“That’s fantastic to know,” the first publicist said. “Everyone likes promoting something that’s doing good.”
Petra smiled. “You don’t feel as guilty buying it,” she said.
Petra and Tamara are said to have had a normal upbringing. Bernie, the five-foot-three-inch-tall son of a trawler, worked his way up from selling spare motorcycle parts to owning a majority stake in Formula One.
Slavica, who is six feet two, grew up in a coastal village the daughter of a fireman and a vegetable seller, posed naked for a magazine, became a Fila model, and married Bernie in 1985, after meeting him at the Italian Grand Prix. Bernie and Slavica divorced in 2009; prior to that, Tamara has said, Slavica cooked dinner for the family every night, and Bernie did the washing up.
“My parents were very well-off, but we didn’t have a crazy-huge house,” Petra told me. “We didn’t have thousands of workers and staff; it was just my mum doing the majority of the housework. We didn’t have nannies. I wasn’t brought up in any sort of extravagant way.” But a fiction of simple housewifery is harder to maintain when your house is bigger than the White House; you are attended by caretakers, housekeepers, an assistant, several bodyguards, and a butler; and you don’t know how to cook.
One afternoon just before the holidays, Petra invited me over for a lesson from her chef Jeffrey Nimer. Rodney, the butler—“He just helps around the house,” Petra said—opened the door. Petra was in the living room in her pajamas—gray velour sweats, gray sweatshirt with pink lettering (love pink), gray moccasins—meeting with Lauren Bosworth, one of her managers, whose agency’s other clients, Bosworth told me, include Dr. Drew, Piers Morgan, and Ivanka Trump.
“We’re learning how to do a roast chicken, ’cause that’s James’s favorite,” Petra said, leading the way to the kitchen. She had exactly one hour to spend on the project. Nimer was ready, in a blue apron, with the ingredients laid out. There were whole asparagus and diced asparagus; whole mushrooms and chopped mushrooms; sprigs of rosemary, marjoram, and thyme next to ramekins filled with minced versions: remedial food prep for someone who might not have ever seen an intact mushroom in her life.
Petra plopped her ring on the counter beside the herbs and struggled to put on a pair of rubber gloves. “Oh, gosh,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve ever worn gloves.” The chef unwrapped a whole chicken and showed her how to tuck its wings under to maintain the shape. “What happens if you take them off?” Petra asked, and Nimer had to explain that the wings were one of the parts that people like to eat: “Like when people go out for chicken wings, that’s what this is.” He instructed her to pour some olive oil on the bird and sprinkle it with herbs. They filled the cavity with halved lemons. “These are all herbs from the garden, and lemons from the tree,” he said.