Her teeth must have been gritted, her face aching with the force of the fixed smile. When Wendi Deng — Rupert Murdoch’s third wife, and mother to his youngest children — appeared in public alongside her ex soon after his 2016 wedding to Jerry Hall, it was a masterclass in dignity.
They’d gathered at the exclusive Club 55 in St Tropez to mark the 13th birthday of Chloe — Wendi and Rupert’s younger daughter. There was sunshine, there was jollity. On the surface at least.
Little did Wendi — still smarting after one of the nastiest break-ups in Murdoch’s chequered marital history — realise at that moment, but she’d just met her match.
A woman who would, in time, teach her so much about how to handle life as the former wife of a billionaire.
As Jerry became the ex-Mrs Murdoch No. 4 this week, not only did she emerge with up to £250 million, plus two enormous properties, she emerged as a blameless heroine. The couple even put out a joint statement saying that they remained ‘good friends’.
When Wendi Deng — Rupert Murdoch’s third wife, and mother to his youngest children — appeared in public alongside her ex soon after his 2016 wedding to Jerry Hall, it was a masterclass in dignity
While Wendi also did very well financially in her 2013 divorce — there was the £37 million apartment in New York’s Fifth Avenue, plus a yacht and property in Beijing — her reputation took a battering.
No wonder the 53-year-old Chinese-born businesswoman is reportedly said to be green with envy about Jerry, 66, and is rumoured to be keeping a low profile.
‘Wendi had a really bad divorce and was left humiliated when she and Murdoch split, while Jerry got a much better outcome than had been expected and, crucially, Jerry’s reputation remains intact,’ said a source.
‘Everyone still loves Jerry, whereas Wendi is treated like an outsider in some social circles that Rupert moves in.
‘All the stuff in her past was dredged up when Jerry and Murdoch married, and it’s been dredged up again by their divorce. Wendi never knows if people are sniggering behind her back.
‘I think she admires how well Jerry has handled it. Regardless of Wendi’s wealth, for her it’s about loss of face.’
She’s been uncharacteristically absent from the fashion, art and charity circuit recently. Her social media says she is in Southampton, the ritzy beach playground outside Manhattan, but she hasn’t been seen in restaurants or at house parties, according to residents.
She was last photographed, smiling and beautifully dressed, at a gala at the Berggruen Hearst Estate in Beverly Hills in May.
On the face of it, she and Jerry have much in common. Each married the media tycoon after surprisingly short romances.
Each was fiercely protective of him: Wendi famously leapt to Murdoch’s defence while her husband was giving evidence to a Commons select committee in 2011, slapping away a would-be assailant armed with a custard pie.
Jerry, meanwhile, assumed a ‘gatekeeping’ role to protect her elderly husband during the pandemic, much to his adult children’s reported suspicion and annoyance.
And in the end, both were blindsided by Murdoch’s ruthlessness when he called it quits. Wendi reportedly discovered she was being divorced from a report in her husband’s newspaper, the Wall Street Journal, whereas Jerry got her marching orders by email.
Wendi also did very well financially in her 2013 divorce from Murdoch — there was the £37 million apartment in New York’s Fifth Avenue, plus a yacht and property in Beijing — but her reputation took a battering
But here, the similarities between the two end. Whereas Wendi emerged from the divorce an object of ridicule, with various rumoured affairs and flirtations attached to her name — one with former Prime Minister Tony Blair no less — Jerry is regarded with sympathy, still said to be broken-hearted by the split.
So what do we know about Mrs Murdoch No. 3? Wendi has long been the object of interest, portrayed either as a plucky and driven young woman who pulled herself up by her bootstraps — or an unashamed gold-digger.
Formerly Deng Wen Ge, she was largely raised in Xuzhou, an industrial city in the province of Jiangsu on China’s east coast.
The daughter of engineers who were devout members of the Communist Party, she once said all she ever wanted ‘was to be rich enough to eat meat once a day’.
She enrolled in medical school to please her parents, but dropped out. As a teenager, she was introduced to a couple from California called Joyce and Jake Cherry, who sponsored her for a U.S. visa.
Wendi repaid her benefactors by having an affair with Jake, leading to the end of the Cherrys’ marriage. Although they went on to marry, the relationship lasted only three years.
Wendi earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from California State University at Northridge, where she was one of the top students in her class. She got another degree in business administration from Yale University.
She met Murdoch in 1997 when she landed an internship at Star TV, the Hong Kong station then owned by his company, News Corp.
The big boss had flown in to address the staff, and legend has it that during a sycophantic Q&A session, Deng broke ranks and put a critical question to one of the world’s most successful businessmen: ‘Why is your business strategy in China so bad?’
As Jerry Hall became the ex-Mrs Murdoch No. 4 this week, not only did she emerge with up to £250 million, plus two enormous properties, she emerged as a blameless heroine
The then 66-year-old Murdoch was said to have been ‘dazzled’ by her.
In 1999, 17 days after divorcing Anna, his second wife of 32 years — mother of three of his children — he married Wendi on his yacht in New York.
The British singer Charlotte Church was flown in to serenade the happy couple and the media tycoon gave a speech, promising to look after his new bride ‘for ever and ever’, according to one guest.
Mina Hanbury-Tenison, author of the 2010 book Shanghai Girls about ambitious, driven young Chinese women who take an unsentimental approach to marriage and have exceptional financial savvy, says Wendi is still regarded as the ultimate success story.
‘Wendi is held up as a role model and other so-called Shanghai Girls want to emulate her,’ Mina says.
‘She knew what she wanted, did what she wanted and got what she wanted. And it was all very fast.
‘She was clever and pragmatic in their eyes.’
The unlikely newlyweds were happy for the first years of their marriage, and Wendi proved she was no shrinking violet.
An acquaintance recalls how he met the couple on a yachting trip in the Caribbean in 2007.
‘Our boat, which was rented, was the same design as his but bigger. Rupert wanted to come aboard and have a look around, and he joked “I’ve never felt poorer in my life” because his boat was smaller,’ said the acquaintance.
‘Rupert went on to talk about the media business but Wendi kept interrupting him. Eventually she stood up and declared “time to go”, and Rupert did as he was told. I was amused by the power she seemed to have over him.’
Wendi and Murdoch had two daughters — Grace and Chloe, born in 2001 and 2003 respectively.
The girls were christened on the banks of the river Jordan in the presence of Queen Rania, and their godparents, Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman and Tony Blair. The event was covered by Hello! magazine.
But then came the whispers about Wendi’s private life. First there were rumours — strongly denied — that she’d had an affair with Chris DeWolfe, who co-founded the social networking site Myspace in 2003 and which was acquired by Murdoch’s News Corp. Likewise, there was Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google.
But probably most embarrassing of all was her infatuation with Tony Blair.
They met through Murdoch, and Blair teamed up with Wendi on business trips to her native China.
While the Metropolitan Police were investigating phone-hacking practices at the now-defunct News of the World, Murdoch’s team had sifted through millions of emails on his company computers.
During this, emails from Deng were uncovered, including one memo she’d penned to herself, gushing about Blair’s ‘good body and legs’ and his ‘piercing blue eyes and good skin’.
‘Oh s**t, oh s**t,’ the letter said in broken English. ‘Whatever why I’m so so missing Tony . . .’
‘That note in pidgin English really did a number on Wendi,’ says a source. ‘It was highly embarrassing, and the whole of New York was talking about it.
‘Whoever leaked it, it was a dastardly thing to do. It will follow Wendi for the rest of her life.’
Despite both Blair and Wendi denying there had been any affair, the damage to her reputation was irrevocable.
When her divorce was finalised in 2013, she emerged very wealthy — but ultimately humiliated.
There have been various romantic liaisons over the years. In 2016, she was linked with the then 30-year-old British violinist Charlie Siem after the pair attended the Giambattista Valli fashion show in Paris. ‘Why not?’ she said, confirming that they had been on a date. ‘Am I supposed to be shy?’
Then, aged 48, she had a two-year affair with a then 21-year-old Hungarian model, Bertold Zahoran — a man 64 years younger than her ex-husband. They were seen frolicking on beaches in St Barts, but that romance ended in 2018.
She’s even had to deny claims she was having a secret relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying ‘I’ve never even met him’; and dismissed claims that she was a spy for the Chinese government.
In December 2020, she was pictured in St Barts with another hunky younger man who has not been identified. As far as anyone knows, there is no man currently in her life.
‘I’ve never seen Wendi with a male companion on the social circuit here,’ says New York publicist and gossip columnist R. Couri Hay. ‘She’s always been mysterious, but socially she’s become clandestine.’
Aged 48, Wendi Deng had a two-year affair with a then 21-year-old Hungarian model, Bertold Zahoran — a man 64 years younger than her ex-husband
Wendi has described herself as ‘an entrepreneur, investor, movie producer and art collector’.
Fashion is a big passion, and in 2015, she co-hosted the Met Gala, one of the fashion world’s big events. Around the time her ex was marrying Jerry, Wendi was pictured at Paris Fashion week with Vogue editor Anna Wintour.
Still ambitious and driven, she talked about being a working mother in 2019 when she interviewed Maye Musk, the mother of Elon Musk, about her book A Woman Makes A Plan for the Chinese publishing group CITIC.
‘I love working,’ Wendi said in the online interview. ‘A working mother is happy . . . I feel very lucky to be able to do my work.
‘When I go home, I talk to my children about my work and they share with me about their schools. It’s wonderful.’
Post-divorce, Wendi has been careful to be on good terms with her ex-husband for the sake of their daughters, on whom they both dote.
Grace Murdoch, who is studying for a bachelor’s degree in history, East Asian literature and Language, and Energy studies at Yale University, has already completed internships in the family’s media empire.
Her LinkedIn page reveals she was a production assistant for two months at Fox News Media in New York and a journalism intern in 2019 for two months at the Wall Street Journal.
‘Wendi says she’s not a Tiger Mom but she is,’ says another source who wanted to remain anonymous. ‘She won’t be saying to those girls: “Go off and have a lovely life with all the money your dad’s given you.” She’s going to say: “Fight it out with the other Murdoch kids; get your share; you deserve to have your say.”’
Some people, including R. Couri Hay believe Wendi will marry again. ‘She’s young enough, she’s smart enough and she’s rich enough,’ he says. ‘She’s about to become an empty-nester now her daughters are growing up, and I think she has another wonderful marriage in her future, if she wants it.’
No one believes the two spurned Murdoch wives will ever be friends, though.
‘I think Wendi has admiration for Jerry for the way she’s handled the situation, although I can’t see them becoming friends,’ says Hay.
‘But they might meet up at some event, look across the room at each other and think: “Yeah, we went through the same thing.” ’