Rupert Murdoch, last of the old romantics

You’re only as old as the woman you feel. Or so goes the old joke. One assumes the media nonagenarian Rupert Murdoch, newly betrothed to the comely Ann Lesley Smith, 26 years his junior, must be feeling positively spry this week.

In an exclusive interview offered to the New York Post, one of his own papers, the 92-year-old shared with the Page Six columnist Cindy Adams his expectations regarding marriage number five. He proposed with an Asscher-cut solitaire diamond, on St Patrick’s Day, following a whirlwind romance. “I was very nervous,” he told Adams in an odd staccato that sounds like someone reading from a wartime telegram. “I dreaded falling in love — but I knew this would be my last. It better be. I’m happy.”

Smith, a former journalist, recording artist and San Francisco police chaplain, was sanguine about finding love at 66. “In perspective, it’s not my first rodeo,” she told Adams. “Getting near 70 means being in the last half. I waited for the right time. Friends are happy for me.”

Adams, who is 92 herself, refrained from pointing out that Murdoch must surely be in his last 10th. 

More significantly, the engagement once again reminds us how very small the world is when you are one of the ultra-rich. One of the earliest sightings of the couple was in January, while they were holidaying in Barbados, at the invitation of Lord and Lady Bamford, the couple who have emerged as chief consiglieri to the global power elite. Lord Bamford, whose fortune was made through the JCB construction machinery business, is a major Tory donor, and his family has made available various accommodations for the former prime minister Boris Johnson and his wife Carrie in recent years. The Bamfords’ home of Daylesford House in Gloucestershire was used as a venue for the couple’s wedding reception, and the Johnsons stayed at another property owned by Lady Bamford following Johnson’s departure from Number 10.

From their base in the Cotswolds, the Bamfords sit at the centre of a fascinating power nexus that includes former Conservative leaders, lower-ranking nobles and media mavens, including Murdoch’s long-term henchwoman Rebekah Brooks. When the business database at Daylesford Organic, Carole Bamford’s luxury food company, was targeted by Russian criminals last September and held for ransom, the contacts book offered an illuminating list of patrons, including the columnist, petrolhead and farmer Jeremy Clarkson, the Duchess of York and “national treasure” Sir David Attenborough.

Murdoch, whose personal fortune is estimated at some $21.7bn, presumably has no call for Bamford largesse when planning his summer nuptials. But then again, I wouldn’t be surprised. Were I an enterprising singleton in search of someone in possession of a colossal fortune, I would get myself to Daylesford and loiter near the cheddar aisle.

Murdoch’s decision to get married after so short and sweet a courtship is apparently a manifestation of his religious leanings: he prefers to be married than to date. It also makes for a rather endearing portrait of a man addicted to the romantic journey. Surely, at 92, one would be best advised to keep a mistress, if only to ward off future disputes regarding one’s estate? It seems incomprehensible that Murdoch would be prepared to expose his fortune to yet another beneficiary.

Then again, Murdoch’s divorce arrangements remain a mystery, and that may well be by design. It has become the stuff of myth that he paid out $1.7bn to Anna Murdoch Mann, the mother of Elisabeth, James and Lachlan (currently co-chairman of News Corp), on their divorce in 1999. That reported number, however, may be wrong. Meanwhile, subsequent reports say Murdoch gave his first four children $100mn-$150mn payments in order to get his two daughters with Wendi Deng included in the Murdoch trust. The trust of six will ultimately share the inheritance.

One imagines that, at 92, there are fewer concerns that this new union will require the trust to grow again. Then again, followers of Succession, which returns to screens this weekend (hallelujah), will be quick to note that billionaire media barons are capable of fertility miracles. Jesse Armstrong’s fictional study of the conglomerate Waystar Royco and its dynastic struggles last found its boorish patriarch Logan Roy increasingly yielding to the ministrations of his PA and confidante Kerry Castellabate. In particular, there was much consternation that she was encouraging him to drink a strange sperm-enhancing elixir made from maca root.

Logan Roy’s romantic conquests are far less demonstrative than Rupe’s. But were I Elisabeth, Lachlan, James, Prudence, Grace or Chloe, I might keep an eye on what goes in those celebratory aperitifs.

Email Jo at [email protected]

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