Sitting underneath a sign which reads ‘Happyland’, here is tycoon Rupert Murdoch as few see him – in holiday mode, relaxed and delighted to be in the company of his new companion.
Murdoch, 92, has spent much of the past few weeks cruising the Mediterranean, at first aboard the Christina O, the legendary boat which was created by Aristotle Onassis, and more recently on a second unidentified yacht, visiting Greece in particular.
At times he has been joined by his daughters Grace, 22, and Chloe, 20, by third wife Wendi Deng. They have been delighted to spot dolphins alongside the yacht and Grace’s Instagram shows she had her boyfriend Hugo Carney, a fellow student at Yale in the US, with her.
But patriarch Rupert Murdoch – who you may remember had been planning to marry Ann Lesley Smith this summer – has his own very new romantic interest with him in the shape of retired scientist Elena Zhukova, 66.
Mrs Zhukova, a petite brunette with a supermodel smile, was introduced to Murdoch by Ms Deng – in a twist which one suspects not even the Succession writers would have dreamt up.
Mrs Zhukova’s daughter Dasha, an art collector and philanthropist who is divorced from the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, is close pals with Ms Deng.
The two women spend a lot of time together in New York and wherever in the world that the art crowd gather to party – Venice, Miami and so on.
And it seems Dasha and Wendi intuited that Dasha’s divorced mother would be a great fit for her close friend’s billionaire former husband who was between romances.
It turns out that they were right, and elegant Elena went aboard the Onassis love-boat in July. Costing around $760,000 a week to charter, the Christina O is where Grace Kelly had her wedding reception in 1956 after marrying Prince Rainier of Monaco, and where Onassis himself wooed JKF’s widow Jackie.
No commitment-phobe, Murdoch has been married four times – to Patricia Booker, Anna Mann, Wendi Deng and Jerry Hall.
The marriages have produced six children and created a dynasty which will ultimately inherit his media empire, more of which later.
He appears determined to make a fifth and final marriage after his union with Texan-born supermodel Ms Hall ended last spring with friends saying she felt they had been driven apart by his children, particularly older son Lachlan. Within six months Murdoch had rebounded, with widowed radio personality Ann Lesley Smith. They announced their engagement in March… and split two weeks later.
Sources close to Murdoch say that it is ‘very early days’ to talk about the blossoming connection between him and Mrs Zhukova, but clearly joining a weeks-long holiday on a yacht is quite a commitment – particularly if you have been dating for only a couple of months.
So far they have been to Positano and Naples and they are now in Corfu. A friend told the US website The Drudge Report, which broke the news: ‘He’s got the energy of people half his age. He just might be in love again.’
So who is Elena Zhukova? A more maternal figure than his previous fiancee Ann Lesley Smith, who did not have children of her own, she is said to spend a lot of time with her daughter Dasha’s three young children.
Also unlike Ann Lesley, Elena is Jewish by heritage and faith. Ann Lesley said in their engagement interview that her Christianity was a bond with Murdoch. ‘For both of us it’s a gift from God,’ she said. ‘We share the same beliefs.’ In the end, though, it was suggested that her ‘outspoken’ Christian evangelical beliefs had caused some friction in the romance, which ended suddenly in April this year.
Some sources said Ms Smith simply couldn’t cope with the public scrutiny and that this was the reason why they ‘sat down and agreed it was better for them to part.’
Here, again, Mrs Zhukova is likely to prove a different proposition. As her daughter was married to billionaire Roman Abramovich, and was indeed implicated in the end of Abramovich’s marriage to his first wife, she’s experienced global scrutiny before.
She is also rather more at home in the moneyed milieu than Ms Smith, a former dental hygienist. Pictures show Mrs Zhukova has attended numerous charity events and art launches with her daughter in the past 15 years and appears to be entirely at ease in a room full of the rich, famous and influential.
Her former husband Alexander Zhukov built up a fortune said to be around $7billion (£5.5billion) in oil. (Murdoch is worth $17.5billion – £13.7billion.) Sometimes described as a playboy, Zhukov has been married three times. He has a private jet, a house in Kensington, a spread outside Moscow and a villa in Sardinia.
When Alexander and Elena were together, though, he was just starting out trading personal computers in Moscow, having abandoned a job as a cinema projectionist.
She was a promising young molecular biologist and home was an apartment in Moscow. Daughter Dasha was born in 1981. In those days, with Russia behind an Iron Curtain, entertainment was provided by folk music, and visits to the circus, according to Dasha. Russian was spoken at home. They would eat cottage cheese and pancakes for breakfast.
The music of the Beatles – smuggled in on a bootleg cassette tape – was a startling surprise.
The culture shock must have been considerable when, in 1991, Mrs Zhukova took a job at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. The marriage to Alexander had ended and she had the chance to make a leap across the globe.
In an interview, daughter Dasha said: ‘She really didn’t like what was happening in the medical community in Russia and the attitude toward the scientists.
‘Once communism fell, to really make a living you would have to deal essentially with the hustlers. My mother couldn’t find a place for herself where she was comfortable.
‘Before it was an educated group, the intelligentsia, and then suddenly you needed a whole different set of skills to survive. She just didn’t feel like she wanted to be part of that.’
Soon afterwards Mrs Zhukova sent for her mother Maria, who went to live with them in a one-bedroomed rental in Houston. Two years later, Mrs Zhukova went on to work at UCLA, the University of California, Los Angeles.
Her specialism was research into diabetes. Dasha went to private school – paid for by her father, who by now had made a fortune in oil.
In 2007 Dasha – not short of a few bob following her marriage to Abramovich – bought her mother a $9.4million (£7.4million) home in Beverly Hills. Dasha and Abramovich split in 2017 and she has since married Stavros Niarchos, grandson of the famous shipping magnate and heir to his billions.
What, one wonders, do Murdoch’s family make of it? Sons Lachlan and James reportedly tried to talk their father out of marrying Wendi Deng in 1999. The divorce in 2013 was accompanied by a dispute over whether their children, Grace and Chloe, would receive voting rights in his companies.
There were reports that the family were happy when he married Jerry Hall in 2016 because she was not going to have children and so would not affect plans for the future, however it’s said that the family were chary about some of her adult children allegedly looking to Rupert for financial support.
Private Eye alleged that Rupert Murdoch gave Hall’s youngest child, Gabriel, a large sum of money to set himself up in a media business with the company Whynow.
Sources say plans to give Jerry more money in the event of Rupert’s death ran into some opposition from the children and then – suddenly – she was emailed and told that the marriage was over, leaving her ‘heartbroken’.
Ann Lesley Smith was said to be similarly devastated when their romance fell apart only a few days after he picked out a $2million Ascher cut diamond with the promise that they would be together for the rest of his life.
Now, on their Mediterrnean jaunts, the Murdoch family have had a chance to get a good look at the woman who is making their father happy.
Lachlan, the heir apparent, has been accompanying his father on parts of the trip in his new $150million yacht Sarissa, with wife Sarah. The rest of the crowd, including daughter Elisabeth and her British husband, are thought to have sailed with Rupert and Elena.
They’ve popped up en masse – a party of 40 or so all told – at the Da Adolfo restaurant in Positano and at Lo Scoglio da Tomasso in Naples.
There’s been no sight so far of Murdoch’s son James, 51. A Vanity Fair article earlier this year suggested that Lachlan thought that James had been leaking episodes from the family’s life to the makers of the hit drama Succession.
Lachlan has been running the businesses with Rupert since 2014. James resigned from the News Corp board in 2020 after disagreements about editorial policy.
In Succession, the series two finale is set on board a yacht and it is here that Logan Roy decides which of his children and lieutenants will have to act as a ‘human sacrifice’ and carry the can for the scandals in the parks department, the family leisure business.
From the look of Murdoch’s daughter Grace’s Instagram, there is only bright blue tranquillity – pasta, sunshine and smiles all round. So far, at least.