Wendi Murdoch, a champion volleyball player, hasn’t lost her touch.
When comedian Jonnie Marbles launched into the committee room during the phone-hacking hearing in the British Parliament today, wielding a custard pie meant to be delivered to Rupert Murdoch’s face, the mogul’s wife landed an astonishing strike.
While her defense of Murdoch against the marauding pie-bearer may mark a new height in Wendi’s fame, her life hasn’t been without controversy.
Murdoch, née Deng, married Rupert in 1999. The bride, a Chinese native, was 30. The groom was 68. Even without a formal position in News Corp. leadership, Deng teamed up with Rupert’s second son, James, to lead the company’s investments in China, where she became a rising star. News Corp. has always been a family business, so it’s no surprise that his young wife would be given wide rein to pursue business opportunities for the global giant.
Wendi’s father was a factory director. At Newsweek’s Women in the World conference, held in New York last March, she described a difficult upbringing. "Life was so poor and hard in China,” Murdoch said. “You literally had to study your way out of poverty. My parents were very strict. That was what got you somewhere."
Wendi came to the U.S. in 1988 on a student visa to live with a California couple. Eventually, the husband in that family left his wife for the young Wendi.
“She told me I was a father concept to her, and it would never be anything else,” the man, Jake Cherry, said in a hard-hitting Wall Street Journal profile. Cherry and Deng married in 1990 but divorced a few years later. “I loved that girl,” Cherry said.
(The Murdochs didn’t take too kindly to this airing of dirty laundry. Gary Ginsberg, a former Murdoch adviser, once said the piece “wasn’t a legitimate news story.”)
Deng leaped from a California commuter college to the Yale School of Management. While there, she secured an internship at Star TV—the News Corp. satellite-television service--in Hong Kong in 1996. Soon after, she caught Murdoch’s eye.
Here’s how Rupert described their first meeting in Hong Kong to Vogue in 2008. "We had a big management review. She presented. A group of ten people went out to dinner afterward. A week or so later, I asked her out to dinner, and we fell in love very quickly. It was very nice to have a nice, attractive, and warm person who could talk business with me.” Realizing how bloodless that sounded, Rupert added, “Sounds romantic.”
Eventually, Murdoch left his wife, Anna, for Deng. The pair had been married for more than three decades.
The new Mrs. Murdoch not only charmed the notoriously tough CEO but Britain’s ruling class, too. Prime Minister Tony Blair once gushed, "She's a clever, subtle, intelligent person, obviously devoted to her kids, and immensely determined.”
And observers believe she also yields sartorial and other types of fashion influence. Before their marriage, Murdoch favored old-school business suits. With the advent of Wendi, the Aussie began to favor black turtlenecks, à la Steve Jobs. Before their marriage, Murdoch kept to establishment haunts like New York’s Upper East Side. Wendi seduced her husband downtown, setting him up in an apartment in SoHo.
The Murdochs have two children together—Grace, who was born in 2001, and Chloe, born four years later.