A few months before she met Rupert Murdoch, Jerry Hall was earning a crust by playing the Wicked Queen in a pantomime production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Seven years later, she finds herself at the centre of a rather more puzzling story that lacks an obvious villain as the couple’s marriage seems destined for the divorce courts.
A split which came as a shock to everyone who is close to the couple may not be an entirely amicable one. Sources in the Murdoch camp are already suggesting that the media mogul has complained about the model’s behaviour, of which more later.
For her part, Ms Hall, 65, was devoted to her 91-year-old husband and, according to friends, was quite prepared to care for him if he fell into ill health. Any assumptions that she might have decided to cut and run with whatever she is entitled to after six years of marriage would seem to be wide of the mark.
And whatever the true reason for their separation, there are signs it happened relatively swiftly: only last December the couple bought a ranch in Montana that was seen as a romantic gesture from Mr Murdoch to his Texan-born wife.
Are we witnessing an old man with a £14 billion fortune getting his complex family affairs in order like some sort of Succession season finale? Or does the truth about the demise of the Murdoch marriage lie in the sort of mundane day-to-day strife that can doom the relationships of billionaires and ordinary people alike?
“I was genuinely shocked when I heard,” said one friend of the couple. “Their marriage is very much the genuine article and if you ask anyone who has seen them together privately they will tell you Jerry dotes on him, so no one saw this coming.”
Another source said: “They seemed so well matched. Only a few months ago they appeared perfectly content, and their families got on very well. It’s hard to imagine what could have happened since then to bring this about.”
Those with a keener eye had, however, noticed subtle signs of a strained relationship.
“After the pandemic he had started snapping at her a little,” said one source. “They had been very isolated during the lockdowns because Rupert was having to be careful about his health, so they were spending a lot of time in each other’s company.
“But there was never any sign that Jerry was anything other than content. She always spoke about Rupert very lovingly.”
For most, the first warning sign that something was wrong came only on Monday, when Mr Murdoch threw his annual summer party at London’s Serpentine Gallery. The event is one of the most prestigious social invitations of the summer season, yet neither Ms Hall nor any of her family or friends attended. Had she been ill or indisposed, her retinue would surely still have attended, so the mass absence triggered rumours of a falling-out.
Even so, friends of the couple were taken aback to read reports in the US media on Wednesday night of a full-blown divorce in the offing. Those reports have not been confirmed by either side, and Mr Murdoch’s spokesmen made it clear yesterday that there would be no statement on the reports. Nor, however, was there any attempt to deny them.
It is a measure of the success of the marriage that friends struggled to come up with obvious reasons why it might be in trouble. Some pointed to the fact that the couple’s purchase of a 340,000-acre cattle ranch near Yellowstone Park in the US in December for £228 million may have been a sign of tension, rather than simply a romantic gesture.
“When they bought the ranch in Montana Rupert put his apartment in New York up for sale,” said one source. “He has always loved living in New York, but Jerry was never so keen on the place.”
As the reports of divorce percolated through the upper echelons of London and New York society on Thursday, rumours began to surface that Mr Murdoch had complained about his wife’s behaviour, and also that he didn’t like that she enjoyed a drink.
Regardless of whether there is any truth in such a claim (friends say Ms Hall does drink, but not to excess), it suggests that Mr Murdoch’s mind is made up. And, as one acquaintance put it, “when he makes his mind up about something, it’s short and sharp and that’s it”.
Mr Murdoch swiftly called time on his 14-year marriage to his previous wife, Wendi Deng, following rumours – denied by her – that she had become infatuated with Sir Tony Blair. Their “amicable” split left her with homes in China and New York, as well as cash. Even though Mr Murdoch and Ms Deng had two children together, the divorce did not affect his media empire.
Mr Murdoch’s first wife, Australian model Patricia Booker, is the mother of his eldest daughter Prudence, now 63. The couple divorced in 1967 after 11 years. He then married Scottish-born newspaper journalist Anna Torv, with whom he fathered Elisabeth, now 53, Lachlan, 50, and James, 49. When they divorced in 1999, after 32 years of marriage, Mr Murdoch was reported to have paid a £1.5 billion settlement. Shortly after the divorce was finalised, he married Ms Deng, who was 38 years his junior, fathering Grace, 21, and Chloe, 19.
Ms Hall, meanwhile, has had a less complicated, if unconventional, love life. After dating the singer Bryan Ferry she began a 22-year relationship with Rolling Stones frontman Sir Mick Jagger, with whom she had four children – Elizabeth, 38, James, 36, Georgia May, 30, and Gabriel, 24. The couple “married” in Bali but the ceremony was not legally recognised, and when they split in 1999 – because of Sir Mick’s infidelity – Ms Hall received a settlement of around £18 million, including the couple’s £13 million home in Richmond, west London. Jagger’s personal fortune was estimated to be at least £150 million at the time of his settlement.
Ms Hall moved out of the Richmond property when she married Mr Murdoch, and the couple wasted little time in building a network of homes that were theirs, and theirs only.
In 2019 they bought an £11.25 million Georgian country estate near Henley-on-Thames in Oxfordshire, and in 2020 they bought the run-down Great Tew Manor in the Cotswolds with plans for a £30 million restoration of the property. Then came the ranch in Montana, and there are also homes in London, California and Australia.
Whether Ms Hall is entitled to keep any of the properties, or even if she is entitled to a lump sum as part of a divorce, if the couple do split permanently, will depend on the terms of any pre-nuptial agreement signed by them before they married at Spencer House in London in March 2016.
Having married in London, the assumption among lawyers is that they will divorce in London, where pre-nuptial agreements are increasingly being enforced in full by the courts. Georgina Hamblin, head of London family at the law firm Vardags, said: “Pre-nups are enforceable if they are fair at the point of implementation and drafting, and judges are getting stricter in applying their terms without variation upon divorce. But the outcome needs to be fair.”
A representative of Ms Hall did not respond to requests for comment. Whether or not there remains any hope of salvaging the marriage should become clearer next weekend, when the Murdoch clan gathers to celebrate a family wedding. With the sort of timing that would delight chroniclers of the Murdoch empire, Mr Murdoch’s granddaughter Charlotte Freud, daughter of Elisabeth Murdoch and Matthew Freud, is due to marry her fiancé Luke Dylan, aka DJ Lukey Storey. A full turnout of Murdochs is expected, but if the head of the family attends alone, it will effectively confirm that his marriage is over, just as another Murdoch marriage begins.
It would be a sad end to a relationship that seemed capable of going the distance. When the couple tied the knot Mr Murdoch tweeted that he felt like “the luckiest and happiest man in the world”. While Ms Hall is young enough to find love again, Mr Murdoch looks destined to live out his days as a four-time divorcee.