Max Mosley, privacy campaigner and outspoken FIA president, dies aged 81 | Max Mosley

The former motorsport chief and privacy campaigner Max Mosley has died at the age of 81.

Mosley, who began his career in motor racing as an amateur driver, was an outspoken president of the FIA, the governing body of Formula One, between 1993 and 2009.

His life changed in 2008 when stories about his sex life appeared on the front page of the News of the World, along with baseless suggestions that he held orgies with a Nazi theme. This provided him with a new focus and he became a high-profile campaigner for stricter press controls.

Bernie Ecclestone, the former boss of Formula One, confirmed the death to BBC Sport. “It’s like losing family, like losing a brother, Max and I,” he said. “He did a lot of good things not just for motorsport, also the [car] industry. He was very good in making sure people built cars that were safe.”

Mosley was the youngest son of Oswald Mosley, former leader of the British Union of Fascists, and Diana Mitford. His association with his father’s fascist political movement included a job as an election agent running a 1961 byelection campaign featuring racist leaflets warning about immigrants bringing disease and poverty to the UK.

Max Mosley with Hong Kong driver Marchy Lee in Shanghai in 2004.
Max Mosley with Hong Kong driver Marchy Lee in Shanghai in 2004. Photograph: South China Morning Post/Getty Images

After qualifying as a barrister he became increasingly involved in the world of motorsport, giving up his attempts to make it as a driver and instead focusing on the behind-the-scenes organisations that are involved in Formula One. His tenure in charge of the FIA was known for its focus on safety in the aftermath of the deaths of drivers Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. This continued to be a focus of his activities even after he cut ties with Formula One in 2009, and he often travelled the world promoting driver safety.

Despite Mosley’s family history in fascist movements – his parents were married in the presence of Adolf Hitler – he later joined the Labour party during Tony Blair’s leadership and formed unlikely alliances with left wing politicians pushing for restrictions on the activities of British newspapers. He provided millions of pounds of funding towards press reform groups including underwriting the substantial costs of the officially recognised press regulator Impress, and donated £500,000 to fund the private office of former Labour party deputy leader Tom Watson.

Max Mosley (centre) speaks to the press after winning his case against the News of the World in 2008.
Max Mosley (centre) speaks to the press after winning his case against the News of the World in 2008. Photograph: Carl Court/PA

His political views came under further scrutiny in 2018 when he told the Guardian that he had supported the principle of apartheid in South Africa during the 1960s and had felt it “perfectly legitimate to offer immigrants financial inducements to go home”.

After Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World published its infamous front page detailing his sex life, Mosley decided to bring a privacy action against the newspaper. He talked openly about his desire for consensual S&M sex and insisted that the outlet had no right to put his private life on its front page. His landmark legal victory and £60,000 damages helped change attitudes towards privacy in the British media, with the judge concluding “there was no public interest or other justification” for the newspaper to publish video of him with a number of sex workers.

Rather than stop there, he continued to fight his case on other fronts, unsuccessfully attempting to convince the European court of human rights to introduce a requirement for British newspapers to give advance notice to people whose privacy they planned to invade. He also offered to underwrite the legal costs of people bringing court cases against Rupert Murdoch’s News International in the early stages of the phone hacking scandal.

Mosley is survived by his wife Jean and son Patrick. His other son, Alexander, died at 39 from a drugs overdose shortly after the first legal victory against the News of the World.

Mosley later set up a family trust in Alexander’s memory which provided funding to scientific research, addiction organisations, and groups which shared his views on the media.

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