When media tycoon Rupert Murdoch married ex-supermodel Jerry Hall in 2016, the event was befitting of a man who both sells the news and makes it. Posing before a huge crowd of photographers on the steps of Spencer House, a historic mansion in central London, the happy couple kissed, smiled and appeared completely oblivious to the astonishment felt by almost everyone who knew them.
Beyond the Murdoch family, no one had been warned of Rupert’s plans, and even Jerry’s closest London friends, including actress Joan Collins and fashion photographer David Bailey, were caught completely cold-footed. Still, there was no doubting the affection between them: “I am the happiest AND luckiest man in the world,” Tweeted Rupert, before the couple winged away to a luxurious honeymoon in the South of France.
Six years on, the Murdochs sprung another grand surprise on the world. This time with a high-speed divorce on the grounds of “irreconcilable differences”. Just as there were few advance signs of the pair falling in love, there were almost no indications of it all going wrong.
The break-up, announced in early June 2022, was shocking in its suddenness. Almost everyone who had previously seen the pair together spoke of the affection they showed each other, and the happiness they seemed to have found. In March 2021, for Rupert’s 90th birthday, Jerry, 66, threw him an all-star party at New York’s swanky Tavern on the Green restaurant, where the tables were packed with celebrities, fellow business tycoons and much of Rupert’s family.
The New York Times reported that “Ms Hall doted on Mr Murdoch throughout the festivities.” And it was for Jerry – whose four grown-up children live in England – that Rupert splashed out $20 million on Holmwood House, an exquisite Georgian pile set in prime Oxfordshire countryside.
He didn’t object when Jerry returned to modelling in late 2021 – featuring in a new campaign for Yves Saint Laurent, the Paris fashion house that provided her first break as an unknown 17-year-old from backwoods Texas – and even offered a chummy hand to Jerry’s ex-husband, Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger, who he invited over to sample the fine wine collection from his vineyard in Los Angeles.
“Rupert makes my mum very happy,” declared Mick and Jerry’s daughter, Elizabeth.
Why did Rupert Murdoch and Jerry Hall divorce?
So what went wrong? Even people who have known either Rupert or Jerry (or both) for years are still baffled. “Logic suggests that, if you’re going to plight your troth at 85, you’d expect it to see you out,” says a London-based Murdoch executive, “and it would have to be something pretty cataclysmic to make you chuck it in. Well, that’s not Rupert. If he’s not happy with something, he changes it.”
Amid all the speculation and theorising, it seems certain that the split was instigated by Rupert, who reportedly informed Jerry by email that their marriage was over. If she felt hard done by, it is hardly surprising. A woman of many unsung qualities, her greatest may be forbearance. For 23 years she shared her life with Mick, a man who thought monogamy was something you made tables out of.
While the priapic rocker toured the world with his veteran band, Jerry stayed at home raising their four children, and still found time to earn her own living as an actress, author and TV personality. “I doubt I’ll marry again,” she told us a few years after the split with Mick. “I don’t need anyone telling me what to do, I’ve got my own money, all the kids I want, and I’m too busy anyway. I like men, but I’ve probably had enough.”
How did Rupert Murdoch and Jerry Hall meet?
Then she met Rupert. It happened in Australia in 2015, when Jerry was performing in a touring stage production of The Graduate, playing the role of Mrs Robinson, which required her to appear in the nude. They were introduced by Penny Fowler, niece of Rupert’s sister, Janet Calvert-Jones, who was the first to notice that “they got on immediately”.
Still, the news that they were to be married – discreetly announced in a small ad in the Murdoch-owned London Times – caused worldwide astonishment. Out poured the predictable jibes about the bride-to-be’s possible motives for marrying a much older, thrice-divorced multi-billionaire, but no one who knows Jerry would think of her as a gold-digger.
“She’s just not like that,” insisted a friend. “She’s not looking to run the company, she’s not looking to move the furniture around. There are lots of people around Rupert who are looking for a step up. She’s not grabby in any way, she’s not on the make, she doesn’t want a piece of the action.”
Who is Jerry Hall?
Certainly, Jerry comes with some built-in annoyances, however. She likes a cigarette (Rupert hates the habit), and a drink, and to take over lunch table conversations with her (not always wholly believable) stories of her life in rock and modelling.
As an interviewee, she is prone to contradict whatever she said last time.
“I’m very English now,” she once told us. “It’s home. I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.” Shortly afterwards she told another publication, “I hate the weather here. I wouldn’t want to live in England really, but my kids are English, so I’m stuck here.”
What comes across as true is that deep down she isn’t especially interested in glamour or the high life – “I’m pure slum-chick at home,” she says – and is happiest pootling around in her garden. She has no worries about growing old, thinks Botox and similar rejuvenations are “ridiculous” and says she does the “dressing up and grooming” mostly because people expect it of her.
For all her years in fashionable society, there’s still a lot of the tall, toothy Texas gal from sleepy Mesquite in Jerry, who was raised (one of five sisters) by a mother obsessed with Gone With the Wind and a hard-drinking father who beat her up. Never believing she was beautiful and marooned in a lowly job at an ice-cream parlour, her luck bizarrely changed when she was injured in a car crash. The $800 compensation she received was spent on a trip to France, where she was spotted by a modelling agent.
WATCH: Rupert Murdoch and Jerry Hall show love attending Rugby World Cup final. Article continues after video
An early job was to dress up as a mermaid for the cover of Roxy Music’s 1975 album Siren. During the shoot, she met the band’s lead singer, Bryan Ferry, with whom she lived for two years, until Jagger enticed her away.
Apart from Mick, whose infidelities she bore with amazing stoicism, her relationships have been relatively brief. Yet she speaks kindly of almost all her exes – including Bryan, who never spoke to her again – and once returned a $1 million advance for her memoirs on the grounds that she didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.
“Jerry’s a complete trouper,” says David Bailey. “She’ll come though anything and still be a nice person.”
Who is Rupert Murdoch?
Is this quite the package Rupert expected? In the course of his phenomenal business career, the nature of his relationships with women has tended to be overlooked, but those who have studied his life have no doubt about its crucial importance.
“Among the many unexpected aspects of the epochal Murdoch saga,” writes Rupert’s biographer, Michael Wolff, “is his emergence as a lover and connoisseur of beautiful women. His search for sex, glamour and companionship has seemed so uncharacteristic as to be entirely discounted in the Murdoch story.”
He points out that Rupert’s four marriages have run virtually seamlessly from one to the next, beginning with his first (to Patricia Booker in 1956), and that the only significant gap has been the three years between his divorce from Wendi Deng in 2013 and his marriage to Jerry. “This is the record of a man who needs a woman in his life.”
Rupert’s daughter, Elisabeth, a successful television executive, suggests that her father, for all his practiced ruthlessness, is easily dominated by women, calling him “a conventionally hen-pecked husband” who likes to avoid domestic conflict. When it arises, Rupert’s instinct is to scarper.
Why did Rupert Murdoch and Jerry Hall break up?
For now, the cause of the fall-out with Jerry remains unclear. There are rumours of frictions with the Murdoch children, particularly Rupert’s oldest son and heir apparent, Lachlan, and suggestions that Jerry may have been over-zealous in trying to shield her husband from the pressures of running his global empire.
During the pandemic, the couple lived in near-isolation for several months at Holmwood, far from the New York and Los Angeles hubs of Rupert’s main business. Patients at the health centre in nearby Henley-on-Thames were astonished to see a convoy of Range Rovers delivering Rupert and Jerry for their vaccinations.
Jerry’s concerns were perhaps understandable. In January 2018, Rupert suffered a serious fall while aboard Lachlan’s yacht, leaving him with fractured vertebrae and temporary paralysis. The story was hushed-up, but according to The New York Times, which uncovered it, Jerry was so alarmed she summoned all his children to his hospital bed in Los Angeles, warning that they may have to “make their peace” with their father.
After that, sources suggest, she became increasingly protective of his health, restricting access to him, and angering some figures in the Murdoch cosmos who felt it necessary to be in Rupert’s presence. “Turn it around,” says the Murdoch executive, “and it’s not hard to see Rupert chaffing at the suggestion that he’s somehow not up to running his business.”
Given that both Lachlan and James are married to former models, Jerry might have expected some solidarity. It doesn’t seem to have been forthcoming.
The first hint of problems in the marriage came when Jerry failed to appear at Rupert’s annual London summer party, held at the Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park on June 21, 2021.
Few of her friends and none of her children were there either, and although the host schmoozed the star-studded assembly as expertly as ever, the absence of his effervescent, party-hardened wife didn’t go unnoticed.
Any Murdoch marriage has dynastic implications, and Jerry managed to land in the family nest just at a time when Lachlan and his younger brother, James, were competing for the eventual handover of power, while Anna was reportedly urging Rupert to stand firm, and Wendi, his formidable third wife, was demanding a say in matters for her two daughters, Chloe and Grace. Order of a kind was restored when James quit the company, complaining about its news outlets’ coverage of politics and climate change. “Poor Jerry,” said one observer wryly. “She thought she’d be in Absolutely Fabulous and found herself in Succession.”
Certainly, she slipped with apparent ease into the role of high-profile corporate wife, becoming a popular fixture on the social circuits of London, New York and Hollywood, where much of Rupert’s business is done. “I’ve always said that what Rupert really needs is not so much a wife as a first lady,” says a former associate. “Jerry was pretty much perfect.”
At the time of the split, she was living at her husband’s fabulous Moraga Estate in the hills above Los Angeles. Bought by Rupert for US$30 million 13 years ago, it has been described as a place that has everything, including a magnificent hacienda-style main residence, a private vineyard and spectacular views over the Pacific Ocean. What it doesn’t have any more is its long-legged, blonde chatelaine.
Jerry, whose original petition is believed to have staked a claim to it – and much else – has moved out. Or been moved out. Despite assurances that they wished each other well, everything suggests the break was painful and acrimonious. Shortly before the divorce announcement, as the media mogul was boarding his private jet after attending his granddaughter Charlotte’s wedding in the idyllic Cotswold village of Burford, he was confronted by a private investigator who served him Jerry’s divorce papers.
Witnesses said Rupert looked first shocked then furious as Michael Colacicco, a former Scotland Yard anti-terrorism officer, thrust the dossier into his hands. “This kind of thing only happens when one party is felt to be obstructing the legal process,” says Mickey Halligan, a veteran London process server. “I’m quite surprised it got past Murdoch’s security.”
Ominously for Rupert, the papers came from Los Angeles, where Jerry had hired feared divorce lawyer Ron Brot, a specialist in big money marital splits. California divorce law decrees that all assets acquired during a marriage should be equally divided between the parties, which meant that if Jerry had succeeded in having the case heard there, Rupert would have been on the hook for an enormous amount of money. However, with neither side relishing a brutal courtroom battle, the ex-supermodel settled for a sum believed to be around US$200 million and two homes from the large Murdoch property portfolio.
While no one can yet fathom why he would so abruptly dismiss a wife who seemed to offer him just what he needed in his final years, intrigue has always swirled around Rupert like the seabirds above Moby Dick.