Schadenfreude is one of the greatest human pleasures: revelling in how badly the children of the rich turn out makes us feel better about our inability to afford therapy for our own squalling brats. The Murdoch family, therefore, is not doing its duty. Rupert's youngest three, Elisabeth (28), Lachlan (25) and James (24), can look forward not just to a share in papa's 31 per cent stake in the $10bn-a-year Newscorp, which, among almost everything else in the world, owns The Times, The Sun, 20th Century- Fox, Fox Television and HarperCollins, and has broadcast interests across a stonking chunk of the global landmass, they also seem to have inherited personal drive, looks, brains and that most elusive quality among the stratospherically wealthy, normality.
"Normal" is the most common adjective employed of the Murdoch youth by those who know them. According to an analysis of the family in July's Vanity Fair, despite daddy's workaholic, ruthless, right-wing tendencies, the children have been raised with heads as level as is possible for people with their backgrounds. They were expected to pay for their teenage pleasures with vacation jobs just like their peers, though the jobs they did were rather more elevated than the usual manual-and-bar-work that sixth-formers get to do. They attended "good" universities: Elisabeth went to Vassar, where she was instrumental in setting up a campus TV station, complete with soap opera; Lachlan to Princeton, where he produced a thesis on Kantian moral systems; and James to Harvard, where he worked on the Lampoon before dropping out to concentrate on his own record label.
In a normal world, all three would have been self-starters. Fortunately, they have not had to start from too far behind the starting line. Spotting their talent, father has presided over meteoric career tracks within the Dark Empire for his progeny. Being related to the Digger is obviously a good way of getting one's talents recognised: Alasdair MacLeod, husband of elder daughter Prudence, from Murdoch's first marriage, is himself circulation and sales director of the company's British newspapers. Elisabeth, after an 18-month stint with her husband, Elkin Pianim, running two Californian TV stations bought with a loan from papa (and turning over a nice little profit of $59.3m in the process), now presides as general manager of BSkyB; with the departure of BSkyB`s chief executive, Sam Chisholm, announced last week, further promotion looks certain.
Lachlan has worked his way up the ladder, starting out as general manager of Newscorp's Queensland Newspaper division (which includes the Brisbane Courier-Mail, sold to pay the debts of the late Sir Keith and re-acquired by Rupert in 1987), and is currently in charge of the corporation's entire Australian operations. James, who made more of a break for independence by setting up Rawkus Records, an outfit which expects to release three dozen albums this year in a business notorious for eating up and spitting out the young and naive, is also back in the family fold as vice-president for music and new media.
Murdoch looks to be grooming up the youngsters in the hope that one will succeed him as head of the family business (though the shareholders may well have things to say about this at a later date), and all three are showing startling signs of the old man's grit and application. Lachlan tends to work from 7.15am to midnight; Elisabeth took just three weeks off for the birth of her first child. Employees seem no less confident of keeping their heads under the children's rule than the father's. None seems to exhibit any of the weak-willed whining characteristic of the mega-rich. A typical quote is this one from James: "We've been lucky enough to have a really close family and to have a father who's been able to give us so many opportunities. I don't feel it's even worthwhile to emphasise any downside - it seems horribly spoiled". Looks like it will be a long wait before those copies of Daddy Dearest will be hitting the shelves