When the wife’s profession is given as “art collector” and the husband owns a billion-dollar yacht with its own submarine, you know the divorce settlement is going to be, well, interesting.
So little surprise, then, that British media are licking their lips at the prospect of feasting on the crumbs that may fall from the table following news of the split between Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich and Dasha Zhukova, which the couple announced in the U.K. on Monday.
Although it is not even clear that the couple will indeed officially divorce, and their actual marriage was for many years a secret, this has not stopped the British media from predicting the divorce could be Britain’s biggest ever.
Certainly, the assets owned by the couple are mind-boggling: Forbes recently estimated Abramovich’s wealth at $9.2 billion (£7 billion) this year, making him the 139th richest person in the world.
Among his more diverting playthings are Chelsea FC, the British soccer team that won England’s Premier League last season, and a string of properties around the globe, including a $30 million mansion in Cap d’Antibes in the south of France, an $80 million mansion on New York’s Upper East Side and a $60 million house on the west side of Kensington Palace Gardens, just next door to Prince William and Kate Middleton.
Abramovich is also the proud owner of the world’s second-largest yacht, the discreetly titled Eclipse. Princess Beatrice, Orlando Bloom, Katy Perry, and Leonardo DiCaprio are among the stars and royals to have been entertained on board the floating Xanadu, making use of the private helicopter, the submarine, and the in-house nightclub.
However, much to the chagrin of the British media, any financial settlement is unlikely to be thrashed out in the public domain. Both parties have a great deal to lose from details of their private life being revealed in open court.
Abramovich loathes media exposure and never gives interviews. His wife has also sought to keep their private life private; indeed for many years it was unknown whether the couple, who have two children together, were actually married.
The marriage rumors were only confirmed when Zhukova said in an interview in 2015 that they had married a few years after they first met.
For Zhukova, avoiding a messy public divorce battle could be important when it comes to maintaining her carefully consolidated reputation in the art world as something other than a rich man’s add-on.
She has poured millions of dollars of their money into the vast Garage gallery in Moscow, which opened in 2008, and which she runs. The gallery, housed in the shell of a 1920s Constructivist bus garage, has the same square footage as London’s Tate Modern. It is the most-visited art venue in Moscow.
She has fought a long battle against accusations of dilettantism—when a journalist asked Dasha about her favorite artists, she reportedly replied “I’m, like, really bad at remembering names”—and a public bout of mud-slinging could undo much of her careful progress in the art world.
Zhukova, 36, prides herself as an independent operator, and, unlike Abramovich’s second wife (Irina, an Aeroflot flight attendant, who got a $300 million settlement form her 2005 divorce, Russia’s Vedomosti reported at the time), she came to the marriage with her own money. Her father was a Russian oil magnate and her mother a scientist.
She moved to and was educated in the U.S., living in Houston and then Los Angeles from the age of 10, after her parents split up.
In a rare interview, she told The Guardian the experience of moving to the West “was a culture shock. I had never seen cereal before! We had cottage cheese and pancakes in Russia, not colorful circles that came in cardboard boxes.”
She courted controversy in 2014 and attracted allegations of racism after posing for a photograph sitting on a chair made from a mannequin of a black woman. She denied any racist intent and said the photograph had been taken out of context.
Abramovich, in contrast to his wife, was orphaned at the age of 4 and made his initial fortune with his first wife, Olga; they set up a successful company that makes dolls.
After divorcing her, he started investing in other businesses, specializing in commodities, which ultimately made him billions.
In the unlikely event the divorce does end up in court, Abramovich would likely lobby to have the case heard in Russia, where payouts are typically far lower than the U.K.
A joint statement was issued by the couple on Monday.
“After 10 years together, the two of us have made the difficult decision to separate, but we remain close friends, parents, and partners in the projects we developed together,” the statement read, adding that they were “committed to jointly raising our two children” and would continue to work together on joint projects, including Garage.
There is a clear subtext in this calm, consensual statement: that the split will be resolved amicably and privately.
Abramovich will doubtless now be hoping to his wife concludes it is in her interests to maintain a discreet and low profile as they divvy up their billions.