They look for all the world like two drunken louts brawling in the gutter after being ejected from a seedy pub.
But the fight – captured in photographs which are set to go viral – took place between two of Australia’s leading businessmen, the billionaire James Packer and the TV executive David Gyngell, two men who were once the closest of friends.
The fight – described by one witness as being “like two mad dogs going at each other’s throats” with at least one combatant losing a tooth – erupted on Sunday afternoon outside Mr Packer’s A$20m (£11m) apartment overlooking Sydney’s Bondi Beach.
Yesterday the photos hit the market, where they were snapped up by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp papers for a reported A$200,000.
Mr Murdoch’s tabloids were set to publish them on their websites at 9pm yesterday, along with video footage of the brawl. Ironically, Mr Murdoch’s eldest son, Lachlan, who was recently appointed non-executive co-chairman of News Corp and is a friend of Mr Packer’s, visited the businessman’s flat yesterday.
News of the fight – during which punches were traded and the heavily built Mr Packer, 46, grabbed Mr Gygnell, 47, in a headlock – sparked feverish interest, with various theories emerging for the bad blood between the life-long friends.
The pair’s relationship apparently soured last year after Mr Gyngell – whose father, Bruce, created the “sofa format” of breakfast TV in the UK – castigated Mr Packer, son of the late media mogul Kerry Packer, for walking out on his wife, Erica, and three children.
The spark, though, may have been Mr Packer spotting a Nine Network satellite TV news van parked outside his flat; he believed it was trying to catch him with the Australian supermodel Miranda Kerr. According to the gossip columnists, he is dating Ms Kerr, who split up with her actor husband Orlando Bloom last year. The van apparently belonged to a Nine employee who happened to live in the same street.
The fireworks began when Mr Gyngell – chief executive of Nine Entertainment, which owns the Nine Network – drew up in Mr Packer’s driveway in a white Audi SUV. Barefoot and unshaven, he had just been surfing at Bondi.
According to neighbours, he conducted a heated, expletive-laden phone conversation during which he threatened to punch his interlocutor – presumably Mr Packer, an international casino mogul. Moments later, Mr Packer arrived in a black chauffeured sedan.
“Within seconds it just exploded,” said the photographer Brendan Beirne, who had been staking out the flat. “They were beating the hell out of each other.” Some of the photos already circulating show Mr Packer scarlet with rage, his neck veins bulging. It took three men – including Mr Packer’s driver and security guard – to pull him off.
By another irony, among the media organisations which News Corp outbid for the photos, was the Nine Network.
The two men issued a joint statement yesterday saying that they had been friends for 35 years “and still are”, adding that “in that time we have had our fair share of ups and downs”.
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