She’s a blonde bombshell and billionaire heiress that the paparazzi can’t get enough of who has recently made her first forays into the world of fashion. Here’s a hint: Her first name is a five-letter word that is also one of the world’s most enchanting destinations… And it starts with a “P.”
It’s a cinch, right?
Well, how about when I tell you that Miss Mystery Girl doesn’t party, recently married a man she calls her “high school sweetheart,” talks to her mother twice a day, spends most nights bowling, and despises the camera so much that she literally fainted at the mere sight of it at her recent Flaunt photo shoot?
Still a cinch?
“With time, people will get to know the real me and realize that I’m not going to parties and falling out of my dress and getting drunk and all that,” Petra Ecclestone tells me from a secluded spot her publicist has found for us in Beverly Hills. “Obviously, I don’t sit at home knitting all night long,” she says, batting her mascara-thickened eyelashes extra fast as if to underscore the point. “But I am very mature at the end of the day.”
Ecclestone is the daughter of British business magnate and Formula One head honcho Bernie Ecclestone (and Croatian former fashion model Slavica Ecclestone), and the new, proud owner of “Candyland,” the famed 57,000 square-foot mansion she purchased this past June from television mogul Aaron Spelling’s widow Candy (who relocated to more modest 15,555 square-foot digs in Century City). It is a fascinating economic story about America’s seemingly diminishing global power that the symbol of a Hollywood Empire would become the second home of a 22-year-old, who dropped $85 million in cash at a time when most Americans her age are moving back home with their parents. With its glitzy and baroque overtones, it was as if Aaron Spelling himself were producing it from the grave.
“Yes, it does seem like something right out of Dynasty,” Ecclestone chortles.
Wearing a black Splendid top, Genetic Denim jeans, and Isabel Marant boots, and coyly brandishing a black Hermès bag (“People think I collect them, which I don’t.”), Ecclestone may lack the shoulder pads to play Joan Collins’ Alexis character, but she does seem perfectly cast to play the role of the out-of-control debutantes that have crashed and burned under the American gaze this past decade—whether in mug shots, sex tapes, or reality shows. Ecclestone seems painfully aware of the narrative: “I feel like I always have to defend myself. When you’re perceived to be something you’re not, it’s frustrating.”
I know what you’re thinking: Poor, poor Petra.
And it’s not just you that’s thinking it. TMZ recently featured a bikini-clad Petra aboard a yacht in St. Tropez sipping from a bottle of what they called “poor people’s tears” in a segment called “Why Your Life Continues to Suck.”
Ecclestone takes it all in stride. “It’s actually worse in the U.K. I have to defend myself more there,” she says. “Americans are more apt to understand my parents’ story. They didn’t come from great beginnings, and they had to work very hard to get to where they got… I realize I am very privileged. But there’s a difference between being spoiled and privileged.”
It’s a sound bite that Ecclestone (and older sister Tamara, who is rumored to be landing a reality show in the U.S.) comes back to over and over again—and although neither elaborate much on the distinction, it’s not hard to see that it weighs heavily upon Petra. It’s a weight that feels, at least in part, to have motivated her latest business foray, Stark, a luxury handbag line with price points varying from $500 to $5000, launching in January. Ecclestone credits Tracey Emin, her favorite artist, as the inspiration behind the line’s first season.
“I love contemporary art: Ellen Von Unwerth, Sarah Lucas, Damien Hirst, whereas my husband (James Stunt) loves the masters. So, in the house we have his Old English masters and my modern, quirky art mixed together.”
Ecclestone utters all of this very nonchalantly, yet there’s an incredible heaviness of being that appears to inhabit her—she seems to be modifying her words as they come out of her mouth and fidgeting with her handbag as if it were a set of prayer beads. The key to this unusual world-weariness may be the unusual life-threatening illness she experienced at age 14. When you think of billionaire heiresses, Meningitis isn’t the disease that first comes to mind.
“Before I had Meningitis, I didn’t even know what it was,” she says. “That’s why I got involved in the Meningitis Foundation, to help raise awareness about the signs and the symptoms and how crucial the first 48 hours of it is.”
I wonder aloud whether having to face her own mortality at a time in her life she might have otherwise been facing her own pony maybe made her more sober than the run-of-the-mill billionaire heiress?
“I never went through the drug-taking, alcohol abusing [stage]. As long as I can remember, I’ve been a very big hypochondriac. I can have a really good time with one drink. More than that doesn’t seem like so much fun, plus I don’t want to disappoint my parents. I never want to let them down.”
As we say our goodbyes, I’m kind of hoping she’s going to invite me over for a round or two of bowling—the alley where she hosts nightly gatherings for her friends is perhaps the one remaining trace of Candyland. “I’m getting better. I get to 110 per round,” she boasts exuberantly. “It’s decent, but not amazing.”
I notice that the grill of her SUV is customized with the word “Petra” where the “Range Rover” logo normally appears. It seems incongruous with how she likes to keep a low profile.
“I had ‘The Petra’ in London and it wasn’t that big a deal, and then I came here and was like ‘Oh crap, that wasn’t a good move.’”
“Come on, Petra,” I implore. “Your car stands out more than the Batmobile.”
And that’s when I remember that despite the stable marriage, the close relationship with her parents and sibling, the disdain for drugs, alcohol, and cameras, and all-too-harrowing memories of an illness that threatened her life, Petra Ecclestone is still just a few years from her teens.
“My husband has a Lamborghini and the other day they [the paparazzi] jumped on the car and managed to get me with my pink knickers which wasn’t great.”
Then she hears the words that just tumbled out of her mouth and tacks on the coda, “but I’ll live.”