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Al Gore announces he will separate from wife Tipper after 40 years

Forty years after their wedding, and a decade after they shared one of the most flamboyant public embraces in political history, the former US Vice President Al Gore and his wife Tipper have announced they are to separate.

The couple broke their news in a short email circulated to friends and extended family members. Two separate recipients, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they'd "grown apart" and denied that any illicit affair was involved.

"We are announcing today that, after a great deal of thought and discussion, we have decided to separate," read the email, which was later confirmed as genuine by an official spokesman for Mr Gore.

"This is very much a mutual and mutually supportive decision that we have made together following a process of long and careful consideration. We ask for respect for our privacy and that of our family, and we do not intend to comment further."

The news kicks off what could be an expensive divorce battle. In recent years, Mr Gore, 62, has accumulated tens of millions of dollars, mostly in the green technology field. Recent rich lists put his net worth at over $100m, of which Tipper would be entitled to exactly half.

The couple met at high-school and married in 1970. During the 2000 Presidential election, in which Mr Gore stood against George Bush, made much of their happy marriage, and four good-looking children.

At the Democratic convention in Los Angeles, Mr Gore described his wife, 61, as: "Someone I've loved with my whole heart since the night of my high school senior prom," before sharing an awkward, yet sloppy kiss which went on for far longer than strictly necessary.

Soon afterwards, Mr Gore lost what became the closest Presidential election in history, grew a beard and devoted himself to the cause of fighting climate change. His film An Inconvenient Truth won an Oscar and he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

He also became a successful green entrepreneur and began spending more time in California, where many of his companies are based. A few weeks ago, it emerged that he'd bought a $9m house in Montecito, a prosperous city just south of Santa Barbara. The house had five bedrooms, nine bathrooms, a swimming pool and a sea view.

Mrs Gore, by contrast, spent most of her time at the family home in Nashville. Aside from being the Vice President's wife during the Clinton years, she is also well known as a founder of the Parents Music Resource Centre, a pressure group formed in the 1980s which campaigned against what it considered to be unsuitable lyrics in music marketed to children.

Mrs Gore, who resigned from the group when her husband became Vice President in 1992, has also been a newspaper photographer and successful writer. The last book she published, co-written with her husband, was called The Spirit of Family.