Pictured: James Stunt on the town earlier this year
Petra Ecclestone clearly doesn’t know the old dictum that revenge is a dish best served cold. When the Formula 1 heiress inflicted retribution upon James Stunt, it came with all the heat of a thermonuclear attack and was every bit as devastating.
There was sad stuff and mad stuff in yesterday’s eyewatering take-down of her former husband.
But mostly there was a lot of bad stuff – the kind of damning detail which only a woman who has shared a man’s bedroom and his bank account would know.
Calling him ‘a prat’ and ‘a narcissist’ was the least of it. Stunt, she says, wore full make-up. By the end of their marriage, he was telling people he was the illegitimate son of the Duke of Edinburgh.
She claims he had a prescription drug addiction and a cocaine habit. His Lamborghini, one of his prized fleet of supercars, was a fake, she says, a homebuilt kit car which had an ordinary Ford key for its ignition.
As for his claim to be a self-made billionaire, it simply wasn’t true, she insists.
Ms Ecclestone has kept her counsel since her toxic divorce from Stunt in 2017, but a series of aggressive online video attacks from the businessman and art collector have finally provoked the 30-year-old mother-of-three to respond in a blistering Instagram post.
It follows The Mail on Sunday’s revelation that Stunt lent at least three fake paintings, a ‘Monet’, a ‘Dali’ and a ‘Picasso’, to the Prince of Wales’s charity, Dumfries House in Scotland – a fact that, despite Stunt’s continued denials, Ms Ecclestone confirms.
She says she even met the forger who created the replica artworks and declares herself ‘baffled’ by her husband’s audacious attempt to pass them off as real.
Petra Ecclestone pictured with James Stunt at her 24th birthday party at Giorgio Baldi
It follows The Mail on Sunday’s revelation that Stunt lent at least three fake paintings, a ‘Monet’, a ‘Dali’ (above) and a ‘Picasso’, to the Prince of Wales’s charity, Dumfries House in Scotland – a fact that, despite Stunt’s continued denials, Ms Ecclestone confirms
The paintings have now been removed from public display at Dumfries House, a Palladian mansion that Prince Charles helped save for the nation and turn into a cultural institute.
‘I have thought long and hard regarding what I am about to post,’ begins Ms Ecclestone. ‘I have always been a private person and never really wanted to have my “dirty laundry” aired in public. Unfortunately, Instagram has given James Stunt a platform to publicly tell lies about my family and [me] for too long.
‘For that reason, it is now time to tell the truth about my ex-husband – a horrible and narcissistic man who simply will not leave us alone.’
Stunt has launched a series of attacks on his former wife and her business magnate father Bernie, claiming – apparently without foundation – that Mr Ecclestone, the former Formula 1 chief executive, has helped orchestrate a media campaign to vilify him.
Aside from general abuse, Stunt has accused Ms Ecclestone of misappropriating one of his Lamborghinis.
‘Let’s shatter the James Stunt myth,’ she writes. ‘The man is not a billionaire and never was. Naively, I funded his life for our entire marriage and paid for his cars, his watches, his art (the few real ones) even his failed company.
She continues: ‘Sadly, James always had such a sick obsession with money and being perceived to be an independently successful billionaire. The trouble is he spent most of his days in bed, high on prescription drugs.
She says she even met the forger who created the replica artworks and declares herself ‘baffled’ by her husband’s audacious attempt to pass them off as real (pictured: The ‘Monet’)
‘James rants obsessively and on a daily basis about my father. Yet all he has ever tried to do is help him.
‘James conveniently forgets the £10 million my dad loaned him to fund his failed business. I guess he won’t be getting that back any time soon. James claims I sold his Lamborghini. The reality is that it was a kit car with a Ford key – something else that is not real about James Stunt. I can 100 per cent say I did not sell the car. My house manager simply moved it because James had dumped it at our house and refused to have it moved. Probably because he enjoyed the free storage.
‘Still to this day I pay the bills of a Rolls-Royce he financed in my name, not to mention the storage of all of his art in LA.’
The Mail on Sunday understands that Ms Ecclestone has reported her former husband to the police following what she claimed had been a campaign of abuse.
Until this point, it had been a celebrity spat made all the more colourful by the extraordinary fortune and privilege enjoyed by those involved, although it must not be forgotten that the warring couple have three small children, Lavinia, six and twin sons Andrew and James, four.
Where it shifted from salacious to serious, though, was in relation to the art.
Stunt burnished his fantasy of money and power with some of life’s most expensive luxuries: supercars, a £400,000 wine cellar and exclusive watches.
He also styled himself as an art dealer and collector. Art was his passion, ostentatiously displayed in his homes and offices in London and Los Angeles.
Legendary: Lamborghinis are highly prized but Ms Ecclestone says one of Mr Stunt’s was a kit car (pictured: The car destroyed and burned out at the roadside earlier this year)
And he used it to inveigle his way into the posh charity circles of the Prince of Wales.
In 2017, he lent 17 of his paintings for public display at Dumfries House, the headquarters of the Prince’s Foundation. Earlier this month, The Mail on Sunday revealed that three of these paintings, with a combined insurance value of £104 million, were fakes created on a kitchen table in California by a world-class forger and former jailbird called Tony Tetro.
Ms Ecclestone writes: ‘In regards to the recent [Mail on Sunday] articles referencing the forged art that James loaned to Prince Charles and Dumfries House, I actually met Tony Tetro at our house in LA during the time that James was commissioning the paintings to be made. It is therefore somewhat baffling to me to now hear James say that the paintings are real.
‘I was also recently contacted by a friend in London, [from whom] James was trying to secure a £20 million loan using… fake art as collateral. Needless to say, they were rather angry after reading the articles in the newspaper.’
The story of Stunt’s fake art took a further twist earlier this month, when the MoS revealed that someone from Stunt’s office had supplied bogus documentation to a renowned Dali expert, apparently in an attempt to persuade him to say that one of the paintings by Tetro was in fact real.
Petra with new fiancé Sam Palmer
He has denied all The Mail on Sunday’s allegations, insisting that the three paintings at issue are authenticated masterpieces. He has separately denied either selling or attempting to sell fake art.
Last night, Stunt posted yet another video in response to Ms Ecclestone, saying: ‘Petra, it is very sad to me that you have had to tell so many lies… I am the strongest person in the world because I am secure within myself.’
He also says: ‘I care to an extent what my ex-wife thinks as you have to understand that she was the love of my life and she’s the mother of my children. I have one weakness and that’s my children.’
In an at times incoherent monologue, he appeared to dispute the claim that he had never been a billionaire and that he wore make-up.
Petra and Stunt met on a blind date arranged by mutual friends in 2006 and married in a 2011 ceremony at Castello Orsini-Odescalchi near Rome at a reported cost of £12 million.
For a beautiful blonde socialite with a £270 million fortune, Petra is said to be surprisingly shy.
Stunt, who was declared bankrupt in June, has always enjoyed a more public profile, revelling in his image as a wheeler-dealer billionaire with dozens of supercars and boasting of a £5 million credit line in every major casino in London, Monaco, Las Vegas and Macau.
He has also claimed to be the godson of Terry Adams, head of Britain’s biggest crime family.
Petra is now in a relationship with Sam Palmer, the best friend of her sister Tamara’s husband Jay Rutland. The pair announced their engagement last New Year’s Eve and have just revealed they have a new baby on the way.
It seems that pregnancy and the prospect of a second wedding – the couple are expected to set a date early in the New Year – has made Petra weary of Stunt’s repeated attacks on Instagram.
‘The things that James has said about me, Sam, my father, my mother and the rest of my family are as disgusting and despicable as they come,’ she says. ‘I am a pregnant mum-of-three and I just want to be able to get on with my life.
‘I have no hatred, only sadness that a man I was once married to can be so full of venom. One of the reasons we moved from London to LA was to get away from all the threats from James.
‘The sad reality of it is James is not a gangster, he’s a public school boy that likes to pretend he is from the street and related to gangsters. He’s not. He’s just a prat.
‘Sam has called him so many times to try and put a stop to all this nonsense but like a true coward he will not answer and instead rambles on in drug-fuelled rants about us on Instagram.’
She adds: ‘Myself and the children are so lucky to now have a real father/partner in our lives – a man who doesn’t want people to think he is rich or famous but who just cares about us. I wish James would just leave us all alone for ever and get the help he needs.
‘Strangely, he actually believes he is a good father, whilst going on Instagram telling his purchased followers that he likes to inject cocaine. I am so sad that one day my children will probably see all of this.
‘I don’t know if he is simply an evil person made worse by the drug use or actually unwell.
‘I have literally begged his parents to get him help. I do not know what more I can do.’ Certainly Stunt’s behaviour does not sound like that of a stable man.
Petra reveals: ‘Towards the end of our marriage, he had taken to wearing a full face of make-up, insisted on using a satellite phone (as apparently all of his calls were being bugged) and even told friends that he was Prince Philip’s illegitimate son.’
She goes on: ‘Whilst we were married, he had someone create a Wikipedia page stating he was a billionaire. Later, he had an entire website created, listing himself on a billionaire rich list that he then paid Google Ads to promote if anyone searched his name.
‘This gives you just a small insight into the bizarre world I found myself in, as a young and naïve 23-year-old girl.
‘In some respects I blame myself for helping create the monster he has now become.
‘I gave him the access to money and the more he had, the worse he became. He simply wasn’t like that in the beginning.’
She speaks with dismay about the impact his degenerating behaviour has had on Lavinia and the twins, saying: ‘We have three wonderful children together but sadly he has never taken an interest in them. I have never once tried to stop him seeing his children, however the court did order that he would need to pass a drugs test to do so – something he has never been able to do.
‘James has never… sent the children a birthday or Christmas card and makes no effort to contact them. As people can see from his rants and erratic behaviour on Instagram, it is not safe for me to put my children in harm’s way.’
Petra even accused her former husband of turning his own children out of the family home for a time. ‘I paid James millions in our divorce settlement as I felt this was the right thing to do. I assume he now must have spent it and that’s why he constantly sends messages blackmailing me and my father to buy him a house.
‘As a final insult, when we separated, James refused to leave the family home, forcing the children and I to stay in a rented apartment until he was eventually removed by the court.
‘In this time he was having cocaine binges with his friends in mine and the children’s home. Not the caring father he likes to publicly claim.’
Petra has had two years of sustained social media attacks from Stunt. Now she’s presented the bill.
The question remains – if Stunt is as broke as she suggests, how will he be able to buy his way out of trouble?