A mid-life crisis to end them all: TOM LEONARD on Jeff Bezos
Of all the gaudy embellishments that billionaires have commissioned for their superyachts in recent years, few have come close to the vulgarity that graces the Koru — Jeff Bezos‘s new, £400 million floating pleasure palace.
On the vessel’s prow, her bare breasts thrusting out over the waves, is a carved wooden figurehead that bears a striking resemblance to the Amazon founder’s new fiancee, Lauren Sanchez.
Above the sculpture’s gravity-defying cleavage is a necklace bearing the ‘koru’, a spiral based on an unfurling fern frond: in Maori art, it’s a symbol of new life and growth. Given that the couple announced their engagement only this week, that seems appropriate.
If ever an engagement ring could match that figurehead for sheer overblown opulence, it is surely the gargantuan rock Sanchez was flashing last weekend as she and Bezos holidayed together in the South of France. Experts estimate the diamond could be as much as 30 carats and have cost more than £4 million.
Bezos, a notorious control freak, had reportedly waited until he took possession of the yacht last month before proposing to Sanchez during its maiden voyage.
On New Year’s Day 2022, for instance, he posted pictures of himself and Sanchez at a party. He was wearing dubious heart-shaped dark glasses and a tight unbuttoned shirt, while Sanchez had opted for a characteristically skimpy, figure-hugging outfit
On the vessel’s prow, her bare breasts thrusting out over the waves, is a carved wooden figurehead that bears a striking resemblance to the Amazon founder’s new fiancee, Lauren Sanchez
Bezos, a notorious control freak, had reportedly waited until he took possession of the yacht last month before proposing to Sanchez during its maiden voyage
The couple, whose extra-marital affair began in 2018 and was exposed the following year amid a torrid drama involving leaked ‘sex’ messages and alleged extortion over nude photos, then disembarked to attend a Vanity Fair party at the Cannes Film Festival.
‘They were telling everyone they were engaged; they were so excited,’ an insider gushed to the New York Post. ‘They are completely in love.’
Another witness described them as behaving like ‘horny teenagers; they were all over each other’.
Sanchez’s appeal to Bezos may be rather obvious. In March, three of America’s top cosmetic surgeons were asked to speculate what ‘work’ the 53-year-old mother-of-three might have undergone, and came up with quite a shopping list, including a facelift, rhinoplasty (a nose job) and silicon lip filler.
Her breasts were apparently beyond their purview. Sanchez has never confirmed if she has had any surgery, although she freely admits her figure — as well as the once-scrawny Bezos’s muscled new look — is the result of relentless workouts in the gym.
Yet she’s no callow bimbo. Six years younger than her betrothed, she’s a former TV news anchor who overcame dyslexia to qualify as a helicopter pilot and launch the first female-owned and operated aerial filming company.
Experts estimate the diamond could be as much as 30 carats and have cost more than £4 million
Sanchez’s appeal to Bezos may be rather obvious. In March, three of America’s top cosmetic surgeons were asked to speculate what ‘work’ the 53-year-old mother-of-three might have undergone
Sanchez married and had three children with Patrick Whitesell, a Hollywood agent and now executive chairman of agency William Morris Endeavor, which counts the Duchess of Sussex among its clients. (Whitesell’s fortune of £360 million pales into insignificance compared with Bezos’s.)
So Sanchez will be entering her second marriage open-eyed. This week, the New York Post unromantically asked a prominent U.S. divorce lawyer to speculate on any pre-nuptial agreement and how much Sanchez might get if she and Bezos split.
Brett Ward estimated she could get an annual windfall of at least $1 million for every year she remained married, adding that a ‘multi-million-dollar residence is not out of the question’.
Having failed to agree a pre-nup with first wife MacKenzie — an error that cost him £30 billion when they divorced after 25 years — Bezos won’t make the same mistake twice, the lawyer predicted.
But perhaps it’s churlish to talk of divorce before the couple have even tied the knot.
Where will the happy ceremony take place? Some believe their plan is to wed on the Koru itself: at 417ft, the vessel is big enough to accommodate a huge party.
Lauren and Jeff’s romance was first exposed by the National Enquirer in January 2019, while he was married to Mackenzie Scott (left) and she was married to Patrick Whitesell (right)
It even boasts its own, smaller superyacht — a support vessel, the 246ft Abeona, which follows behind it carrying various extras — helipad, diving equipment, speed boats and, perhaps, a submarine — that might spoil the Koru’s clean lines.
If not, they could choose to wed at one of Bezos’s many homes, which include a nine-acre Beverly Hills estate he bought in 2020 for £134 million, as well as properties in Seattle, Washington DC, New York, Hawaii and a 300,000-acre Texan ranch. The pair flit between these properties in one of the billionaire’s brace of £50 million Gulfstream jets.
Some speculate they may even become the first couple to marry in space. Bezos, 59, was fired into the stratosphere aboard a rocket in 2021, while Sanchez is hoping to lead a crew of ‘impactful’ celebrity women into orbit early next year.
With his £111 billion fortune, Bezos is thought to be the world’s third-richest person — even after that punishing divorce from MacKenzie, with whom he has four children. He stepped down from the day-to-day running of Amazon in 2021, and has clearly taken to semi-retirement — and his new romance — with gusto.
On New Year’s Day 2022, for instance, he posted pictures of himself and Sanchez at a party. He was wearing dubious heart-shaped dark glasses and a tight unbuttoned shirt, while Sanchez had opted for a characteristically skimpy, figure-hugging outfit.
‘We had so much fun last night celebrating with a crazy disco party with family,’ wrote Bezos.
He then added piously: ‘The new year is also a great time to take stock and focus on personal growth, renewal, rebirth, and paying careful attention to each moment of your life. The good and the bad. All of it. Celebrate and grow.’
This self-indulgent twaddle attracted unkind comments from some of his four million Instagram followers, while anyone remotely acquainted with Bezos’s reputation for ruthlessness in business will find it hilarious that he lectures the world on the importance of being civil, saving the planet and giving money to good causes.
Amazon has been variously criticised for stealing customers’ data, anti-competitive behaviour, a toxic work culture and tax-avoidance. A 2019 study by campaign group Fair Tax Mark singled it out as being the worst offender among big tech companies for tax-avoidance, by shifting revenue and profits through tax havens or low-tax countries, and for delaying tax payments. (Amazon says it has low profit margins, so it ‘naturally’ pays tax at a lower rate.)
Now the couple — whose fortune comes from a company with a gargantuan carbon footprint and which was once caught sending millions of new products to landfill — insist they are particularly concerned about climate change.
Indeed, in 2021, they met Prince Charles at his Scottish retreat, Dumfries House, to discuss the issue before the United Nations’ COP26 climate summit.
And just how philanthropic they really are remains a moot point. Yes, he has pledged to give £575 million to the Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle over the next decade.
Amazon has been variously criticised for stealing customers’ data, anti-competitive behaviour, a toxic work culture and tax-avoidance
He’s also given nearly £100 million to fight homelessness and, in 2021, he unveiled an annual £80 million ‘Courage and Civility Award’, to be given to a public figure to spend on charity.
But that’s small change for him: in the same year, it was calculated that his fortune was increasing by £165 million every day.
Last November, to coincide with singer Dolly Parton winning the 2022 award, the couple gave a rare interview to CNN. Bezos repeated that he intends to give away most of his fortune, but added that he and Sanchez were finding it ‘really hard’ to decide how to do so.
A passion for philanthropy hasn’t been the only character transformation that has shocked Bezos’s friends since he started dating Sanchez.
The business-obsessed nerd, who habitually wore baggy cargo trousers and spent long nights number-crunching sales figures, seemed to undergo the most dramatic of midlife crises.
Following a makeover that saw him develop a taste for Prada jeans and tight shirts, he and Sanchez indulged in a breakneck romance that took them everywhere from Wimbledon (where they sat near members of the Royal Family) to the Taj Mahal.
The business-obsessed nerd, who habitually wore baggy cargo trousers and spent long nights number-crunching sales figures, seemed to undergo the most dramatic of midlife crises. Pictured in 1997
Following a makeover that saw him develop a taste for Prada jeans and tight shirts, he and Sanchez indulged in a breakneck romance that took them everywhere from Wimbledon (where they sat near members of the Royal Family) to the Taj Mahal
They enjoyed front-row seats at designer Tom Ford’s LA show next to Vogue queen Anna Wintour, and Bezos also attended Madonna’s post-Oscars party.
In December 2019, when he threw a glitzy birthday bash for Sanchez, the guests included singer Katy Perry and actors Orlando Bloom and Timothee Chalamet.
Since then, however, they appear to have settled down. Their usual evening is dinner with the kids followed by a film. ‘We can be kind of boring,’ Sanchez told CNN. ‘I would say ‘normal’.’
Sanchez, who by remarkable coincidence was born in the same hospital as Bezos in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is a third-generation Mexican-American.
‘We came from nothing. I used to sleep in the back of my grandmother’s car when she would go cleaning houses, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have a career,’ she said in 2017.
More recently, she has revealed that as well as ‘immersing myself in philanthropy and strategic giving’, she is writing a children’s book about a fly that goes on a rocket trip. She said her romance with Bezos had blossomed on helicopter rides she’d piloted and that he was learning to be a pilot, too.
Since then, however, they appear to have settled down. Their usual evening is dinner with the kids followed by a film
She said her romance with Bezos had blossomed on helicopter rides she’d piloted and that he was learning to be a pilot, too
‘We love to be together and we love to work together,’ she trilled. ‘He’s helping me with the book. He’s getting his pilot’s licence. We fly together. We work out together. We’re together all the time.’
What a contrast this happy domestic image provides against the tawdry revelations of their early relationship. In January 2019, the world was left gobsmacked — and Bezos and Sanchez deeply embarrassed — after lurid details of their affair were exposed by the National Enquirer magazine.
Bezos had known Sanchez’s husband Patrick Whitesell as a friend and business partner: they had worked together on the Amazon-funded, Oscar-winning 2016 film Manchester By The Sea.
Bezos’s claims that he was a ‘family man’ were undermined by the Enquirer’s publication of date-stamped text messages showing that his affair had been going on for at least eight months by early 2019, when he announced his marriage was over.
The magazine claimed Bezos had been ‘sending [Sanchez] raunchy messages and erotic selfies — including one steamy picture too explicit to print here’.
These digital love-notes were excruciating. ‘I love you, alive girl,’ Bezos wrote in one. ‘I will show you with my body, and my lips and my eyes, very soon.’
In another, he confided: ‘I miss you. I want to kiss you right now and tuck you in slowly and gently. And maybe in the morning wake you up and not be quite so gentle with you.’
The Enquirer claimed it had spent four months trailing the couple ‘across five states and 40,000 miles, tailing them in private jets, swanky limos, helicopter rides, romantic hikes, five-star hotel hideaways, intimate dinner dates and ‘quality time’ in hidden love nests’. Its investigators had photographed them together six times within 14 days.
It also accused the couple of indulging in ‘mile-high shenanigans’, running pictures of them boarding his Gulfstream jet and disembarking later with Sanchez wearing far fewer clothes.
They met most frequently at her beachfront home in Santa Monica, but also shared a private bungalow not far away at the Beverly Hills Hotel, it was claimed.
The following month, Bezos accused the Enquirer and its pro-Trump owner of ‘extortion and blackmail’, claiming the company had threatened to publish graphic photos of him — including what he memorably called a ‘below-the-belt selfie’ — if he didn’t affirm publicly that political considerations had nothing to do with its reporting of his affair.
The Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, claimed Sanchez’s brother, Michael, had sold photographs of Bezos for $200,000 to the National Enquirer’s publisher.
Michael denied leaking ‘the many penis selfies’, but did not comment on any other photos of Bezos that may have leaked.
Whatever the truth, for the many tech-industry veterans who’d known Bezos only as an almost monastically abstemious cold fish, these hot-blooded revelations were a bombshell.
This was the man, after all, who in 2014 had claimed: ‘I do the dishes every night. I’m pretty convinced it’s the sexiest thing I do.’
Meanwhile, former friends and lovers of Sanchez have portrayed her as a shameless opportunist and advised the Amazon boss not to marry her.
While he and his former wife, MacKenzie, a sometime novelist who had helped him build Amazon from scratch, insisted their split was ‘amicable’, she emerged from the divorce as America’s third-wealthiest woman.
As she promised, she has since given much of it away to charity. She married Seattle science teacher Dan Jewett in 2021, only to file for divorce the following year.
Bursting with amorous devotion to each other, Bezos and Sanchez will surely hope their marriage will last longer than that.