Feel my pain

On my way to Monte Carlo to interview Max Mosley, people seem very concerned about what is appropriate to wear. Are you wearing boots, a friend asks, as if Mosley, the tabloids’ favourite ogre, pervert and owner of Britain’s most famous spanked bottom, might leap up and crack a whip at any moment.

Since the News of the World‘s hidden-camera exposé of a five-hour sadomasochistic session with five paid women in a flat in Chelsea, Mosley’s life has been plagued by the footage that showed him naked, being thrashed and then whipping several women before, still naked, having a cup of tea with them.

At 68, the formula one boss and son of the British fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley and Hitler-admirer Diana Mitford, found himself on the front page under the headline ”F1 boss has sick Nazi orgy with 5 hookers”.

To everyone’s surprise, he went to court for gross invasion of his privacy, braving more details that emerged, including the sensitivity of his bottom and his predilection for having it shaved. The judge found absolutely no elements of a Nazi theme or mocking of the Holocaust, dismissing the suggestion that a head-lice test or striped outfits had concentration-camp overtones. Mosley won a record £60 000 damages, in a ruling that could impact on press freedom. But his media battle has only just begun.

Sitting in his Monaco office, with its sweeping seaview, the head of one of the world’s most expensive sports looks out over one of the most moneyed places on earth. But Mosley knows that the whole world now is mostly thinking about his buttocks, and he doesn’t really mind the jokes. He doesn’t look his age, as he reaches to fit his hearing aid: ”I can hear men perfectly but I can’t hear women — it’s all to do with frequencies.”

He has the calm, smiling resignation of someone who has nowhere left to hide. Occasionally blushing, he is very frank. He has practised sadomasochism all his adult life, sees nothing wrong with it when it’s legal and consensual, feels he was born like that and accepts he will never change. But admitting this can never make up for the impact the revelations have had on his wife of 48 years, Jean, a policeman’s daughter whom he met and married at Oxford, and their two grown-up sons, who had no idea about his secret life.

Over the summer holidays, amid the pain of the family fallout, rather than retreat from the spotlight, he resolved to go further in his ”war” for justice. Through the European court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, he wants to cement a law on privacy in Britain whereby editors will be forced to contact the subject of their revelations before publishing. Some say this will muzzle journalism. He says it’s about curbing the tabloid frenzy to destroy people’s lives over eccentric sex.

”The government has got something to answer for, for allowing this Murdoch culture.”

Sadomasochism has been such a regular part of Mosley’s life for decades that when he first saw the News of the World‘s scoop in March, he couldn’t at first work out when they had shot the footage. Then he recognised what he prefers to call ”the party”.

”The Nazi element — that to me was barking mad. There was never a thought or a hint of such a thing. And it was never in my mind. I would have found it the opposite end of the scale from erotic, particularly because of my antecedents,” he says.

The alleged SS inspection manual was in fact a page torn out of an exercise book. ”And to talk about it being a concentration camp scenario when the opening words of the woman were, ‘Welcome to Chelsea’, and she was Officer Smith and I was Mr Barnes …”

Mosley had already done his soul-searching about his preference for S&M long ago. And although he continued to practise it throughout his years as a working lawyer, his career in motor sport and as part of the formula one governing body, he doesn’t think it was in any way reckless.

”I’ve been doing it for 45 years, I’ve been extremely careful, I’d never got caught.” He has known the women at this particular ”party” for around two to three years. One was German, and he now knows she would have been ”mortally offended” by any Nazi themes. ”One of the girls … might easily have been Jewish,” he adds. He feels the News of the World thought they were ”Lithuanian drug addicts or something of that kind” but they were all graduates whom he describes as ”intelligent and competent”; one has nearly finished her PhD. He rented the flat and paid them, but says they took part in administering and receiving beatings because they liked it.

The descriptions of them as ”hookers” or prostitutes is wrong, he feels. ”First of all, all those women sometimes do what they did for nothing, just for the fun of it. And even with me, on at least two or three occasions, they’ve done it for nothing. It’s what they do. Of course, they utterly resent the description of hooker because for them, that [sadomasochism] and sex are two different things. Clearly there’s a sexual element, but there’s a sexual element when an actress kisses an actor on screen, but she’s not a prostitute. It’s a different thing: to them it’s acting; sex is something different. So they don’t see it as prostitution and I agree with them. The legal definition you could argue about, but morally they are not prostitutes.”

He says the details of the scenario were made up by the ”ladies”. He found the inspection for head lice and the medical examination unerotic and quite boring but it would have been rude to stop the game and tell them that. ”You tend to leave it to them. Really, all I’d said beforehand is we’ll have one part of the thing with me as what they call ‘sub’ [submissive] and one part with me ‘dom’ [dominant]. And they were quite happy with that because they all switch as well, so it just works for everybody. As soon as you stand back from it, it’s completely mad, but that’s how it worked.”

The prison scenario was quite mundane. ”The reason they did the medical thing on me, they told me afterwards, is that they’d tried it on some sub and he’d found it tremendous. So, you know, they were just being nice.”

Mosley says it’s a ”matter of principle” that people should be allowed to do what they like as long as it’s legal and consensual. He doesn’t believe in an ”old-fashioned”, puritanical view that someone ”whose sex life isn’t quite the same as the majority” should have to resign from their job.

But he kept it private, I say, away from the people who shared his life. ”To anyone who’s not into it, it’s an absurd activity. Like, for example, being a transvestite is absurd to anybody who’s not into it. Therefore if you are into it you keep it secret from people who are not into it, and that could include your family.”

In Formula One circles, he has a rule that people are allowed three jokes and that’s it, otherwise it goes on and on. ”I mean, in the end, I did it, and it is funny. Sex is funny. Most people’s sex lives, if you had the whole detail, would be quite funny. That’s the point — why you don’t have the detail — because it’s not right to laugh at people in that way.

”It is an absurd thing to do, looked at in any rational way. But sex is absurd — it is a very strange, completely animal thing that’s not fully understood. And people don’t really know why they like what they like, but why worry, as long as you’re not hurting anybody? And as long as everybody involved is genuinely consensual, properly consensual, not just doing it for money or whatever.” That’s his argument about the women involved? ”Yes. They do it anyway.”

Hovering over the Mosley exposé were the ghosts of his parents. In 1936, Oswald Mosley, Britain’s most notorious fascist, married Diana Mitford, one of the famous aristocratic sisters, of whose looks Evelyn Waugh wrote: ”Her beauty ran through a room like a peal of bells.”

The wedding ceremony took place at the Berlin house of the Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels, with Hitler as a guest. Shortly after Max was born, the couple were interned in a London prison as a threat to state security during World War II, and hounded out of Britain afterwards. They later briefly sent their son to be educated in Germany. Lady Mosley thought Hitler was a good man who meant well.

Unusual sexual activity
Are Mosley’s S&M practices a reaction to his parents? ”I’ve seen one or two well-meaning articles saying I was exorcising something to do with my parents. It’s just complete nonsense. I think most of the people who are into that — and I think most, how should I say it, unusual sexual activity — would say they were hard-wired and it was like that from very early childhood. Certainly, the women all say that. I can’t say I’ve really discussed it much with men.

”I was conscious of that before I had the slightest idea what my parents did or didn’t do. The idea that it’s because of things that happened to you in your childhood, in my experience at least, is nonsense. I know at least one of the women has said to me the other day that she had an idyllic childhood, nobody ever did anything to her as a child, but she’s just been hardwired like that since she was small. And I think this is true also probably of gay people, probably of transvestites, I don’t know enough about it, but I suspect. Again, it doesn’t matter as long as everybody wants to do it.”

Mosley remembers when he was three-and-a-half being taken to see his parents, who were interned in a shared flat in Holloway prison before being released.

”I can remember the walls, the funny garden, the ash path. I can remember my father bringing a bucket of hot water for the bath.”

What did his parents really think of Hitler? ”My mother really liked Hitler. And my father didn’t, for what reasons I don’t really know. My father quite liked Mussolini but thought he was a bit over the top. Just as a person. For example, you’d go to his office apparently and it was a massive walk from the door to his desk. I think it’s perfectly true to say my mother liked Hitler and would go on saying so until the end of her life. I never met him.”

And his parents view on the Holocaust? ”They were often asked about that and, of course, expressed complete horror. They didn’t know about that when they knew him, like nobody did.” His own view is that ”it’s awful beyond dispute”.

After the war, his father launched the Union Movement in Britain, campaigning against immigration after the London race riots. Max acted as an election agent for him in Manchester and was once arrested for getting into a fight with an anti-fascist who attacked his father at a London protest. ”I supported my father politically in my late teens and very early 20s and then lost interest. They were my parents so I was fond of them, but that’s it.”

Mosley studied physics, became a lawyer and toyed with the idea of running as a Tory, but with his father’s name hanging over him in England, he went into international motor sport. ”England is pretty unique in having this idea that it’s completely your fault if your father had politics they don’t like.”

He has headed Formula One’s governing body, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), for 15 years. He counts his championing of road safety as one of his biggest achievements. After the News of the World article he called a vote of confidence, despite advice not to, and won. His close friend, Bernie Ecclestone, the formula one commercial-rights holder, first suggested he should go, then accepted that he stay. His latest move is to clamp down on the massive ”unsustainable” spending on motor sport. He says he will stand down when his term ends in 2009.

”They’ve all said keep on. I’m not sure yet how much of that is just being kind,” he says.

He was a small donor to New Labour but stopped at the time of the Iraq war, which he thought was illegal and a mistake. Does he see himself as part of the establishment, an English gentleman? ”I never see myself as a gentleman,” he smiles.

Mosley thinks the S&M story was a conspiracy and someone in motor racing stitched him up. He has enlisted the former Met chief John Stevens’ investigation company to look into it. ”I think it’s undoubtedly related to motor racing, it’s just a question of who. I’ve got some shrewd ideas. I’ve got my eye on them, let’s put it like that.”

But his greatest sense of injustice is against the tabloid culture, for the invasion of privacy that he says devastated his family. ”To live in a society where the rules are made by the [tabloid] editors, I think, would horrify most people. Particularly as it’s very one-sided. They never hesitate, for example, to use completely illegal means to get information, such as bribing people with access to the police computer. So they can’t talk about morality, they are immoral themselves.”

Mosley has defamation and privacy cases in Germany, Italy and France, some of which are criminal proceedings. At the human rights court in Strasbourg, he is targeting the British government.

His proposed law, to force editors to contact a subject before printing, would give them a chance to seek a court injunction to stop publication. ”People say, ‘But this will cast a chill on investigative journalism.’ Well no, because … the judge isn’t going to suppress that which should not be suppressed. But he will probably suppress the revelation of people’s most private lives for no better purpose than to sell newspapers.” He has set up a fund for less well-off victims of intrusion of privacy to help them bring cases against newspapers.

Has he had lots of support and messages from what he calls the S&M ”community”? ”I’ve had no interesting offers,” he smiles. But there has been support from politicians and show business figures.

Mosley knows he is an utterly charming old man and I don’t find myself judging him at all. The only time he grimaces with embarrassment is when asked about his family, which he says was devastated but is staying together. How? ”I mean, it’s just very difficult for my wife, it’s very difficult for my sons. But we’re all each other have got.”

I wonder if this incident will make him say never again to S&M. He laughs, then looks very serious: ”You can’t change how you are,” he says. ”And I mean, I’d thought it all through donkey’s years ago and seen the absurdity and all the rest of it. And I think most people who have that sort of side to their life do. But you will never completely lose interest in that sort of thing. You just don’t, to be very honest”. – guardian.co.uk

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