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Unlike Clooney and Cowell, our fast Eddie shows no signs of settling down

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Eddie Irvine

Eddie Irvine

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Kelly Brook

Kelly Brook

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Eddie Irvine

While other infamous playboys have eventually seemed to slow down, our own Eddie Irvine continues to live it up, writes Gillian Fitzpatrick.

Since Ava Gardner,  and Elizabeth Taylor became fans more than a half a century ago, the upmarket village of Portofino on the Italian Riviera has attracted a long stream of celebrities, socialites and wealthy tycoons. Good-humoured locals claim that the area boosts the world's most expensive traffic jams - lines of soft-top Lamborghinis, Ferraris and Maseratis forced to a standstill on the fishing village's winding, cobblestone streets.

It is exactly the sort of glamorous setting that particularly appeals to an ageing Formula 1 driver who so far has doggedly refused to relinquish his man-about-town title.Despite turning 50 next year, and unlike many men that age, Eddie Irvine shows no signs of overhauling his Playboy lifestyle.

Now long-term bachelors like George Clooney and Simon Cowell are off the market, Irvine remains holding the torch for those single and always ready to mingle. Indeed, if anything the Co. Down native is embracing with greater enthusiasm all the advantages of being a "ferrarista", a status bestowed by Italians on those who have driven competitively with the famed black stallion on their engines.

Unsurprisingly, Eddie returns to Italy whenever his schedule allows.

Last weekend, and more than a decade into retirement, Mr Irvine was spotted in the waters off the coast of Portofino. His hair is almost entirely grey, and the impressive physique he displayed during his days as a professional sportsman now more clearly bears the hallmarks of good food, good wine, and age. Not that Eddie has ever been short of female attention.

Accompanying him on the boat was a willowy blonde wearing the sort of revealing bikini that willowy blondes often seem partial. Tall, slim and most certainly still in her 20s, she is exactly the type that Eddie has been consistently linked to since 1993 when he joined the Jordan F1 team.

Two decades on and it is because of his shrewd global investments that Eddie's five-star lifestyle remains in full swing. At one stage he owned two busy bars in central Dublin, and he still runs a sports complex in Bangor.

Last year he flipped a waterfront Miami pad, doubling his money in the process. Although he invested heavily in the Irish market, he was smart enough to sell up much of his portfolio before the crash, meaning that even in retirement the bachelor can lay claim to a fortune of some €92.5million.

It is of little surprise then that beauties including Michelle Doherty, Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, Pamela Anderson and Rachel Hunter have been spotted in Irvine's company over the years. This week, Kelly Brook threw her name into the ring, describing in her new autobiography their "awkward and uncomfortable" first date while she was still a teenager.

The model says Eddie had spotted her at Silverstone and later contacted her to ask her out for dinner, though Kelly also reveals that at the time she was 18 and "living at home. "I had no game, I wasn't cool," she adds. The pair ended up dining at London's upmarket Nobu restaurant, afterwards returning to the driver's hotel room for a "kiss and a fumble".

Though Ms Brook may remember awkward conversation only further hampered by their 14-year age-gap, communication skills have rarely preoccupied Eddie. Back in 1997, he was asked to reveal the secret behind his relationship with a Brazilian model who spoke no English (he speaks no Portuguese).

His answer has now entered popular lore. "I get on fine with her, she's a bit thick and she's not great looking," he is famously quoted as saying, before adding "but she's dynamic in bed". Whether entirely true or not, the line has been repeated often.

"It's all part of his image," a former associate of Irvine's has previously stated. "Sure, some of it is hearsay, some of it is downright untrue, but Ed never minds - he loves his reputation. He embraces it. He has no intention of settling down. He enjoys himself far too much."

But beyond the fun and frivolity of the high life, "Steady Eddie" found his name being dragged through the Italian courts earlier this year. A Milanese judge heard allegations of a late-night brawl in 2008 involving the F1 driver and Gabriele Moratti, a socialite and oil refining heir.

Clashing in the Hollywood club on Milan's upmarket Corso Como, the court was told the commotion began when Irvine sat in the VIP area chatting to the pretty ex-girlfriend of Moratti. In the end, the judge decreed a six month sentence issued to both parties would be most apt.

Lawyers are now appealing, and it is likely the case will eventually fizzle out in the complex Italian judicial system, but Irvine was said to be unsettled by the ordeal.

A high-profile court case and custodial sentence has undoubtedly been a recent hiccup in an otherwise idyllic life. Still, it seems unlikely that he will change his lifestyle. Millions in the bank; a string of girlfriends, days spent in luxe destinations. Firmly clinging to his playboy identity, life in the fast lane continues to suit Eddie Irvine.

Irish Independent