Ruth Dudley Edwards: How Murdoch was reborn at 82
Don't let the family fights and expensive divorce fool you, Rupert is no lonely old man to be pitied, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards
Rupert Murdoch is 82, his beloved News of the World was closed down in 2011, Rebekah Brooks – his "fifth daughter" – is in the Old Bailey dock with other NOTW colleagues facing months of embarrassing accusations about hacking, bribery and the perversion of justice, shareholders have forced him to split his empire into two, his family have been at war, and he's just had an expensive divorce from his third wife, Wendi, whom it is alleged he believed was having an affair with Tony Blair.
So the poor old bloke –humiliated, lonely, his power eroded and his riches depleted – must be in a terrible state of gloom. Surely death would be a merciful release?
Er, this is Rupert Murdoch we're talking about. Normal rules don't apply. Nor are things always as they seem.
According to his biographer Michael Wolff, who claims almost all the gossips in Murdoch's family and close business circle "call me to cross-check their gossip", Murdoch is telling everyone that he's happier than he's ever been. This doesn't surprise Wolff: "It is a personal trait of Murdoch's, being able to write off the past, with both finesse and brutality. And for everything to turn out well for him."
The division earlier this year of News Corporation into News Corp (newspapers) and 21st Century Fox (entertainment) rid Murdoch of long-running tensions, put him back unchallenged in the driving seat of the businesses he loves, and gives him the prospect of being able to pass on a company each to his sons Lachlan and James.
Relations with his dissident daughter Elisabeth are improving. He's impressed she's so successful in London as an independent TV producer and so well-connected with the establishment through her husband, PR supremo Matthew Freud, that at Freud's recent birthday party, with Murdoch executives on trial, guests included David Cameron, Tony and Cherie Blair. And even Bono.
So what of the divorce? Well, it appears that Murdoch had been fed up with Wendi for a long time. He had tried and failed to reconcile her with his older children, who were furious at her attempts to change family trusts to give her two daughters with him voting rights in the company. And, with Murdoch, nothing is more important than family.
Although they lived mostly apart, according to his intimates he resented her extravagant celebrity-laden social life and was infuriated by what millions thought was her finest moment – diving at a would-be pie-thrower when her husband was testifying at a parliamentary hearing – because he thought it made him seem old and weak.
Murdoch's informants told him Wendi was a blabbermouth who talked "openly and volubly" about their marriage, leading him to decide she was disloyal.
Far from being lonely, Murdoch appears to be enjoying life with an entourage devoted to his well-being, including, he has told friends, a young female massage therapist who makes him very happy.
In June, he bought himself a $27m vineyard above Los Angeles, and on being told shortly afterwards that Wendi was involved with the multi-billionaire and mega-powerful Eric Schmidt, Google's executive chairman, he snatched the opportunity to announce he was divorcing her and is thought to have got away with a settlement of a billion dollars or so.
"It's a world leader," was apparently what News Corp people whispered, leading the global rumour-factory to decide that she was having an affair with Tony Blair, whose denial merely gave the story wings. Blair had been sucked years before into the Murdoch vortex by Wendi, had tried to involve the whole family in a peace process and ended up being thought to be too pro-Wendi, which meant when he was wrongly suspected of being the guilty man, it was thought to serve him right.
However, Murdoch-watchers observed with interest a tweet in early October ("Please expose Eric Schmidt, Google. Just wait!" etc), which had, apparently, been destined for one of his newspapers. "Oops! Better ignore last tweet," he said cheerily the next day after he realised his mistake.
Meanwhile, the word is that Rupe is rejuvenated, he reckons he's got 15 good years or so left for business and pleasure, and on Twitter he's speaking warmly of the virtues of Billy Graham's evangelists ("good people doing good works"), Bill Gates ("wonderful philanthropy"), Pope Francis ("revitalising church worldwide with wonderful challenging statements and actions. Certainly making me, like others, rethink much").
As he leaves Rebekah, Wendi and all other troubles behind him, is Rupert Murdoch being reborn?