Sir Paul McCartney and his estranged wife, Heather Mills, are close to reaching an agreement over a divorce deal claimed to be worth as much as £60m after a secret meeting at the High Court in London.
Sir Paul and Ms Mills began the first stage of a mediation process that ius designed to find common ground between the two parties over the financial value of the settlement.
Accompanied by their lawyers, the couple arrived separately at the Royal Courts of Justice yesterday before heading for a hearing in Court 16, where they spent the day thrashing out terms. The press and public were strictly excluded from the court.
A final deal could outstrip the £48m that the insurance broker John Charman, 53, was ordered to pay to his former wife, Beverley, in May which was the biggest contested divorce settlement to date.
Sir Paul and Ms Mills, 39, who have a three-year-old daughter, Beatrice, announced last May that they were ending their four-year marriage. The 65-year-old musician, estimated to be worth £825m, is expected to consent to a structured settlement which would provide Ms Mills with a lump sum on top of further payments for the care and support of his daughter until she reaches the age of 18.
Since news of the breakdown of the marriage first emerged, estimates of how much Ms Mills would be paid have been the subject of wild speculation, with some media suggesting a figure of £200m. Most lawyers agree that because the marriage was a short one, any agreement will be worth much less.
In January, lawyers for Ms Mills denied she had been offered £32m.
Her solicitors, Mishcon de Reya, said in response to an article published in the News of the World: "There has been no offer made whatsoever at any time to our client and therefore no settlement has been agreed."
According to sources close to the couple last night, the mediation process was continuing and was unlikely to yield an immediate settlement.
When the couple announced their split, Sir Paul denied statements that his wife had married him for his money and said the parting was "amicable". But subsequent spats in the courts over what was believed to be care of their child and public statements by Ms Mills did not support this.
They married in June 2002, four years after Sir Paul's first wife, Linda, died of breast cancer. Linda and Sir Paul married in 1969 and had three children, Mary, Stella and James.
That marriage was one of the entertainment world's most enduring unions. After Linda's death, a family spokesman said they had "never spent a night apart in the 30 years that they have loved one another".
Sir Paul and Ms Mills met at a charity event in 1999 and their relationship immediately made headlines, not simply because of the difference in their ages but also because of the supposed disapproval of Sir Paul's children.
The world's media were waiting yesterday when Sir Paul and Ms Mills arrived at First Avenue House in Holborn. In an attempt to evade press intrusion they arrived separately in cars at the back of the court building. Sir Paul wore a dark-grey suit and Ms Mills was covered in a blanket as she was helped from the car to the court building by minders.
Once inside the court building, they used the judge's stairs – a completely separate route within the public building – to reach Court 16.
Before the hearing began at 10.30am, the spyhole in the court door was covered from the inside and a row of office chairs was placed across the corridor to blockade the entrance.
Sir Paul left the gallery at 9.15pm, but not before his waiting car appeared to narrowly miss getting a ticket. To a storm of flashbulbs, he walked on to the pavement and into the road.
For a short while, Sir Paul posed in the middle of a media scrum before saying that he was off.
Ms Mills left later with her head covered.
The largest public settlement was the £500m paid by Adnan Khashoggi, the Saudi arms dealer, to his ex-wife, Soraya, in 1982.
Neil Diamond gave Marcia Murphey, a former television production assistant, £75m at the end of their 25-year marriage in 1994.
In 2006 John Charman, 53, the British insurance magnate had to pay his jilted wife, Beverley, £48m.
Sir Martin Sorrell, the advertising tycoon, was ordered to pay nearly £ 30m to his ex-wife Sandra in 2005.
Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall were believed to have settled their divorce for £10m after a nine-year marriage that ended in 1999.Reuse content