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Sunday 16 June 2013

   

The scramble for reasons behind Murdoch split

Tycoon's break-up from the formidable Wendi Deng has shocked the media, which is clamouring to find out why, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards

'Am also told that undisclosed reasons for Murdoch divorcing Deng are jaw-dropping & hate myself for wanting to know what they are," tweeted Robert Peston, the BBC's serious-minded business editor.

Meanwhile, Rupert Murdoch's biographer, Michael Wolff, is "absolutely gobsmacked".

What dropped my jaw and smacked my gob happened in 1999 when I learnt that a man as savvy as Murdoch was ditching his second wife, Anna, in a $1bn divorce and after 32 years, to marry an ambitious woman half his age. Yes, I know old men can be very silly, but this seemed to me folly on an epic scale.

Born with a name that means "Cultural Revolution", Deng Wenge understandably changed her name to Wendi. She starred at volleyball, and had, said her academic adviser, "a struggling spirit".

She was a 17-year-old medical student in Hangzhou when she met Jake and Joyce Cherry, from Los Angeles, who were living there while Jake built a factory. When Wendi asked if they'd teach her English, Joyce agreed.

After Joyce went back home, Jake reported that Wendi would like to study in America, so the couple sponsored her application for a student visa and she moved in with them until Joyce discovered they were having an affair.

Jake, 53, and Wendi, 21, subsequently ran away together and married, but after four months Jake chucked her out when he found out she was involved with a younger man. "She told me I was a father concept to her," he later told a journalist, "but it would never be anything else. I loved that girl." However, they were married for 31 months, which was long enough for her to get a green card.

With a BA in economics from California State University and an MBA from Yale, Wendi was given an internship at News Corporation's Star TV in Hong Kong, where she was said to be extremely popular with the expatriate staff, and brilliant at schmoozing.

In 1997, she enterprisingly gate-crashed a party Murdoch gave in Hong Kong and introduced herself, shortly afterwards becoming his interpreter in Shanghai and Beijing. A romance developed and Murdoch's four children were said to be horrified, but there was no stopping it. In the ensuing divorce, Anna gave up her claim to half his fortune in exchange for the children getting one vote each in a family trust, half of which he controlled.

Wendi was a "home decorator", Murdoch explained after their marriage. She was intelligent, but not "some business genius about to take over News".

But Wendi wanted more than home decoration. She smartened her husband up and made him go to the gym, dye his hair and eat healthily. She gave birth to two daughters and caused family ructions in 2006, over the demand that their share of the family trust should include voting rights. The senior children prevailed over their father and stepmother, to whom they can hardly bear to be civil.

Wendi advanced on other fronts, though, as chief of strategy and a director of MySpace China, 51 per cent owned by News Corp, where it is alleged some of her business decisions attracted criticism. She's also made her debut as a film producer, which introduced her into the glamorous world of show-business parties and lifestyle.

She attracted world attention at the House of Commons in July 2011, as her husband was giving the impression to a Select Committee that he was losing his memory, by her fine flying tackle on Jonathan May-Bowles, aka comedian "Jonnie Marbles", as he hurled a foam pie.

She is, it is said, equally formidable at home. Whether it's her ambition, her partying, or something else, Murdoch has had enough. Robert Peston and many others will be dying to know if there's a third party – the ludicrous suggestion that she was having an affair with Tony Blair went so viral on the internet that the former PM was forced to issue a denial on Friday – if Wendi will contest the divorce, what were the terms of the pre-nup and whether it will stick.

According to Michael Wolff, Murdoch won't be losing any sleep. "Wendi once told me that this is his reaction when things go wrong in business or his personal life. He makes a decision and it's over. He feels bad for a day and then forgets about it."

The Digger may prove in the end to be even more ruthless than his Tiger-wife.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

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