State of our unions: Power couples

The trophy wife is a dying breed. Successful men want to marry their equal, in status and riches. Katy Guest on the players in a social revolution - the A-list husbands and wives
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The Independent Online

There would have been shrieks of horror last week in the nail bars of Alderley Edge, if Wags were in the habit of reading academic journals. A new report from a group of economists has revealed what every trophy wife dreads to hear. Successful men no longer want arm candy, it says. Instead, they want intelligent, successful, hard-working wives.

While in the 1980s, the higher a man's salary, the lower the average number of hours were worked by his wife, now, a professional man's salary is 5.5 per cent higher for every 1,000 hours worked by his wife, says the report, published in Labour Economics. High-achieving men are choosing high-achieving women. Which means a new elite made up of powerful, alpha couples - and big disappointment for the next Miss England.

When Ethan Hawke married Uma Thurman nine years ago, it was seen as the union of two gods. But when they split after his alleged infidelity, he complained to The New York Times that she was a "really strong woman", but that "someone has to make the hearth".

Now, we see sports stars such as Gavin Henson pairing up with über-achieving singer-presenter-superstars like Charlotte Church. We watch the playwright Michael Frayn applauding proudly as his wife, Claire Tomalin, scoops the Whitbread Prize from under his nose. We see the reclusive squillionaire Charles Saatchi hooking up with the ebullient domestic goddess Nigella Lawson, while MPs marry each other, instead of their secretaries.

The Square Mile's ultimate power couple are Crispin Odey and Nichola Pease. He is the Chief Executive of Odey Asset Management, she is the boss of the investment company JO Hambro Capital Management. In 2004 their bonuses totalled more than £10m. So, are powerful women slipping on their Manolos and beatingoff eligible businessmen? Not exactly.

"My colleagues and I have seen a lot of evidence of 'competing ego syndrome'," says Vanessa Lloyd Platt, a top divorce lawyer, whose practice has been "like Bedlam" since Christmas. "This is still a man's world where many men do not like the idea of their women getting recognition and equal earnings."

The perils of the male ego were made abundantly clear to Nicola Horlick, the woman who had it all: the thrilling job, the £20m, the gorgeous children and the happy, 21-year marriage. It was at a party in 2003 at the V&A to herald their new life in Australia that her husband decided to tell her that he was leaving her for a young receptionist.

Last year, Horlick surprised herself by remarrying with Martin Baker, a financial journalist, thriller writer and biographer. From his first printed interview with his future wife he was clearly in awe of her. But shortly after their wedding he said, "People will assume I'm the beta male to Nicola's alpha female, [but] I took my A-levels early and studied law at Oxford. I'm not as well off as Nicola but I'm better off than most." She responded loyally: "One day Martin's books will be fantastically successful and ... everyone will rush for his autograph and ignore me." She might as well have expressed a desire to give up her career and run a small flower shop in Surrey.

Not all men have an innate need to be the senior partner at all costs. Recent happy couplings include the footballer Ashley Cole with the singer Cheryl Tweedy and the film and theatre director Sam Mendes with the actress Kate Winslet. Even the Icelandic president, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, has hooked up with the glittering London socialite Dorrit Moussaieff, a property queen and Park Lane jeweller to the stars.

A fifth of women in the UK are paid more than their partners, and women's earnings are creeping up. But Vanessa Lloyd Platt has a word of warning to alpha women. "In the case of a divorce, the harder a woman has worked and the more she earns, the smaller the settlement she will get," she says.

"In these footballer's wife-type settlements, the 'lazy wife' who has nannies to bring up the kids and spends all day at the nail salon is deemed incapable of supporting herself so will get a huge whack.

"The wife who has worked her guts out to get to a position of strength will get nothing. Unfortunately, in the matrimonial world the industrious wife will be penalised. It seems a little unfair."

A marriage of PR and media

Elisabeth Murdoch and Matthew Freud

The wedding of Matthew Freud and Elisabeth Murdoch in 2001 was the merging of two media dynasties. He was the wunderkind PR genius, the son of Sir Clement, grandson of Sigmund, brother-in-law of Richard Curtis. Elisabeth is the daughter of Rupert Murdoch. She was educated in America and studied modern European history.

After marrying her first husband she bought two TV companies, sold them for £12m profit and came back to the UK to a plum job at BSkyB. It was in the heady atmosphere of the rebranding of Sky that she first met Matthew, in 1997 - she left BSkyB and married him.

Today Freud Communications is in the London PR top 10, with annual fees of £12.8m, while she is the CEO of Shine Limited, a TV production company. The couple's children seem to have inherited their parents' entrepreneurial spirit. The youngest reportedly sells his drawings to them. When he tried to raise his prices to £2,000, however, he discovered he could not compete with his father: Freud negotiated him back down to 10p.

Art meets the business

Sam Taylor-Wood and Jay Jopling

He went from a one-room operation in downtown Brixton to the most fashionable premises in Hoxton; she was one of the most feted artist of the day. Dealer and gallerist Jay Jopling and Sam Taylor-Wood were like two halves of a diptych .

It's a good job Jopling is not an insecure man, however: in recent projects, Taylor-Wood has persuaded David Beckham, Jude Law, and Willem Dafoe to sleep and to cry for her.

But this is a persuasive couple. Having bought his first work of art at 14 - a £16 limited edition Gilbert and George book from the Anthony d'Offay Gallery - Jopling moved to London and made friends with Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst. He met Taylor-Wood in 1994 at her video installation, Killing Time, and they lost little time in marrying and starting a family.

Jay has been unfailingly loyal and supportive as Taylor-Wood has twice been treated for cancer. She is now fully recovered and they recently celebrated the birth of their second child.

But work remains a constant. "Sam has a balance," says Tim Marlow, the arts broadcaster and Jopling's director of exhibitions. "She works incredibly hard because she's a mother and because women do balance life and work better. But Jay's a workaholic, absolutely driven..."

The performer and the producer

Ricky Gervais and Jane Fallon

As Ricky Gervais worked his way up the tree - first managing the pop group Suede then working for Xfm, Jane Fallon was producing TV dramas such as East Enders, This Life and Teachers. He is now the squillionaire writer of The Office, and she has just published her first novel, Getting Rid of Matthew. "Ricky and I were the most unambitious people ever," she has said.

One of Britain's richest couples, property dealer Robert Bourne and the Old Vic's chief executive Sally Greene have an estimated £70m and are prominent Labour donors and friends of Bill Clinton and Kevin Spacey.

* Niall Ferguson, the celebrity historian, met his wife, Susan Douglas, when she was his boss at the Daily Mail. She's now president of new business at Condé Nast and, he says, "an extremely harsh critic".

* Authors Michael Frayn and Claire Tomalin competed for the 2002 Whitbread Prize. She won, with her biography of Samuel Pepys, but said diplomatically: "My husband celebrated more than I did."

* Icelandic president Olafur Ragnar Grimsson is married to the London socialite and Park Lane jeweller Dorrit Moussaieff. She is rumoured to have made £45m profit selling property in London's Canary Wharf.

* The fashion designer Nicole Farhi says that her husband, the playwright David Hare, whose work includes Amy's View and Stuff Happens, does help her to design clothes. She simply thinks, "Would David wear this?"

* Carol Smillie presents BBC2's Changing Rooms, but she has no alterations or makeovers planned for her husband, the restaurateur and businessman Alex Knight. They live in Glasgow and have three children.

* Impressively, film star Natascha McElhone wasn't tempted by a marriage to an actor. Her husband is the craniofacial plastic surgeon Martin Hirigoyen Kelly, who set up the charity Facing The World.

* Newsnight presenter Kirsty Wark and TV producer Alan Clements set up the Wark Clements TV production company, merged it with Muriel Gray's company and then sold it in 2005 for £2.5m.

* Anyone connected to the film Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels is excellent trophy husband material. Matthew Vaughn produced it, and followed up with Layer Cake. He is married to the model Claudia Schiffer.

* As the editor of the Evening Standard, Veronica Wadley knows a good story: so does her partner,Tom Bower, the controversial biographer of Mohamed al-Fayed, Richard Branson and Conrad Black.

* Britain's favourite long distance runner, Paula Radcliffe, is married to Gary Lough, a former British 1500m international. Last week they had a baby girl.

* Singer Charlotte Church and Welsh rugby international Gavin Henson seem to be a match made in heaven. Charlotte wears the trousers in the relationship, Gavin wears the hair gel and fake tan.

* When Sky's politics editor Adam Boulton married Anji Hunter, once Tony Blair's fixer, the guest list was a Who's Who of British politics and media.

* Crispin Odey, chief executive of Odey Asset Management, and Nichola Pease, boss of JO Hambro Capital Management, are "the Square Mile's ultimate power couple".

* Notting Hill's Rachel Whetstone and Steve Hilton are Tory aristocracy, she a former advisor to Michael Howard and he David Cameron's director of strategy. They are godparents to the Camerons' son Ivan.

* When millionaire crooner Chris Martin married Hollywood superstar Gwyneth Paltrow, they named their daughter Apple, to show how down to earth they are.

* Christiane Amanpour is chief international correspondent for CNN; her partner, James Rubin, is an international affairs correspondent and former advisor to John Kerry.

* The recent marriage of Girls Aloud singer and the face of Coke Zero, Cheryl Tweedy, and footballer Ashley Cole have created a multimillion partnership. Their wedding pictures alone fetched £1m with OK! magazine.

* Being an advisor to Gordon Brown on global economic affairs may not seem the most glitzy job, but Alan Greenspan has Andrea Mitchell, the US TV news correspondent, to up his glamour.

* Kate Winslet's first husband, Jim Threapleton, was perhaps not quite alpha enough. Now she is married to the film director Sam Mendes (Road to Perdition, American Beauty) instead.

* Zadie Smith and Nick Laird met at King's College, Cambridge, and admired each other's work. Ten years later she is a bestselling novelist, he a successful poet and novelist.

* Anthony Cheetham, the publisher and former CEO of Random Century and Orion, does not have to look far for literary talent: his wife is the literary agent Georgina Capel, whose authors include Jeremy Paxman.

* Charles Saatchi was the founder of the world's biggest advertising agency, Saatchi and Saatchi. Now he is the owner of the Saatchi Gallery, married to the domestic goddess Nigella Lawson.

* Playwright and author Harold Pinter and historian/ novelist Antonia Fraser married in 1980, and they later co-founded a political "salon" aimed at combating Thatcherism. She calls him "my first reader".

* Never short of an opinion are Anthony Lane, the film critic of The New Yorker, and the Daily Mail columnist Allison Pearson, also a regular on BBC Newsnight's arts reviewing panel.

* Caroline Michel, founder of Bloomsbury publishing, a 2005 Booker judge and now managing director of the William Morris Agency is married to Lord Evans, former publisher and chairman of the Arts Council.