Who are Bill and Melinda Gates’ children and how are they caught up in their parents’ high-profile divorce?

·14-min read
 (Local)
(Local)

At first, it seemed so civil. When Bill and Melinda Gates announced their surprise divorce two weeks ago, they kept the reasons vague and (publicly) harmonious. “We no longer believe we can grow together as a couple,” they said in identical statements, confirming they would still work together at their foundation

But as the days have gone on, several external factors have come to the surface: that Bill had an affair with a Microsoft engineer six years into the marriage (which he’s admitted); that he allegedly had a history of inappropriate behaviour with women at work; that his acquaintance with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein had caused tensions between him and Melinda. According to a former employee, he and Melinda have been living in separate wings of the house for the last five years. 

Speculation about the future of their assets and foundation have swirled since the announcement, but what about the children? At the centre of the split are Jennifer, 25, Rory, 21, and Phoebe, 18, who are said to be “furious” with their father, according to anonymous sources cited by TMZ earlier this month. The sources have not explained why the children are angry, but a report in the Wall Street Journal suggests Melinda had been planning the divorce for “years”. A separate report has suggested they wanted to announce the divorce in March and Melinda had rented a $132,000-a-night private island in Grenada to shield from reporters with the children. 

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Sources quoted in the Daily Mail say lawyers tried to stop them going until they had finalised the settlement, but Melinda and the children went anyway. It is unclear when they returned from the island, which has previously been rented by the Kardashians and Justin Bieber, but social media suggests the children are currently on good terms with their mother. “I love being their mother,” Melinda wrote on Instagram this month to celebrate US Mother’s Day. while Jennifer called Melinda “our queen, hero and mom - every day” alongside a previously unseen family snap, minus Bill. 

Legal experts have said the separation will have been made easier by the fact that Jennifer, Rory and Phoebe are all legally adults, but there’ll have been much more to the split than practical negotiations. Youngest daughter Phoebe, 18, was reportedly living at the family home in Seattle during lockdown when the couple presumably decided to make their separation official, and eldest daughter Jennifer, 25, posted a heartfelt message on her Instagram stories after the announcement, calling the period a “challenging stretch of time for [the] whole family”. “I’m still learning how to best support my own process and emotions as well as family members,” she wrote in the public message on Monday night. 

Watch: Bill and Melinda Gates's daughter Jennifer speaks out on parents' divorce

Jennifer and her siblings all grew up attending the same school as their father, the private Lakeside High School in Seattle, but it’s not just their schooling inside the classroom that’s likely to have helped their decisions of which subjects to go on and study. Rory read computer software engineering and economics at Duke University - a path that is likely to have been influenced at home, too. Despite Bill insisting he raised his children to be “tech free” when they were young (they weren’t allowed phones until they were 14), he also once admitted the family home was built to “accommodate sophisticated, changing technology”, with guests wearing personal electronic pins that connect to computers throughout the house, adjusting the lighting, heat and music to their personal preferences. Computer screens on the walls display visitors’ favourite artworks with just the flick of a switch.

Bill has also said in interviews his children were required to do unpaid chores around the house, which is a $125 million compound nicknamed Xanadu 2.0 overlooking Lake Washington. The 66,000 square-foot complex is built in Pacific lodge style using wood from 500-year-old Douglas fir trees and includes an indoor pool with an underwater music system, an art deco cinema, a banqueting hall, a private beach with sand imported from the Caribbean and even a trampoline room - no prizes for guessing where friends will have wanted to spend their playdates after school. 

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Bill and Melinda even bought a 4.5-acre ranch in Wellington, Florida to support their daughter Jennifer’s equestrian interests growing up, and since the children left home home, Bill has admitted to trying to communicate with them all via their “preferred” social media platforms. “I’ve got to check Instagram because my youngest daughter likes to communicate there [and] I have to check WhatsApp because another child likes to communicate through that,” he once said. Youngest daughter Phoebe even posted a clip of her and her father dancing together on TikTok in November. 

Bill also told the Daily Mail in 2011 each of his children would receive a “minuscule portion” of his wealth in a bid to help them “find their own way” in life (the children will reportedly each receive a $10 million inheritance), and clearly, all three have taken his message on board. Stanford graduate Jennifer is currently studying for a medical degree, her brother Rory has taken after his mother and studied computing at Duke University, and youngest sister Phoebe has reportedly followed Jennifer to Stanford

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So what else do we know about them and how will their lives be affected by their parents’ high-profile divorce? From Jennifer’s recent engagement to her brother’s feminist roots, this is everything we know about the Gates clan. 

Jennifer Gates

Age: 25

Career: Medical student 

USP: Equestrian-loving Stanford graduate who is engaged to an Egyptian show jumper 

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Jennifer’s public Instagram has 423,000 followers and is a window into her glamorous lifestyle, from jet-set holidays to Kuwait, Spain and Australia with her siblings and fiancee, to horse-riding at Evergate Stables, the international show-jumping stables she owns and runs as its president. The keen equestrian - known as Jenn to her friends - has been riding since the age of six and has represented the US on Nations Cup teams in recent years, competing against several celebrity children including Steve Jobs’ daughter Eve, Michael Bloomberg’s daughter Georgina, Bruce Springsteen’s daughter Jessica and Steven Spielberg’s daughter Destry. 

Jennifer continued riding when she was a human biology student at Stanford and told the Horse Network at the time that balancing her hobby with schoolwork made her life “a little busy, but I love doing both”. It’s through horse-riding at Stanford she met her now-fiancee, the renowned Egyptian equestrian Nayel Nassar, whose millionaire parents raised him in Kuwait and run an architecture and design firm that moved to the US in 2009. 

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The pair have been together since January 2017 and both belong to the Paris Panthers, a show-jumping club Jennifer founded and now manages. Economics graduate Nassar proposed on a ski trip in January last year, which Jennifer says was a surprise, despite them previously discussing a future together. “Nayel always reminds me to believe in myself, which is so important. I’m so lucky to have him as a partner. He’s incredibly supportive, humble and loyal, and someone that I look forward to building a life with,” she has said in an interview. “I can’t wait to spend the rest of our lives learning, growing, laughing, and loving together,” she wrote in a post on Instagram after the engagement.

Outside of her relationship, Jennifer is currently studying (remotely) for a degree in medicine, having taken a year off to focus on her equestrian hobby before starting medical school at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine. She was inspired to study medicine by her childhood paediatrician as well as her parents’ discussions of global health around the dinner table. Melinda once revealed in an interview that she once caught her daughter informing one of her dolls that it was HIV positive, saying it was that moment she and her husband realised they were talking “too much about global health at the dinner table”. 

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Despite Bill’s remarks about wanting his children to find their own way in life, he and Melinda haven’t held back on supporting their eldest daughter through her endeavours. Over the years, they’ve bought a ranch in popular equestrian hotspot Wellington, inspired by Jennifer’s passion, and in 2017, he reportedly bought a $5 million condo a few blocks from her medical school, according to the New York Post. 

Jennifer speaks fondly of her parents. “They’ve always had my back,” she told an interview with Sidelines Magazine. “When I was younger, they told me to pursue whatever it was I was interested in, whether it was math or science or reading or writing. I always felt like I really had a good foundation with them believing in me and being willing to support me in any of my pursuits.”

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Like them, she’s spoken of her interest in using her “huge situation of privilege” to help others, and isn’t afraid to address rumours about her father and the vaccine head-on. “Sadly the vaccine did NOT implant my genius father into my brain,” she joked next to a photo of her getting her Covid jab back in February, with a winking emoji. “If only mRNA had that power.....!”

In a Father’s Day tribute on Instagram, she noted that Bill’s philanthropic endeavours had been an inspiration, and thanked him for making TikTok videos with her. Meanwhile Mother’s Day last year saw her thanking Melinda for her “endless support” through the different phases of her life. 

Jennifer is close with her younger siblings, too. She regularly posts throwback snaps to old family photos and shared a picture of all three generations of women in her family for International Women’s Day as she hugs her little sister Phoebe. Three months earlier in December, she shared a screenshot of a Headspace post about letting go of “storylines” and “internal narratives” to free one’s mind and relationships - was this the first clue that cracks had started forming in her parents’ outwardly perfect marriage?  

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Rory Gates

Age: 21

Career: MBA graduate 

USP: Puzzle fanatic and feminist thinker following his parents into business and technology 

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Less is known about Bill and Melinda’s son compared to his sister Jennifer, but what we do know about Rory Gates mostly comes from his parents and sisters. “Rory is compassionate and curious. He’s an extraordinary child and lovely brother,” Melinda revealed in an essay for Time marking his 18th birthday. “He’s acquired his folks’ obsessive love of puzzles. However, something that makes me proudest is that Rory is a feminist. As he goes out into the world, I feel more optimistic than ever about the future his generation will build.”

Watch: Women were allegedly 'abused' at Microsoft according to internal documents

As for his own future, many are already speculating Bill Gates’ middle child may follow him and his wife into a career at Microsoft. Rory is reported to have studied computer software engineering and economics at Duke University, where his mother studied, before studying for an MBA degree at Fuqua School of Business. Followers of his sister on Instagram have speculated he might have moved home since his business course, after Jennifer posted a photo of her brother hugging a puppy at what they suspect to be one of the family homes

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Unlike Jennifer, Rory chooses to keep his Instagram content private, with just 260 followers and 55 posts on his account @rorygates345. His current career status is unconfirmed - did he move home like his younger sister Phoebe during lockdown? - but insiders are confident he’ll follow his eldest sister in using his privilege to do good in the world. “I feel lucky that Rory was born at a moment in history when young men are being encouraged to be so thoughtful about society and their role in it — and also to adopt new, more expansive definitions of what it means to be a man,” Melinda wrote in 2017.

His mother also told readers that the family often discussed gender equality at the dinner table and she encourages her children to speak out if they witness unfair treatment. “Rory, for his part, does. Across 18 years of conversations, sharp observations and everyday actions, he’s demonstrated his belief that gender equality is something worth standing up for,” she revealed, referencing a trip to Malawi with her son in 2015. On their visit, the pair discovered that local men had recently started to share more duties with their wives. 

“I thought that, in many ways, what these men were doing was extraordinary. Rory respectfully disagreed,” she wrote later. “He told me he thinks that standing up to unfair norms is nothing more than exactly what men everywhere should be doing. Yes, he recognizes that the more entrenched the norms, the more courage it takes to confront them. But he also believes that it’s a universal responsibility and one that he’s already striving to uphold in his own life.”

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Phoebe Gates

Age: 18

Career: Student at Stanford University

USP: Stanford student and bookworm with a talent for ballet 

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Naturally, for a Gen Z-er, Phoebe Gates prefers to speak in TikToks than she does Instagrams. The youngest of the Gates clan might have only posted five videos, but her has account @phoebeadelle already has more than 11,7000 followers, presumably in part thanks to a clip posted in November last year showing her busting a move with her billionaire father at home during lockdown. “This is my dad, he’s been working a lot but we get some time together to goof off,” she wrote over the video, which shows them dancing to Harry Styles’ popular Watermelon Sugar anthem. “We hope everyone is staying safe and that our horrible dancing gave you a good laugh.” 

Phoebe’s moves might not stand out in the video, but the 18-year-old once had big dreams of becoming a professional ballerina. According to US site Gossip Cop, the Gates’ youngest child studied at the Professional Children’s School in new York and also attended The School of American Ballet and acclaimed Juillard School, which has produced a roll call of stars, from Adam Driver to Robin Williams. 

The teenager is now believed to be studying at Stanford like her sister - her Instagram bio is simply “Stanford 25” with a link to a GoFundMe page raising money to help a young Malian leader called Aboubackar Dicko attend college. Her account has 84,000 followers and is now private but is understood to have previously been public - did she hide her posts from followers ahead of her parents’ divorce announcement? 

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Phoebe’s dancing career status is unknown, but when they’re not dancing on TikTok, she also shares another hobby with her father. In 2018, Bill Gates told his Instagram followers that he and his daughter Phoebe love reading “all kinds of books” and are big fans of The Fault In Our Stars author John Green

“We both couldn’t put down his new novel, ‘Turtles All the Way Down’, which tells the story of a young woman who tracks down a missing billionaire.” Bill wrote, adding: “Here’s what Phoebe had to say about the book: ‘For years I have been a loyal John Green fan—devouring his novels in the back of coffee shops, while traveling, and curled up on my couch. Something about the imagery of his books makes me get caught up in the fantasy of his stories, but “Turtles All the Way Down” hit closer to home for me than the rest.”

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According to Jennifer’s Instagram, Phoebe and her sister are close, posing together in their bikinis on boating holidays and in front of the Christmas tree when home for the the holidays. On Phoebe’s 17th birthday, her sister called her “the most intelligent, charming, radiant, charismatic sister” and the previous year she paid tribute to Phoebe, calling her “hilarious, compassionate & stunning”. During this challenging period for the family, they’ll no doubt be relying on that close sibling bond more than ever. 

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