The world is run by Tiger Wives
Wendi Deng is not alone in lashing out when her spouse is under fire.
Photo: REX FEATURES/GETTY,By Cristina Odone
The hearings were beginning to pall. What had started as the trial of the media’s biggest mogul was settling into the siesta of the patriarch: Rupert Murdoch seemed to be talking in his sleep, while James Murdoch fanned away the MPs’ annoying questions, lest they disturb Dad.
Viewers longing for drama felt short-changed. None of the lawmakers had laid a glove on the media mogul. And then – splat! – the (slapstick) comedian Jonathan May-Bowles threw a “pie” of shaving foam at Murdoch Senior and unleashed the Tiger Wife.
In an instant, Wendi Deng, Murdoch’s Chinese-American spouse, leapt to her feet and sprang past bystanders to pummel her husband’s assailant. MPs, Murdochs and media types could only gape, electrified as proceedings fast-forwarded from Perry Mason to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
By the time Rupert Murdoch’s bodyguard had reached his master, the 42-year-old Wendi had landed a sensational right-hook on her opponent.
She then gained her husband’s side, and gently cleaned his face of foam. Within minutes, Deng was the toast of Twitter: hailed as a “smack-down sister” in her native China, and as a heroine and stunning show-stopper everywhere else.
Those who know Wendi well (and they include Tony Blair, Mark Zuckerman and Bono) won’t have batted an eyelid at her jaw-dropping performance. Rupert Murdoch’s third wife has form.
A volleyball player from southern China doesn’t climb to the top (Murdoch’s personal fortune remains a healthy $340 million) without fierce determination. Other people on Wendi’s ascent have already experienced her fury.
The first victim was Joyce Cherry, a pleasant American who, together with husband Jake, befriended Wendi during their trip to China. Impressed by the teenager’s brilliance and thirst for self-improvement, Joyce and Jake sponsored Wendi’s application for a student visa to America. Alas, 19-year-old Wendi soon bewitched Jake, who left poor old Joyce to marry their young protégée.
Victim number two was Jake himself: his usefulness came to an end a few months later when Wendi, now armed with the right papers, won a place to study business at Yale University.
Days from graduation, Wendi had a job at the Murdoch-owned Star TV, where she quickly caught the Big Boss’s eye. Hence the third corpse in the trail to marry Murdoch: Rupert’s second wife, Anna.
Within 17 days of his divorce, Wendi wed Rupert. If the Wendi house conceals a few skeletons, it also offers glimpses of her protective instincts.
Conscious of the 38-year gap between them, Wendi has placed Rupert on a tough regime of 6am weightlifting, washed down by a fruit and soy protein cocktail. She wags her finger at his workaholic schedule and has hired a personal trainer to put him through his paces (even at the price of her husband turning up on front pages in baseball cap and tracksuit).
None of this marital nurturing distracts Wendi from pursuing her own agenda: she has just released a film, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, that aims to promote a more positive image of China.
She enjoys a glittering social life, attending film premieres and art gallery openings. And she remains her husband’s chief adviser on his business in China.
Yet Wendi the film producer, like Wendi the business consultant or Wendi the mother of Rupert’s young daughters Chloe and Grace, has failed to fire our imagination. But Wendi Deng, invincible Tiger Wife, has transformed Rupert Murdoch’s image around the globe – from dodderer in the dock to prized partner in his wife’s life.
In a culture that mourns marriage as a moribund institution, one spouse leaping passionately to the other’s defence fills us with admiration. Even the most hardened cynics couldn’t help thinking, as the warrior in a pink blazer bounced into the ring: “Wow, she really believes in this union!”
Wendi Deng’s slap didn’t just scotch rumours that hers was a sham marriage: a purely trophy wife would have winked at the assailant for giving the old man a heart-stopping scare. With a quick right hook, she jumped to the head of the queue of the defenders of matrimony. It is a short but colourful roll-call that stretches from Cherie Blair, to Anne Sinclair (aka Mme Strauss Khan), Melania Trump and Carla Bruni-Sarkozy.
From the moment she moved into No 10, Cherie Blair was under constant attack for her (supposed) greed, stinginess, and self-importance. She let the criticisms bounce off her like spring rain. But let anyone touch her Tony, and Mrs Blair roared. She hissed at the ungrateful electorate that did not deserve a paragon of virtue like her husband; she gnashed her teeth at the sleazy media that insinuated Tony was a disappointment.
Her manner resembled the termagant’s fury rather than the bride’s solicitude, but no one could doubt Cherie’s heartfelt loyalty. It won her few fans: among the cheats and cuckolds of Westminster, the sight of a prime minister’s wife defending her husband was unusual; it also reassured voters that despite new Labour’s destruction of cherished institutions from the House of Lords to foxhunting, marriage would remain intact.
Far more testing has been Anne Sinclair’s lot. When her charismatic husband Dominique Strauss-Kahn was arrested on rape charges in New York, the French TV journalist sprang to his defence: “I do not believe for a single second the accusations levelled against my husband.” She flew to stand by her man and stumped up the $1 million bail to move him from prison to his plush Manhattan apartment.
Such wifely devotion may yet save the former IMF chief’s political career: his wife’s total support, as much as the derailing of the case against him, may prove a great boost to DSK’s credibility as a presidential candidate.
Her counterpart in the French presidential contest, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, also wants to show the world that she looks out for her husband’s interests. The First Lady of France, pregnant but still displaying every sign of focus and competitiveness, has imposed a culture vulture’s menu on her philistine hubby: he is to watch films by Alfred Hitchcock, as well as Russia’s Andrei Tarkovsky; and read the French classics, from Balzac to Hugo.
Driving this self-improvement, say insiders at the Elysée Palace, is Carla’s ambition: she wants her man to be re-elected, and fears his present lowbrow image won’t do.
Nor should we forget Melania Trump, fearlessly vocal in her millionaire husband’s defence: Donald Trump is “brilliant”, everyone is envious of his success, and America should be so lucky to have him as their Republican Party candidate.
But Mrs T also gives us a revealing insight into their marriage when she confides that she has two children: “I have a big boy, Donald, and a little boy, Barron. I take care of both very well.”
Tiger Wife often needs to play Tiger Mother, it would seem.
The Tiger Wives’ Club is small but perfectly informed: these women know that their husbands need their commitment and support. In her eagerness to make her man shine, the Tiger Wife will disarm any assailant. She knows that her spouse is less than he seems; and that she, in fact, is rather more. She’s plucky; he’s lucky.
Source: The Daily Telegraph