The motorsports supremo and privacy campaigner with a chequered family history

Max Mosley was a former motorsports supremo with a chequered family history, but his final years became defined by infamous front-page tabloid disclosures about his sex life.

Mr Mosley, 81, whose death was announced on Monday, pursued a High Court privacy case against the News of the World in 2008 after it published photos and video of his involvement in a sadomasochistic sex session.

He successfully sued the publisher of the Sunday tabloid after it wrongly reported he had attended a “Nazi-themed” sex party, with the lurid case converting Mr Mosley into a leading campaigner for greater press regulation.

The News of the World’s incorrect allegations came in the context of a parental legacy that Mr Mosley said had dogged him his entire life.

Max Mosley
Max Mosley speaking to the media in 2012 (Gareth Fuller/PA)

He was born in London in 1940 to Sir Oswald Mosley, the wartime leader of the British Union of Fascists, and Diana Mitford, one of six famous society sisters, who was an admirer of Adolf Hitler.

Their marriage took place at the German home of Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels, with Hitler as guest of honour.

Shortly after he was born, Mr Mosley’s mother was arrested under wartime regulations and held during the war in Holloway prison as a Nazi sympathiser.

The notorious family name made it impossible for a young Mr Mosley to pursue his own career in politics.

During his High Court battle he said: “All my life I have had hanging over me my antecedents, my parents, and the last thing I want to do in some sexual context is be reminded of it.

“I wouldn’t consider my parents to be Nazi, but there is obviously a link.”

Max Mosley
Max Mosley (left) pictured in 1962 (PA)

Appearing before the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee in 2009, he sparked a stunned response from MPs when he said his father might have overdone it a bit.

Mr Mosley said: “When I was young I always stuck up for him. You always have sympathy for your parents and I see why he did what he did – it does not mean I agree with him.”

Explaining his actions in the wake of the News of the World scandal, Mr Mosley added: “I think it is better to underdo it than overdo it.”

Citing Sir Oswald as an example, he said: “I think he overdid it – that stopped people thinking seriously about his ideas.”

Reacting to Mr Mosley’s death, campaign group Hacked Off said: “Newspapers attacked him on the basis of his father’s far-right political views, which Max himself had disowned long ago.”

The fallout from the News of the World story saw Mosley initially overcome calls for him to resign as president of the FIA (Federation Internationale de l’Automobile) – motorsport’s governing body- but the personal impact was profound.

Mr Mosley described how he felt he might never recover his dignity after the deeply personal disclosures.

“If someone takes away your dignity, you will never replace it,” he said in 2009.

“No matter how long I live or where in the world I am, people know about it.

“It’s not that I am ashamed of it in that I’m not ashamed of my bodily functions – but I don’t want them on the front of a newspaper.”

He would go on to openly speak about his interest in sadomasochism, saying it was a “quirk” of character and people are “animals in the end”.

Mr Mosley told a newspaper that his “deep interest” in beating as a sexual activity began when he was just three or four years old, but he did not know where it came from.

He also said that, three years after the scandal, his wife Jean, who he married in 1960 and with whom he had two sons, no longer wanted to go out.

The couple had already endured even greater personal hardship, the death of their eldest son, Alexander, in 2009.

A coroner would conclude that Alexander, 39, who suffered from depression, died of non-dependent drug abuse.

His father would go on to say that the News of the World story had a “very bad effect” on his son, and he would set up the Alexander Mosley Charitable Trust in his memory.

Max Mosley
Max Mosley married Jean Taylor at Chelsea register office in 1960 (PA)

His press experiences led Mr Mosley to campaign for stricter regulation and he donated funds to regulator Impress.

He believed newspapers should be obliged to notify their “victims” before exposing their private lives.

In 2018, he found himself embroiled in yet more controversy over allegations that he published a campaign leaflet linking non-white immigrants with diseases such as tuberculosis, VD and leprosy.

The pamphlet, supporting a candidate for his father’s Union Movement in a 1961 by-election, was unearthed by the Daily Mail in historical archives in Manchester.

The Labour Party subsequently said it would not accept any more donations from Mr Mosley, who gave more than £500,000 to former deputy leader Tom Watson.

Mr Mosley previously said he did not “recognise” the leaflet and it was “not something I would have ever wished to be associated with”.

Max Rufus Mosley spent his childhood in Ireland before attending schools in France and Germany.

He studied physics at Christ Church College, Oxford, where he became secretary of the Oxford Union, and graduated in 1961.

He was called to the bar in 1964 but later became involved in motorsport, racing in club events before graduating to Formula 2.

In 1969 he co-founded March Engineering, which became one of the sport’s leading manufacturers.

During the 1970s and 1980s he rose up the motor racing hierarchy, showing skills as a negotiator and diplomat, eventually becoming president of the FIA in 1993.

He won repeated re-elections until his departure in 2009.

A former Who’s Who entry listed his hobbies as snowboarding and walking.