CARDS ON THE table time. This column has never been a fan of Sir Jackie Stewart. Never, ever. Sure, we can marvel at his genius behind the wheel. Who wouldn't? And we are moved by some of the stories he tells about friends who have perished on the track. Some of those tales are very sad, like the terrible demise of the great Jim Clark.
Jackie and Jim were supposedly mates (that's what Jackie says) but they were about as similar as chalk and cheese. The more I read about Clark the more bewitching a character he becomes, the higher up he goes on the list of sportsmen I wished I'd interviewed. (Current top three: 1. Sonny Liston; 2. Tommy Armour; 3. Muhammad Ali) I spent an afternoon with one of the Clark sisters a few years ago and the stories she told about her late brother were utterly fascinating. His complexity, his secrecy; Clark would be No.4 on that list of mine.
Jackie in comparison? Hmm. Wouldn't have ranked in the top 100 before this business with the Royal Bank of Scotland. Wouldn't be in the top 200 now. Occasionally his corporate face drops and we get to see an interesting man but most of the time he's out there waffling on about his superb friendships with Lord this and Sir that and King and Queen of who cares where. His autobiography contains some fine sections but it is bogged down with junk about his sponsors, about his contracts with, among many, many others, Rolex and how he gets his shirts made in such a way (left cuff slightly raised above the wrist) as to show off his timepiece.
"I bought my first Rolex watch in Houston, Texas in 1966... and I have never worn another brand since," he writes. "It remains a magnificent product with universal appeal: sportsmen value its ruggedness, adventurers enjoy its reliability and just about the entire world appreciates its elegance...
"Even after all these years, I am still filled with wonder and awe whenever I visit the company's headquarters in Geneva and I take a moment to observe the craftsmen wearing white laboratory smocks and sitting at their worktops in near silence as they set about the task of producing the finest watches in the world."
God help us.
Jackie cites loyalty as one of his greatest strengths. He is loyal to RBS therefore he is going to stick by the 4m contract his mate, Sir Fred Goodwin, gave him three years ago. Stewart has been asked if he'd consider renegotiating the deal in light of the financial meltdown of the company and the imminent mass redundancies there. Jackie replied: "I am sorry these people are losing their jobs but I signed a contract and have done my bit. I have two years more to run."
Of course, he was talking from his tax haven in Switzerland. So while we bail out the mob that pay him 800,000 a year, Sir Jackie does a Fred the Shred and gives nothing back. It's his legal right. But where's the class? Where's the dignity? To use one of his favourite words, where's the "integrity"?
Another line from his book: "Whenever in doubt, I seek counsel... whether it was His Majesty King Hussein or Lord King in the 1990s, or whether it is Sir Fred Goodwin today, I have never hesitated to seek the advice of a wise and trusted friend."
Who knows if at some stage this week Jackie sought the advice of a wise and trusted friend and if he was told to take every penny. The flags aren't the only chequered things in Jackie's story.