director and screenwriter Bruce Robinson, who was at the helm of The Rum Diary in 2011 starring Johnny Depp and his embittered ex, Amber Heard, admits the film world has taken a hit this year in more ways than one.
‘It’s awful — lockdown, the whole thing.
It’s an utter disaster for everybody in my industry,’ Bruce, 74, tells me. ‘It’s not so bad for me because I’m an old b****r now, but for the younger people in the industry, it’s a disaster.’
To make matters worse, he has had to watch his friend Depp lose his libel case over The Sun’s claim that he was a ‘wife beater’. ‘It’s appalling,’ he says. ‘Appalling.’
Bruce was said to be working with Depp on another film — an adaptation of Robinson’s autobiographical novel, The Peculiar Memories Of Thomas Penman.
Will it still go ahead despite Depp’s wrecked reputation? Robinson confirms he still plans ‘a couple’ of projects but declines to give details.
Duff blasts tyranny of social media
She found fame starring in Shameless, but Anne-Marie Duff, who was married to James McAvoy, is shy when it comes to social media.
‘There’s a huge pressure on young actors to kind of billboard themselves, so they’re all on social media,’ she says.
‘It’s a requirement.
Anne-Marie Duff The Olivier Awards in April 2018
I was talking to some young actors recently, who work in musical theatre, and they were saying producers would check their social media to make sure they were garnering enough likes or whatever — all that bulls**t.
It’s hard enough being an actor. Just getting a job is all about approval ultimately, and then if you’re worried about that already . . . Bloody Nora!’
Broadcaster Clare Balding, whose pet pooch, Archie, died this summer, says she has a great affinity with canines. ‘As I child, I was so obsessed that I even went through a stage of thinking I was a dog. My brother and I were very much below the dogs in the pecking order of our family structure. They were way more important than us.’
New Dame Maureen Lipman pays tribute to the Queen’s keen memory. ‘There was a theatre lunch at The Ivy — this was a few months before I was due to get my gong. As I was leaving, the Queen said: “I believe you are coming to see us quite soon.” I said: “Yes, if I can find anything to wear.” Then I went out and found my beautiful Tomasz Starzewski dress. When I went to give my little bob, Her Majesty said to me: “Well I see you’ve found something.” She’s a great lady, I adore her.’
Caroline Stanbury and Sergio Carrallo
Caroline’s ‘new lease of life’ with her toyboy
Prince Andrew’s former flame, Caroline Stanbury, admits having a toyboy is giving her a new lease of life and is helping her move on from her ex-husband, the father of her three children, Cem Habib.
‘Life doesn’t end at 40. I’m 44 now and I’m working on my bucket list,’ says Stanbury, who is dating former footballer Sergio Carrallo, 26, above.
The Ladies Of London star adds: ‘I have a much younger boyfriend who is giving me a fresh start.
A younger man suits me because I need someone to drive me and he gets up with fresh eyes every morning, like: “What a beautiful day it is!” I have three children — I know that I couldn’t really be with someone with children.
‘It’s not like I’m the most maternal woman on the planet anyway.’
Celebrity chef John Torode and actress wife Lisa Faulkner — who co-present the ITV show Weekend Kitchen — reveal that far from slaving over a hot stove, the pair frequently rely on takeaways.
MasterChef judge John says: ‘It’s all right to say: “Let’s get a takeaway.”
‘People shouldn’t feel bad about that. If we are both absolutely shattered, it’s fine.’ Just don’t tell the MasterChef contestants.
A hot bark for Damien
The dog days aren’t over for Turner Prize winner Damien Hirst. Never one to shy away from controversy the shark-pickler, who is worth £200 million, shared a picture of himself online bathing with two of his French bulldogs.
Damien owns three — Pablo, Chapo and Blanco — with his girlfriend, former ballerina Sophie Cannell, 27.
Turner Prize winner Damien Hirst with his French bulldogs
Smiling in the picture, he tagged the dogs’ Instagram account, The Frenchie Gang, whose profile describes them as ‘the original Frenchie cartel’.
Damien could never be accused of lacking imagination.
Boris Johnson and Nicola Sturgeon are scarcely bosom buddies, but relations between London and Edinburgh would be even more toxic if Margaret Thatcher was still Prime Minister, claims former ITN political editor John Sergeant.
‘She would have hated Nicola Sturgeon — and not just because of Scottish nationalism,’ the former Strictly star says of Maggie.
‘Mrs Thatcher liked to be alone in a room impressing a group of men — and the more handsome they were, the better. Female rivals were always given short shrift.’