The Murdoch grande dame whose son inherited an empire

Anna could be at Lachlan’s side once again
Anna could be at Lachlan’s side once again - Michael Brennan/Getty Images

When Lachlan Murdoch takes up his role as head of one of the largest media conglomerates in the world, his circle of confidants will inevitably shrink. But there is one opinion he will always want to hear, that of his mother, Anna. “We are very close to our mother,” Lachlan has said.

Anna was Rupert Murdoch’s second and longest-serving wife. The couple were together for 32 years and have three children: Elisabeth, 54; Lachlan, 51; and James, 50. And she was, definitely, his last predictable partner.

Not for her a past that included growing up in China (Wendi Deng), or a career as a supermodel (Jerry Hall), a hotline to God (Ann Lesley Smith) or having a billionaire former son-in-law (Elena Zhukova). Anna Murdoch met and married Rupert when he was her boss and she was a cub reporter in Sydney.

But that doesn’t mean Anna doesn’t have her own extraordinary back story with just as much exotic heritage and extraordinary drama as any of the other Murdoch matrons.

Rupert and Anna with Elisabeth (9), Lachlan (6) and James (5) in 1977
Rupert and Anna with Elisabeth (9), Lachlan (6) and James (5) in 1977 - Bernard Gotfryd/Getty Images

Anna, 79, didn’t come from a monied background, unlike Rupert (whose father, Sir Keith Murdoch, a Melbourne newspaper proprietor, bequeathed Australian media assets which would serve as a springboard for his global amassment of media holdings). Instead, she was born in Glasgow in 1944. Her Estonian father Jakob Tõrv was a merchant seaman; Sylvia Braida, her Scottish mother, was a dry cleaner.

The family emigrated to Australia when Anna – who has three siblings – was a teenager. Once there, Anna attended Our Lady of Mercy College, a single-sex Catholic school for girls in Parramatta, Sydney. But the family dream soured not long after; a failed picnic park venture bankrupted her parents. Her mother, Sylvia, abandoned the family home.

At 18, Anna began work as a cadet reporter on Murdoch’s Sydney newspapers, first the Daily Mirror, then the Daily Telegraph. Here she met Rupert when asked to interview him. The couple married in 1967, when Anna was 23 and Rupert was 36.

With Rupert departing, Lachlan is the heir apparent... but could mother Anna be by his side again?
With Rupert departing, Lachlan is the heir apparent... but could mother Anna be by his side again? - With Rupert departing, Lachlan is the heir apparent... but could mother Anna be by his side again?

Tragedy struck soon after. Two years into the marriage, when Anna was 25, she was pinpointed as a potential target for a kidnapping.

Two brothers, Arthur and Nizamodeen Hosein, had decided to take her hostage after watching a television interview Murdoch gave to the late Sir David Frost, following his purchase of the News of the World and The Sun. At the time, the Murdochs were living in Wimbledon, west London.

However, the brothers made a mistake, kidnapping Muriel McKay – the wife of Rupert’s then-deputy Alick McKay – believing her to be Anna. They had followed Rupert’s chauffeured Rolls Royce, on loan to the McKays while he and Anna were away, to the wrong house.

Muriel was held at a farm in Stocking Pelham, Hertfordshire, and believed murdered, although the body was never found. The Hoseins were convicted at the Old Bailey in 1970 and sentenced to life. In an interview in 2001, Anna Murdoch said: “That sort of period was somebody else... another lifetime. But I’m sure that it did have an effect on me, in the way I felt about England.”

The Murdochs stayed in Wimbledon for about four more years before moving to New York in 1974, where Anna combined raising her children with novel writing. She and Rupert eventually separated in April 1998, and divorced two months later.

Anna and Rupert in 1989
Anna always took a keen interest in News Corp - Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

“He behaved badly,” Anna said of the time. “However, for my children’s sake, I have said nothing... I’ve waited all this time for him to make it right again, but he never took the opportunity.”

She added: “I think that Rupert’s affair with Wendi Deng – it’s not an original plot – was the end of the marriage. His determination to continue with that. I thought we had a wonderful, happy marriage. Obviously, we didn’t. I don’t want to get too personal about this... but [he] was extremely hard, ruthless and determined that he was going to go through with this, no matter what I wanted or what I was trying to do to save the marriage. He had no interest in that whatsoever.”

Since then, Anna has married again twice, firstly to financier William Mann (with whom she lived in The Hamptons in a house previously owned by philanthropist Yasmin Aga Khan) who died in 2017, and then to Palm-Beach-based property developer Ashton Depeyster, 74, in 2019.

Will she now make a return to her corporate journalistic past at Lachlan’s shoulder? It’s not entirely impossible.

Rupert and Anna in 1998, shortly before their divorce
Rupert and Anna separated then divorced within the space of a few months in 1998 - AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian

There has long been tension reported between Murdoch and his oldest children over the terms of a trust holding the family’s 28.5 per cent stake in News Corp, which prevents the two children from his marriage to Deng having voting privileges or control of stock. Anna is said to be strongly resistant to any change which might allow the younger children to gain any control.

But then she had always taken a keen interest in the company; when she and Rupert divorced, Anna lost her position on the News Corp board. In a farewell address at the time, it was revealed she thought of this as not just the end of a marriage, but the end of a whole life.

“I said I wished News Corp the best,” Anna revealed, “and that Rupert’s children were my children too, and that I had always tried to do my best for News Corporation... and that I was very sad to be leaving.” Maybe, now Lachlan is at the helm, she’ll be back.