Sad Bernie Ecclestone's billions can't buy him any happiness
I don't usually have time for big questions. I regularly struggle to answer small ones, like 'What temperature should you wash white cotton underwear at?' and 'Mum, why don't I have any clean pants?' But lately I've found myself musing on more profound issues, perhaps because modern life keeps throwing up examples of lives which contradict the consensus, common sense view of the world.
I know money doesn't banish misery, but one might have thought Formula 1 tycoon Bernie Ecclestone's £3bn might have taken the edge off a bit. Yet Bernie said this week he didn't know what happiness was. "What do those feelings mean?" he said in an interview with The Times. "I have experienced satisfaction when I have planned something and it has come off. But happiness? I am not so sure."
Maybe it was just a bad day but it sounds like, at 82, Ecclestone has done a bit of thinking about his life, his family (including his two divorces) and his workaholicism and has been left rather bruised by the experience. He appears to be aware of a psychological or spiritual hole somewhere, and of his inability to fill it.
I wonder how his daughter Tamara feels about his melancholy fug. If my dad aired such disquiet less than a month after giving me away at my wedding – an occasion which often gives a father pause for thought, not least because he has to make a speech about the ways in which his daughter has made him proud – I think I'd be worried. Especially bearing in mind that, as he also revealed in the interview, Ecclestone ducked out of the actual wedding celebrations.
"I went home," he said. "I was there for a job and was happy to do that. I didn't want to hang around. The whole thing was a huge affair, too much really."
Was it the three-day beach party's estimated £7m price tag (met by his ex-wife) which dampened Bernie's brio I wonder? A lack of empathy with the mooning, vomiting, tattooed actor and pop star guests? Or the hour-long set by Elton John? Who knows.
It has struck me lately that happiness seems increasingly less connected to success. There have always been tragic superstars, but loneliness and paranoia seem to come almost as a given with high profile achievement these days.
The sad tales of celebrity self-harmers, drug addicts and depressives like Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan and Lady Gaga are no longer stand-outs, they're par for the course.
This could be connected to the devaluing of success itself. As we become aware of the mediocrity of those who judge quality, what does success mean? You can have a hit single if you have nice teeth and a cute mop top and Louis Walsh believes you to be talented.
You can have a book published because you made a good living getting undressed once and let your car crash of a life become tabloid fodder when your looks began to fade. You can become a high-ranking politician by going to the same school as previously high-ranking politicians' children.
Even if you're not celebrity-minded, you might secure yourself a top job at a hospital or in the police just by staying quietly on-message and not telling anyone when rules are broken and common decency set aside (definitely don't do that; chances are you'll be sacked on the spot).
Yes, there are routes to the top. But, as Bernie shows, no guarantee you'll feel good when you get there.