In many respects, a fall from grace is a good career move for the contemporary celebrity. Depending on the nature of the fall, it can often provide the recipient with a lucrative second career as a ‘survivor’, hiring a ghost-writer to pen the requisite misery memoir and enjoying a string of redemptive, Diana-like television and press interviews to elicit public sympathy and plug said volume in the process. Going off the rails with an intoxicating cocktail of drink and drugs is always a nice little earner once rehab has been endured and the begging for forgiveness begins in earnest; a short prison sentence ala Jeffrey Archer or Jonathan Aitken also helps. Eventually, there’s always the possibility all will be forgotten and the previous career can be tentatively revived as long as the celebrity in question exudes a degree of humility and a willingness to atone for their former sins.
However, if the fall had a sexual element to it that is deemed beyond the pale, there’s less of a possibility that the public’s affection can be regained. It’s hard to imagine, say, either Gary Glitter or Bill Cosby ever returning to the prominent positions they once enjoyed in the pop cultural firmament; and it’s only because Johnny Depp’s ex has been exposed as a manipulative, psychopathic domestic abuser bent on ruining his career that one of the most consistently successful movie stars of the last 30 years will probably avoid the terminal exile of the Hollywood blacklist. Depp is perhaps one of the few current male celebrities to have fallen foul of an especially vindictive playing of the sexist card whose future redemption is, in all likelihood, secure.
There’s always a build ‘em up/knock ‘em down factor present in this country when it comes to the fall from grace of a former hero, particularly a sporting one; we first saw it with George Best half-a-century ago, and a little later with Paul ‘Gazza’ Gascoigne – and whilst Best’s fall became intrinsic to his compelling life story, providing it with colourful off-the-field anecdotes that considerably enhanced the narrative, the jury remains out on whether Gazza will eventually find a posthumous resurrection. What of the sporting celebrity whose crimes are financial ones, though? What indeed of a three-time Wimbledon champion who became an overnight household name as a 17-year-old way back in 1985 and subsequently found himself making more money than he knew what to do with? Despite his apparent crimes being hard to distinguish from those of numerous City wheelers and dealers – and politicians, come to that – who have been rewarded with knighthoods, no one gave a flying f*** about them; they did about Boris Becker.
I well remember following Boris Becker’s astonishing run at Wimbledon in 1985. With all eyes focused on the usual anticipated finalists of the time such as defending champ John McEnroe, long-time battler Jimmy Connors, and world No.1 Ivan Lendl, the un-seeded adolescent steadily worked his way through each round and gradually began to attract attention as the favourites fell by the wayside, opening up the possibility the teenage sensation could make it further than anyone dared to imagine. He powered his way into a Semi-Final showdown with the No.5 seed, Anders Järryd and beat the Swede in four sets. Suddenly, a tournament in which the usual suspects were, for once, nowhere to be seen had sprung into life and Becker found himself facing No.8 seed Kevin Curren in the Final, a player ten years his senior. Nobody had seen anything quite like this in SW19 before. Becker won it, sealing his place in history as the youngest-ever Wimbledon champ and the first un-seeded player ever to triumph on Centre Court. It remains one of the great sporting moments, and it gifted Becker with an enduring popularity amongst those who follow tennis that seemed destined to last.
However, Becker, who enjoyed a good decade at the top of the tennis tree, is now facing the prospect of two-and-a-half years behind bars after being found guilty of hiding assets in the wake of his bankruptcy in 2017. Past Wimbledon champs such as McEnroe may have aroused the ire of the staid All England Club due to their behaviour on court, but Becker was the consummate pro whenever he strolled out to play and his unprecedented success as a teenage prodigy earned him the ongoing affection of the premier tennis tournament’s annual audience.
Even after hanging up his racquet for good, his post-playing career as commentator, pundit and occasional coach kept him in the public eye as a likeable character on the circuit and he never gave the club whose distinctive purple and green colours he wore for his final court appearance cause for concern in associating himself with the august institution. That Boris Becker should have swapped one kind of court for another has been a fall from grace that exposed him as guilty of either – depending on how one looks at it – financial naivety or a cynical evasion of a legal obligation.
54-year-old Boris Becker was declared bankrupt five years ago, in the wake of an unpaid loan exceeding £3 million on a property he owned in Spain. Having claimed the bulk of the fortune earned during his playing career – totalling around £38 million – disappeared into the black hole of an expensive divorce from his first wife as well as child maintenance payments to his four kids, Becker was suspected of concealing assets that should have been surrendered when bankruptcy beckoned. Found guilty of shifting hundreds of thousands of pounds around that he failed to own up to, Becker evidently had pretty bad financial advice or imagined he was cleverer than the team investigating his clumsy concealment.
Becker’s ‘crimes’ were valued at £2.5 million by the prosecution, and the facts that emerged were as follows: He didn’t declare a property he owned in Germany nor a £1.053 million house his mother resides in; he hid a euro bank loan of somewhere in the region of £700,000 (plus the interest) as well shares amounting to £75,000 in a tech company, and relocated upwards of £390,000 into the accounts of others.
Failure to disclose property and concealing debt under the Insolvency Act is treated as a serious crime with a potential prison sentence of seven years, though when Becker arrived at Southwark Crown Court to be sentenced last Friday, he was additionally ticked-off by Judge Deborah Taylor, who admonished Becker for his absence of humility. ‘I take into account what has been described as your fall from grace,’ she said. ‘You have lost your career and reputation and all of your property as a result of your bankruptcy.’ This acknowledgment of Becker’s embarrassing downfall was then followed by a less sympathetic summary of his behaviour. ‘You have not shown remorse, acceptance of your guilt and have sought to distance yourself from your offending and your bankruptcy,’ the Judge said. ‘I accept the humiliation you’ve felt, but you’ve shown no humility.’
Although it’s expected that Boris Becker will probably only serve around half his sentence in the clink, he’ll still have to serve it; as Mick Jagger once recalled when looking back at his own (admittedly brief) prison sentence back in 1967, he may have only spent the solitary night in Brixton, but the swift conditional discharge he received was unknown to him when the cell door slammed in his face and the grim reality of his situation hit him as the lights went out. Becker will have more than one opportunity to ruminate on the grim reality of his own situation over the next year or so. He might not be looking forward to decades of incarceration stretching out before him, but for someone who has lived the life of a jet-setting international celebrity ever since he was a teenager, perhaps the one item his appetite may belatedly acquire a taste for on the inside could be humble pie.
© The Editor