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Anna Murdoch Mann: 'He was hard, ruthless and determined'

Three years after her divorce from Rupert, Anna Murdoch Mann has finally broken her silence. Yes, she's bitter. And no, he doesn't come out of it very well.

Christopher Zinn
Friday 27 July 2001 00:00 BST

In a long-awaited confessional carried in the Australian Women's Weekly yesterday Anna Murdoch Mann, the former wife of media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, washed some of the family's dirty linen in public, courtesy of a rival publisher.

In a candid interview carried by the Kerry Packer-owned flagship monthly, Mrs Mann, now remarried at 57, came clean about their divorce and her former husband's misrepresentation of his relationship with his third wife, Wendi Deng.

"He behaved badly," she said. "However, for my children's sake, I have said nothing... I've waited all this time for him to make it right again, but he never took the opportunity."

The much-rumoured divorce settlement from the 70-year-old tycoon, who is expecting his fifth child with Ms Deng, remains mysterious. When asked if she had received A$1bn (about £400m), she reportedly politely declined to comment.

But she did say she didn't want any of their three children, Lachlan, James and Elisabeth, who all occupy important media positions, to take over the News Corp international empire from their father, claiming there would be "heartbreak and hardship" over the succession.

Mrs Mann, whose 31-year marriage to Murdoch ended when they separated in April 1998 and divorced two months later, said she was talking to an Australian magazine because of all the concerned enquiries from people there wishing her well. "I thought this was a nice way of letting everyone know I'm OK. More than OK."

She described her state of shock at the divorce, her wish not to appear as a victim and her feeling of "coming out of a deep mental illness". She also detailed the way that, despite reports of an amicable separation, she was unceremoniously dumped as a non-executive director of News Corp. Of her once-admired partner, who she helped to secure a papal knighthood in 1998, she said: "I began to think the Rupert Murdoch that I loved died a long time ago. Perhaps I was in love with the idea of still being in love with him. But the Rupert I fell in love with could not have behaved this way."

Extracts from the "world exclusive" by award-winning Sydney journalist David Leser, himself the son of Bernard Leser of Condé Nast publishing, were carried prominently in the rival Fairfax newspapers, but only modestly in some News Ltd titles. News Ltd executives have so far declined to comment on the story. The interview was conducted last month at Mrs Mann's home in the fashionable Hamptons, north of New York, which she shares with her financier husband William Mann. The spread included an array of Hello! magazine-style photos of Anna with her antique chairs, Mexican paintings and lavish gardens, but pointedly included no file shots of her with her long-time husband.

First, she scotched the Murdoch spin that his relationship with Wendi Deng, the daughter of a Chinese factory director and Murdoch-owned Star TV executive, had begun after their separation in 1988.

"I think that Rupert's affair with Wendi Deng – it's not an original plot – was the end of the marriage. His determination to continue with that. I thought we had a wonderful, happy marriage. Obviously, we didn't." She went on: "I don't want to get too personal about this... but [he] was extremely hard, ruthless and determined that he was going to go through with this, no matter what I wanted or what I was trying to do to save the marriage. He had no interest in that whatsoever."

Mrs Mann also claims that she was forced off the board of News Corp. "I wasn't given a choice. I was told," she told Leser. "Well, there's no point being there if you're no use and it's embarrassing to everyone else on the board. And my children were involved, too. My son was on the board. Lachlan. So I thought it was better to be dignified and resign."

Mrs Mann, born Anna Torv, who was brought up in humble circumstances in Glasgow in 1944 to a dry cleaner and merchant seaman, had first joined the Murdoch stable when she was an ambitious 18-year-old on the Sydney Daily Mirror.

She said in a farewell address to the board: "This was not just the end of my marriage. It was the end of a whole life . I said I wished News Corp the best and that Rupert's children were my children too, and that I had always tried to do my best for News Corporation... and that I was very sad to be leaving."

That day, she had lunch with the widower William Mann, whom she would marry within 12 months. "I knew it was going to be a bad day and that I needed something nice," she said of the date. "It was all very proper... so, one door closes and another door opens. Sometimes you just have to open that door."

Mrs Mann was asked about her experiences in the UK where, in the 1970s, her husband's perceived intent to take his newspapers, including The Sun, downmarket was met with social ostracism. There was also the kidnapping and murder of Muriel McKay, the wife of a News Ltd executive, who was abducted in the mistaken belief that she was Mrs Murdoch.

"It seems like it happened to someone else. That sort of period was somebody else... another lifetime. But I'm sure that it did have an effect on me, in the way I felt about England."

It was no secret that Anna wanted her husband to take it easier, and guard their children from his vaulting ambitions to take his media empire to even dizzier heights. But it was all in vain. She was always supportive, but developed her own loyal style of independence, including writing three books that were generally well-received. A devout Catholic, she revealed in the interview that while at first she filed for divorce, it was her husband who had become the petitioner by the time it was finalised on 8 June 1999.

"It was important to me, for no reason except that I believe when you take a vow to be loyal to someone and look after someone all your life, that you try and stick to that. You don't hurt other people for your own happiness. So on the papers, you would see that he was a petitioner for the divorce, not me." Less than two weeks later he had married Ms Deng in a secret ceremony on his yacht in New York.

Mrs Mann refused to share any of her thoughts on the expected new baby, but she did express concern that Mr Murdoch's successor might come from his union with Ms Deng. Yet she also added that she didn't want any of her three children, Lachlan, James or Elisabeth to take over from him.

"I think that they are all so good that they could do whatever they wanted, really. But I think there's going to be a lot of heartbreak and hardship with this [succession]. There's been such a lot of pressure that they needn't have had at their age."

She did say that, despite reports that his wealth is tucked away in trusts, she is confident that the inheritance of her children and Prudence Macleod (his daughter by his first marriage) is safe.

"That was really what I was most anxious about, that my children and their inheritance would be protected. And that's what took so long, between the separation and the divorce, to get that right."

The article claims that, under Californian law, she was entitled to half of the billions of dollars of assets accumulated during their life together as well as seven homes they shared around the world.

But she said she had walked away from so much. "It was time to move on. I knew I could create something of beauty again, without all the painful memories."

Mrs Mann said she had had various offers to tell her story, but had delayed until now, as she didn't want to appear a victim of an unexpected and unpleasant celebrity divorce. "You're in such a state of shock... I mean, in a way you're sort of mentally ill, because you're not absorbing everything. I think it's a way of nature protecting you from it.

"I think I even began to lose my ability with words, which is amazing for me – but I would forget the names of things. Other people who I have talked to, who have also gone through [divorce], say that's happened to them, too. You really go into a state of shock. I feel now I'm coming out of a deep mental illness."

She describes her new husband as very different from her last, saying that he is a gentle and spiritual man who she believes won't let her down, and they do many things together. And when asked about what sort of woman she is now, she admits to feeling sadness and hurt. "But I hope I haven't got bitterness, because I think that reacts against your self. There's no point in having that."

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