Who Wants to Be a Billionaire? The James Packer Story

Here are some highlights from this 2010 book:

That someone was Kate Fischer, who was tall, striking, fun and famous. Kate had hit the limelight at the age of fourteen by beating 6000 others to win Dolly magazine’s 1988 Cover Girl competition and a modelling contract as a prize. By the age of sixteen she had left home to work in New York, and at the age of twenty made the front cover of Vogue before starring in the 1994 film Sirens as one of Norman Lindsay’s naked nymphs. In between these assignments she had partied hard, ripped off her clothes in public and got herself in the papers at every opportunity.

Looking back on her life in late 1996 at the ripe old age of 23, she admitted she had been like a kid in a lolly shop. ‘I just had the best time . . . Limousines, borrowed frocks and paparazzi and everyone paying attention to me, it was great.’ But even she could see that her life was crazy. On a typical day, she would eat a cheeseburger at 3 a.m., grab an hour’s sleep, wolf down a croissant in the cab en route to a shoot, and tuck into a bag of lollies at 5 a.m. to deal with her headache. Kate was still doing this when she and James first started dating in 1994 after they met at a modelling contest and started writing notes to each other across the table. In the four months they spent together, James told her she had ‘the potential’ to be his ‘actual girlfriend’, but that she was ‘too wild’. It was all right, of course, for the Packer men to paint the town red, but it was not good for their partners to have so much fun. James also disliked the fact that Kate was a smoker (even though he was, too, and was always trying to quit). At one point he told her, ‘If you don’t give up smoking, I’ll leave you and we’ll never see each other again.’ She responded by lighting up a cigarette and saying she would miss him. It was this ballsy attitude that made her so attractive and so different. Unlike the sycophants and flatterers who surrounded James and laughed at all his jokes, she stood up to him. But despite this, or perhaps because of it, they split up and went their separate ways.

Two years later, after a trip to India, Kate came back to Sydney sober, spiritual and more mature, and the romance was rekindled. This time, James told her she was perfect. But now she was the one with doubts because he had remained a playboy. However, she was persuaded to give the relationship a try and moved into his Bondi apartment shortly after Christmas 1996. Soon afterwards one of his ex-girlfriends, Charlotte Dawson, was telling Who Weekly she had never seen James so happy. And in some ways they were the perfect match. He was shy, awkward and reserved. She was bubbly, extrovert and fun, the yin to James’s yang. In May 1997, six months after they got together again, James issued a stumbling proposal on national television when Ray Martin asked him if he had a steady girlfriend and did he want to marry her. ‘Yes,’ said James, ‘but I’m scared she’d say no.’ A month later, just shy of his thirtieth birthday, he popped the question properly, both to Kate and to Kerry. It was important that his father ‘accepted his bride’, he said. In late June, they told her friends at a big black-tie dinner at the Horderns’ old country house, Milton Park. And within days, the news was everywhere.

They talked of living at Ellerston and bringing up kids. They even picked out names, Jack and Lucy. It was like Camelot, thought Kate. They were going to be a glamorous, power couple, Australia’s answer to John and Jackie Kennedy. He would put her on the board of PBL to bring a spiritual side to the company, which he agreed it lacked. James appeared to be crazy about Kate. There were huge photos and paintings of her in the apartment they shared. And they were all over each other in public, whispering sweet nothings, nibbling ears and canoodling at concerts. ‘They were very gooey and very much in love,’ Kate’s friend Danielle Wallace told Who Weekly in 1998. ‘I remember when about fifteen of us went to the Billy Joel concert and James was looking at her with these loving eyes and we all went, “Ohhh, how beautiful”.’ James’s ability to form a grown-up relationship with a woman. According to another friend of Kate’s, ‘He called her “little rabbit”. And he still talked to his mother over the phone in baby language. I just thought: “Why doesn’t he talk properly?” ’ Some saw a break-up waiting to happen. While Kate was up dancing next to the stage as Billy Joel played, letting it all hang out, James was sitting in the VIP enclosure glued to his chair. No doubt Kerry would have told him the Packers didn’t behave like that in public, and least of all the Packer women.

James tried his best to bring Kate into line with the expectations of the dynasty. He began vetting her assignments and turning down contracts that would not be right for her, that would look like ‘Fergie selling Royal Doulton’. He also started cleaning up her modelling and acting portfolio. He couldn’t do much about the pictures of her nude in Sirens, but she had done a raunchy photo shoot for Who Weekly with the renowned celebrity photographer Robin Sellick, and James asked Woman’s Day editor Nene King to get the photos off the market so they could never be used again. The photo can’t be published in this book because James has the copyright, but you can find it in the New South Wales State Library in back numbers of the magazine from 1996 when Kate was chosen as one of Australia’s Most Intriguing People. Sellick has a very clear recollection of how the photo came to be taken (in both senses of the word). It was in 1995, when Kate and James were not yet an item, and Fischer arrived an hour late for the shoot at her home, apparently straight from a party. She took Sellick into her bedroom, ‘threw off all her clothes’ and asked what she should wear. Answering the question herself, she donned a pair of black leather thigh-length boots, a studded black leather dog collar and a pair of handcuffs, and nothing much else. Sellick took the photo with her kneeling on the floor in front of her window bars with one hand shielding her breasts. Initially, this was too much for Who Weekly, and he was made to go back for another shoot. But a year later the magazine decided to run the original photo, because it was, well, so intriguing. Six months after that Kate became engaged to James, and the photographer read in a gossip column that James was going to buy back a compromising photograph. Sellick was soon fielding a call from someone at ACP asking how much he wanted for the photo. The woman refused to say how much she was offering; he told her to go away. Sellick says he and his agent then each received a threatening phone call, warning that he did a lot of business with ACP and would lose these jobs if he didn’t hand over the photo. The next day, the original caller came back and tried again to buy the copyright, at which point Sellick told her it was a private matter between him and James: if Packer wanted the photo, he would need to ask the photographer himself.

The next morning, Sellick was flown from Adelaide Adelaide to Sydney and taken to Park Street, where he was ushered into James’s office to meet the young tycoon, who was flanked by Nene King and a lawyer. James was pleasant and reasonable and asked how much Sellick wanted; the lawyer, on the other hand, threatened that the photo wasn’t Sellick’s to sell. Sellick told James he wasn’t interested in what the lawyer had to say, he wanted to hear why James was interested in the picture. James answered that Kate was ‘really worried’ about it, and he was hoping the photographer would do him a favour. Sellick replied that he would be happy to hand over the negatives for nothing, but he wanted James to know what had been happening. ‘People have been ringing me and my agent and threatening me,’ he told him. ‘I’ve wasted three days of my life, and it’s been really nasty. It’s also been so unnecessary. You could have made the call to me three days ago and I would have given them to you straightaway.’ James was really embarrassed. ‘He suddenly adopted this little boy persona,’ Sellick recalls, ‘as if all this unpleasant stuff was happening and it was beyond his control.’And perhaps this was the case. James may not have had any idea of the threats being made on his behalf. Perhaps, too, it was Kerry who had demanded the photo be canned. It seems unlikely to have been Kate. But in any case, Sellick suddenly warmed to James. ‘He struck me as being sensitive and gentle,’ he says. ‘He was not what I expected at all.’

This may well have been the real James, a soft boy dressed in a hard man’s suit. But the family Kate was marrying into was dominated by Kerry, whose sensitivity to women was far more deeply disguised, if it existed at all. For a while Kate got on well with Kerry—he liked spirited women and told others he wanted to ‘have a go at her’ himself. But it became harder when she became part of the family and saw how he treated Ros. To be a woman in the Packer domain you were expected to know your place and not challenge. Kate refused to accept that role and stood up to Kerry in a way no one else did, and certainly not James.

Kate told friends that Kerry shouted at his son and bullied him unmercifully, except when he was making money. She told tales of her fiancé crying in the shower and of a huge row between him and his father over the Packers’ private plane. James had needed to be in Melbourne early in the morning to see Lloyd Williams and Ron Walker about Crown Casino and had taken the DC-8 instead of a commercial flight. Kerry went ballistic and threatened to make him pay the $50 000 bill for using it, calling him ‘a fucking spoilt little cunt’ and telling him he should use ‘fucking public transport’ like everyone else. There were other stresses, too. Kate was into the arts and James was not. He liked business, footy and boxing, and she did not. He loved his mates and she didn’t get on with them. But most of all, she adored publicity and attracted it like a magnet, while he loathed the spotlight and would do almost anything he could to avoid it. In the nearly two years they lived together, and the sixteen months they were engaged, there were constant reports that the match was off. It was reported in the tabloids and women’s magazines nine times, but finally it happened. Friends of Kate’s say the relationship hit the rocks when James went to Las Vegas with Kerry and she couldn’t get through to him. He was always ‘asleep’ or ‘at the tables’. Then she went to New York and was told that James was having a wild weekend in her absence. He was back doing the things he had promised to give up. She had had enough. He made her an offer: ‘Marry me. You can have all the money and credit cards you want, and all the glory of being Mrs Packer, but you’ve got to let me do what I want.’ This was not for her. ‘You’ve made your choice then,’ he told her. So, in October 1998, two months before it was due to happen, the wedding was called off.

It was all settled as quickly and as quietly as possible. After signing a confidentiality agreement, Kate was given the keys to their Bondi apartment, worth $2.1 million, and told she could keep the Mercedes Sports and big diamond engagement ring that James had given her. She was also given a first-class air ticket out of the country. There was no statement to the media, as is normal on such occasions, but word of the split soon leaked out to Nene King, who saw instantly she couldn’t run the story. ‘I just knew he wouldn’t want me to write about it,’ she said later. ‘If I rang James and said, “Can you talk about your break-up with Kate?” I know what he would have said.’ The exclusive went to Woman’s Day’s arch rival New Idea, which splashed the story on its front cover with the headline, ‘James pays heartbroken Kate $10 million’. According to ‘friends of the couple’, James had decided ‘he wasn’t ready for the commitment of marriage’ and couldn’t stick to the ‘teetotal lifestyle’ Kate was insisting upon. His mates also confessed they were glad to see the back of her because she had kept him from them. A year earlier, Gyngell had admitted he wasn’t ‘madly in love’ with her. ‘She’s a good girl but we’ve had our disagreements purely because I’m his best mate and she’s taken him away from me.’

By the time New Idea hit the streets, Kate was catching a plane to Los Angeles. The pressure of being an ex-Packer was too much for her, and she was desperate to escape. James’s valet drove her to the airport and dumped her onto the kerb into a scrum of photographers and TV cameras, who gave chase as she strode into the departure hall in a light grey tracksuit and huge, black, Jackie O sunglasses. It was a perfect tale for the tabloids: billionaire heir dumps fiancée, who flees the country weeks before the wedding. But for some unfathomable reason Rupert Murdoch’s Daily Telegraph couldn’t find room for the story in its sixty-odd pages, despite it being a Monday and a slow news day. It was soon revealed, however, that the article had been ready to go at the front of the paper, only to be pulled at the last minute by editor Col Allan on orders from above. After a phone call from on high The Australian had also spiked its story, which was ready to run in a prominent position. The editors of Murdoch’s Herald Sun in Melbourne and Courier-Mail in Brisbane had come to the same conclusion. On and off over the years, the Packers and Murdochs had operated an agreement in which each refrained from running embarrassing stories about the other’s personal affairs. Rupert had just left his wife for Wendi Deng, so it was obviously important that the arrangement be back in operation again. New Idea, which was owned by Pacific Publications, had no such blackout in place. But its new managing director, Bob Muscat, found himself on the end of an angry phone call from young James.

* Despite the fact that he was a billionaire, Kerry [Packer] was really an ordinary bloke with ordinary tastes. And this was where his strength lay. He knew what his audience wanted because he wanted it too, and he made it his business to tune in to their lives. Often in conversation he would point towards ‘those blokes out west’ and ask how they managed on the money they made. ‘Kerry knew the price of everything and what everyone earned,’ says one former adviser. ‘Wherever you went he was asking people how much they were paid or how much things cost, and he remembered all of it. He knew what a schooner of beer cost in Liverpool, a ham sandwich in London, London, or a kilo of lamb chops in Parramatta. He could tell you exactly what someone on $40 000 a year spent and how much he had to spare for a mobile phone. James wouldn’t have a fucking clue about any of that.’ That was the difference between father and son. Kerry had a grasp of all the detail needed to run a business. James was much more interested in making deals and then moving on, like a venture capital investor. The everyday tasks of TV, which involved tweaking programs, fiddling with schedules and massaging talent, were something for which he did not have the patience.

* Re: John Alexander: ‘He takes infinite care about his clothes, his shirt fabrics, and where he gets his anchovies. He can tell you where to buy the best pair of cashmere socks or the best cheese grater. He cares passionately about these things. He is totally unlike Kerry in that he knows nothing about the ordinary bloke and shares none of his tastes. He lives on a higher plane.’

As Mark Day reported in a profile for The Australian in 2006, he was variously described as ‘Machiavellian, pretentious, iconoclastic, imperious, fastidious, humourless, meticulous and eclectic’.

This was the man who was being let loose with a mission to civilise Channel Nine and take it up-market while cutting costs dramatically; the man who was about to confront a culture where every other word was ‘fuck’ and people addressed each other as ‘mate’, ‘buddy’ or whatever nickname they had been assigned.

* There were only two things in life, [Kerry] declared, ‘fucking women and making money’. He could no longer manage the first and the second now seemed pointless.

* Kerry Packer once confessed that the day his father died was the happiest day of his life. Sir Frank had bullied him relentlessly, ridiculed him in public and refused to hand over control of the empire as he got sicker and sicker. And some believe James now felt the same.

* As ever, the casino didn’t know where Grossi’s millions were coming from and didn’t bother to inquire. But for once, this insatiable lack of curiosity was criticised by Victorian County Court trial judge Justice Dyett, who sentenced Grossi to six years in jail for theft. ‘In my view,’ said Dyett, ‘cases of this sort, which are increasing in number, call for a consideration of legislation which would put the onus on Crown Casino and other gambling venues, to make reasonable inquiries to ensure that large sums of money continually being lost by regular customers, as in this instance, are emanating from a legitimate source. And in default of such inquiries, a civil liability should be imposed upon these venues to reimburse the victims of crimes of this nature.’ In other words, if a casino receives stolen money without asking proper questions, it should be made to pay it back. To date no Australian government has taken up Justice Dyett’s suggestion. The head of New Zealand’s Problem Gambling Foundation, John Stansfield, made a similar observation about the inadequacy of the law in 2006 after an almost identical prosecution in Dunedin saw pokie addict Christine Keenan jailed for three years: ‘This woman stole almost half a million dollars, and the casino got that money. So they profited from the proceeds of crime. The woman herself was punished and went to jail. Her family and workmates were punished, her employer was punished: he lost a bunch of money and a huge reputation. Myself, my family and every other taxpayer was punished, because we paid the costs of prosecution and incarceration. But the casino got to keep the money. Now that’s extremely strange.’

* So what does it mean to have a ‘gambling problem’? The experts say you have one if gambling disrupts your life. In nine out of ten cases, it will make you depressed, stressed and anxious. In one in three cases you will think of suicide; in one in six cases you try to kill yourself. You will probably be sent broke, lie to your friends and family, and wreak havoc with your relationships. Official estimates from the Australian government’s Productivity Commission, which published a landmark report on problem gambling in 1999, put the number of problem gamblers in Australia at 330 000, or about 3 per cent of the adult population. But when friends and family are added in, some 2 million people are affected by this addiction. More worryingly, this hard core of addicts is said to constitute between 25 per cent and 40 per cent of ‘regular’ gamblers, most of whom are addicted to the pokies, which are described by experts as ‘the crack cocaine of problem gambling’.

* So does James Packer lie awake at night and worry about such things? Does he lose sleep over the damage his huge casinos do to people’s health, wealth and relationships? Clearly not, or he wouldn’t be investing his family fortune in building more and more casinos. And he wouldn’t allow Crown to behave as it does.


Katherine Helen Fischer (born 30 November 1973), now known as Tziporah Atarah Malkah, is an Australian-American former model and actress.

Kate Fischer was born on 30 November 1973 in Adelaide, South Australia, the daughter of future Australian politician Pru Goward and university lecturer Alastair Fischer.[1] She is the eldest of three daughters.[2] She attended the Canberra Girls’ Grammar School[3] before going to Narrabundah College.

In January 2017, Malkah (having legally changed her name several years earlier) became a contestant on the Australian version of I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here! [23] She was evicted by a public vote on day 31 after spending 30 days in the African jungle.[24] Following her departure, she made news headlines after some awkward post-eviction interviews.

From The Price of Fortune: The Untold Story of Being James Packer (2018):

* IN HIS DARKEST MOMENTS in recent years, Packer has lamented that he has no friends left in the business community in Australia. Yet plenty were prepared to praise him for this book, including the nation’s richest man. ‘James is one of the most generous businessmen I have ever met. His word is his bond, and I completely trust him,’ says paper, packaging and recycling king Anthony Pratt. ‘He always errs on the side of generosity. He is a very good bloke.’
Packer acknowledges Pratt is someone he looks up to and respects. ‘Anthony has succeeded in building a business in America where I failed,’ he says, before also praising fellow Melbourne billionaires Solomon Lew and Lindsay Fox, whom he also describes as friends.
Nevertheless, Packer has a familiar refrain when you talk to him about friends, especially those in Australia: that many have been better to him than he deserves. It is hard to tell how deep these apparent feelings of a lack of self-worth run, but they suggest a degree of vulnerability, a lack of confidence that does not fit with the traditional Packer family image. Perhaps it again reflects how his personality was shaped by his relationship with his father. Maybe it also draws from the deep paranoia he has developed about the city of his birth, Sydney.
Tellingly, he says there are many days he wishes he had moved to Melbourne with Erica and his children before they broke up. ‘Melbourne and Sydney are so different. I remember talking to Lachlan [Murdoch] once about how different the cities were,’ Packer says. ‘We wondered to ourselves whether it went all the way back to the start – Sydney, the only major global city founded as a convict settlement; Melbourne, a [largely] free settlers city. In some ways they seem that different to me today. Their media is that different. Melbourne, to me, is civilised. Sydney, to me, sometimes resembles a bear pit.’

* Friends say Packer was also deeply conscious of the big Jewish presence in Hollywood. When he was drawn into the corruption scandal involving Israeli prime minister Netanyahu in the second half of 2016 – even though it was eventually proven he did nothing wrong – they say it only made Packer’s life harder in Hollywood. The last thing Packer wanted was to be frowned upon unfairly over what was happening in Israel.

* The critics will always view Packer’s Hollywood experiment as foolishness, where he enjoyed a playboy life and lapped up being a Tinseltown A-lister. More significantly, it showed his poor judgement in choosing friends and again ignoring the dangers of doing business with them. Whenever I raise criticisms such as these concerning his judgement, whether it be about RatPac, One.Tel or Channel Ten, I sense Packer is on a short fuse.

I can literally see the hairs standing up on the back of his neck when the memories of Jodee Rich, his infamous partner in the One.Tel failure, come flooding back. But on this occasion, he is prepared to concede at least one thing about himself. ‘People have compared Brett to Jodee Rich,’ he says. ‘I loved Jodee Rich and Brett. I should not have loved either as much as I did.’

More generally, he agrees with a telling comment made by former CPH boss Brian Powers in Paul Barry’s book Who Wants to Be a Billionaire?. Powers claimed Packer too easily ‘falls in love’ with people in business.

* PACKER HAD NEVER BEEN to Israel when Milchan took him there for a week-long visit in mid 2013. Melbourne businessman and Seek co-founder Paul Bassat, who visited Israel with the billionaire on three occasions, remembers his friend being ‘blown away’ by his experiences. ‘I have spoken to many people who have visited Israel for the first time and have been completely blown away by the country. The sense of dynamism and energy, and the way it deals with the existential threats it faces inspires many people. Israel is a global leader in disruptive technology and its entrepreneurial talent is extraordinary,’ Bassat says.

Milchan was superbly well connected in Israel after years of working deep inside the Israeli establishment, and was keen to show off his links with the most powerful figures in Israeli politics. So Packer received an exclusive introduction reserved for an elite few. ‘James’s first visit to Israel wasn’t the normal tourist visit; he met the president, the PM and the finance minister [Yair Lapid], and was welcomed as a friend. It isn’t surprising in that context that he immediately fell in love with the country,’ Bassat adds.

Packer will never forget his first private dinner at the presidential palace in Jerusalem – there were just two other people at the table: Milchan and Israeli president Shimon Peres. ‘The president and Arnon went way back, and that was very clear. There was huge mutual respect and affection between the two of them. I don’t know what Arnon did for Shimon when Arnon worked for him starting from the ’60s. Arnon usually told me everything and vice versa, and we did everything together. But he wouldn’t tell me that,’ Packer says.

Packer soon developed a good friendship with Peres, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who by then was in his nineties. In June 2016 Peres made Packer a director of his prestigious Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, an Israeli educational facility encouraging the development of innovation promoting peace, describing him as ‘one of the world’s most successful young visionaries’. Through Peres, Packer also became the first non-Jew to become a trustee of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a leading international Jewish human-rights agency. ‘Getting to know President Peres was one of the highlights of my life. He honoured me beyond my wildest dreams with his friendship. In the times I met President Peres the thing that stood out most was he was always looking to the future: scientific breakthroughs, flying cars, things that sounded impossible today. He believed in technology and in progress,’ Packer says.

…Paul Bassat remembers going to dinner with Packer and the Netanyahus on two consecutive nights when they both were in Israel eight months later in February 2014. The first dinner was with Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu, the prime minister’s then chief of staff Ari Harow and Crown executive chairman John Alexander. On the second evening, it was just the prime minister, Harow, Packer and Bassat. ‘James was in awe of the PM and there was a palpable mutual affection between James and the Netanyahus. He had first met Bibi [Benjamin Netanyahu] less than a year earlier through his friendship with Arnon Milchan, and their friendship had blossomed since then. It was apparent that James saw Bibi as having extraordinary talent and personality, and that made the friendship particularly special to him. James’s life had changed pretty dramatically in a very short period of time and it must have been an exhilarating experience for him,’ Bassat recalls.

‘James frequently referred to Bibi as having the hardest job in the world. My superficial impression was that Bibi was a normal person, albeit a highly intelligent and charismatic person, in a job that required superhuman capabilities. He also appeared to be a person with all-too-normal frailties. There was a sensitivity and insecurity that surprised me, given his public persona of self-confidence and assertiveness. He was clearly sensitive to the criticism that his wife and he frequently received from the media, and made frequent mention of how unfair the criticism was. James has often expressed similar views about the media, and there was a mutual empathy on this issue.’ But Bassat also recalls a degree of normality and informality about the conversation – talk of family, movies, business and a range of other topics. Netanyahu even spoke with great affection about his deceased brother Yoni, who was the commander of an Israeli hostage rescue team in Entebbe, Uganda in 1976 and died during the rescue. Netanyahu himself had been shot in combat while serving as a soldier…

Another friend of Packer’s says the billionaire once told him he couldn’t imagine two human beings being closer than he and Netanyahu, who always called him ‘Jamie’. Packer became so entangled with the Netanyahu family that he sat with the official party when the prime minister made historic addresses to the US Congress in Washington in March 2015 and the UN General Assembly in New York in October 2015. He was even present in the backstage green room at the UN with Netanyahu when he was rehearsing his speech, again with Milchan by his side. He described both events to friends afterwards as like being at top football games, except better.

With Packer at both events was Netanyahu’s son, Yair, who had also forged a friendship with the Australian. Yair had introduced his public relations consultant friend Roman Abramov to Packer. Then CPH CEO Robert Rankin organised for Abramov to take a job at Packer’s private company.

Packer now publicly repeats the comments he made in private in early 2014 over dinner with Netanyahu and Bassat in Jerusalem, to highlight his admiration and affection for the prime minister. ‘He has one of the hardest jobs in the world. And he is so impressive. You look at Israel today compared to twenty years ago. He has been PM for twelve years and was finance minister for five years. My impression is the whole time Prime Minister Netanyahu has been prime minister he’s been carefully managing the economy,’ Packer says.

‘People talk about what Israel was like twenty years ago and what it’s like today on an economic basis. I understand he believes that the job of leadership is to increase the standard of living of the populace. So I think he’s got a multifaceted job in the sense he’s running an economy, the domestic economy, and takes it incredibly seriously. But then he’s got a foreign policy realpolitik reality that he has to manage. If you look at where that is today, America and Israel have probably never been closer. Saudi and Israel have never been closer. I think he gets the credit for it – the runs are on the board.’

…Packer became so enamoured with Israel that his lawyers at one point informally sought clarification from the Israeli tax authorities about him becoming an Israeli resident. He was required to spend 120 days a year in Israel to be treated as a resident for tax purposes, which offered significant tax breaks for ten years for people relocating there. But he did not spend the necessary time there in either 2015 or 2016. In reality he was spending much more time living in the US, which is where his children and then fiancée, Mariah Carey, lived and where Ratpac was based. By 2017 he had changed his formal place of residence to Aspen, Colorado. Packer also toyed with the concept of seeking Israeli citizenship, but abandoned the idea once his advisers realised the bureaucracy involved and the laborious nature of the process.

Despite this, his film producer partner and friend Brett Ratner falsely claimed Packer had become an Israeli citizen during a speech at the Beverly Hilton hotel in April 2015, where he was being honoured by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Entertainment Industry Awards. The ADL is an international Jewish organisation that aims to stop the defamation of Jewish people and secure justice and fair treatment for all. ‘James Packer is not Jewish,’ Mr Ratner told the audience. ‘Though he actually recently became an Israeli citizen . . . James, you are now the first non-Jewish Zionist in history.’ It forced Packer’s advisers in Australia to publicly deny that one of the nation’s wealthiest men had become a citizen of Israel. Ratner now admits he just made an honest mistake.

* When Miranda sat down for his formal interviews with Packer, he found a subject deeply in tune with world politics outside the realm of business. ‘He spoke at length about what was going on at the time with Iran. It wasn’t just back-of-envelope stuff, he was quite detailed in his musings,’ Miranda recalls. He says Packer’s views were, unsurprisingly, very pro-Israel, and Miranda felt Packer was ‘very embedded in the world conspiracy according to Israel’. When Benjamin Netanyahu slammed the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran, Packer publicly echoed Netanyahu’s hardline position, telling journalists in mid 2015 that it was ‘the stupidest thing I’ve seen in my life’.

Miranda says Packer also expressed strong views on the decline of US power in the world, the rise of China and the importance of technology. ‘He spoke of the advances in Israel which Australians could only ever dream of. He also spoke about his love for Jaffa. And he also spoke a lot about Gaza,’ Miranda says.

The billionaire was seemingly in his element, immersed in global politics. At times he even saw himself as a player on the geopolitical stage. ‘I think Bibi is probably the smartest leader in the free world and is incredibly seductive and brilliant, and he speaks better than anyone in the world about what James is fascinated with,’ Brett Ratner now says. ‘Before he met Bibi, all James talked about was global politics. I met [Australian foreign minister] Julie Bishop through him. Julie and I became really good friends. Every conversation James wants to have, I don’t care who it is with, it is about global politics.’

* In July 2016 Packer’s Hollywood film production company with Ratner, RatPac, pulled out of financing a film with American filmmaker Oliver Stone about whistleblower Edward Snowden, who in 2013 leaked classified information from the National Security Agency to the media before seeking political asylum in Russia. ‘I love politics. I think it is fascinating. Geopolitics is the most fascinating politics of all. Oliver and I were having dinner and he was telling me about Snowden and the movie he was about to make. I was spellbound,’ Packer recalls.

‘Oliver said we should do it as a RatPac movie. I agreed. Oliver and I shook hands that we would do Snowden together. The two people I was closest to in Hollywood and listened to were Arnon and [Warner Bros CEO] Kevin Tsujihara. Both of them said the same thing to me: “James, you just can’t do this movie, it is too hot.” I was shattered. It was the first and only script I ever read.’

Afterwards, an angry Stone told US entertainment magazine Variety that Packer had pulled out of the venture after being ‘warned by an Israeli friend of his that he wouldn’t get a visa to go to the United States’. Importantly, it would have prevented Packer from visiting his children in Los Angeles.

* IN OCTOBER 2016 PACKER took the Arctic P for its first and only visit to the waters of the southeast Mediterranean off the coast of Israel, but his timing wasn’t good. The political heat in Jerusalem had reached boiling point in a high-drama political corruption scandal involving both Benjamin Netanyahu and Arnon Milchan. Netanyahu was being accused of corruptly accepting lavish gifts from both Packer and Milchan, breaching a law that bars Israeli state employees and elected officials from accepting gratuities. The Israeli media were even speculating Packer could be charged in the saga that became known as Case 1000.

After protracted negotiations over many months between his lawyers and Israeli investigators, Packer eventually agreed to provide testimony, reportedly on the condition that his evidence would not be used against him.

In November 2017 he flew to Australia from America for a single day in his private jet to be interviewed by officers from the Australian Federal Police while Israeli investigators listened in. The next day, after Packer had left the country again, a Federal Police spokeswoman unusually revealed the interrogation had taken place. She confirmed Packer was a witness but declared he was not a suspect in the case and had given his full cooperation.

Packer will make no comment on Case 1000 or his testimony, but it was later reported by Israel’s Channel Ten that he had told the police he had not asked Netanyahu for anything in return for the gifts. ‘I admire Prime Minister Netanyahu and am happy that I was given the opportunity to be his friend. I was happy to give him presents, many times at his request and his wife Sara’s request,’ Channel Ten reported Packer as telling investigators.

* ASK PACKER WHY HE pursued what many have viewed as a strange life in Israel, and his reply is instant. ‘I was taken in in the most kind and generous way,’ he says, noting he never showed any interest in Judaism and was never pressured by a single person to convert to the religion. Instead, it seems his Israeli excursion was the product of an infatuation with a seemingly surreal world and the larger-than-life personalities Netanyahu, Peres and, most importantly, Milchan.

…Milchan’s detractors are not so sure, saying they were always wary of his friendship with Packer and what it might mean for the billionaire. It can be argued that Packer’s Israel sojourn again showed his lack of judgement and even a naivety about the complexity and brutality of Israeli politics. That is certainly the view of his critics, but even his friends were wary of him being drawn into dangerous places. ‘James was very close to Bibi, and Bibi loved him understandably because he’s so bright and he’s successful,’ Brett Ratner says. ‘But James got seduced and again, as smart as he is, he can sometimes be a little naive. Because I said, “James, this is Israeli politics.”’

Packer’s friend and former Australian treasurer Peter Costello, who has dealt with Netanyahu over the years and got to know him, describes Israeli politics as ‘very vigorous. It is every bit as vigorous as Australia, and in many respects they are playing for bigger stakes. I have spoken to James about Israel, and he has recounted to me some of his relations with Netanyahu. At the time he was very positive about Netanyahu,’ Costello says, before making an observation that has – in hindsight – rung true for Packer: ‘It is a dangerous thing for an outsider to be caught up in Israeli politics.’

Packer clearly plunged into his relationship with Netanyahu wholeheartedly and without caution. His admiration is apparently unqualified, despite the Israeli PM’s controversial and in many ways problematic track record as an uncompromising, hardline leader – one now accused by the Israeli authorities of corruption. The complexities of Israeli politics, of the Palestinian question and Netanyahu’s settlements policy, of his ruthless approach to Israel’s security and what critics regard as his dangerous stand against Iran, seemed to trouble Packer little.

What he saw in Netanyahu was a pro-business mover and shaker, a man of conviction and a fighter for his country, which has few friends in the world beyond its most powerful ally, America. He clearly deeply admired – and still admires – Netanyahu’s strength and decisiveness, qualities he long respected in his own father.

* Former Australian treasurer Peter Costello said at the time: ‘When you invest in China, when you trade with China, you think you know how it operates and you do – right up until the time there is a corruption investigation or there’s a power shift and things can turn on you very quickly.’

* Crown joined the long list of Western companies gambling big in China and losing.

* ‘I don’t want to go back to Macau or Hong Kong; there are too many bad memories,’ Packer now says.

* But to others it confirmed his penchant for dating high-profile women. ‘Having once romanced Sylvester Stallone’s American on–off girlfriend Jennifer Flavin, it’s possible Packer developed a fascination for American women, though it’s more likely he’s developed an appetite for what they can deliver to him – in this case the ear of Hollywood powerbrokers and the attention of the world,’ wrote Annette Sharp in The Daily Telegraph.

Former Channel Nine boss David Leckie, for one, couldn’t believe it. ‘The one thing James always asked when I was running Channel Nine was, “Please make sure you stop any publicity about me.” Then he goes and dates Mariah Carey! I was shocked,’ Leckie says. ‘I always thought the last thing in the world he wanted was publicity.’

The once media-shy casino mogul suddenly looked to be relishing being pursued by the paparazzi swarming over the Mediterranean. After two failed marriages, a bust-up with his best mate David Gyngell and a failed romance with Miranda Kerr (though neither publicly acknowledged their less-than-secret union and then apparent break-up), and now living far away from the country of his birth, Packer, the critics reckoned, had totally lost the plot.

* IN THOSE HORRIBLE MOMENTS James Packer might also have reflected upon what he has since termed the ‘wild’ two and a half years he spent away from Australia’s shores, splitting his life between America, Israel and his private jet. It was a period when he turned his back on the country of his birth in a quest to prove to himself and his critics that he could become a truly international businessman, after telling his second wife, Erica, in 2013 how much he wanted to leave Sydney, scared of its spotlight, pained by its judgement. By January 2014 he had risen to such prominence that he was on the cover of Forbes magazine in Asia, his dream to build a casino in Sydney had finally become a reality and the share price of his casino joint venture in Macau had hit a record. He had graduated to the inner circle of friends surrounding the controversial Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his Hollywood RatPac business was in full swing and he was dating a supermodel in Miranda Kerr. It was a world with seemingly no boundaries.

* Bassat’s key piece of advice was that everyone had a speed limit and that Packer needed to be careful not to exceed his, even if his dial was calibrated differently from most. ‘His speed limit was not necessarily the same as Arnon Milchan’s – who I hadn’t met at that point – or Brett [Ratner]’s.’

* THERE IS A TRUTH about Packer that so many close to him had wondered and worried about. But it was a truth about which they dared not speak for fear of how he might react. Or what it might trigger. They saw it most during his attacks of debt phobia, when assets and investments – some of which were visionary and hard-earned – were unemotionally discarded in dashes for cash. They saw it in his mood swings, from manic highs to the lowest of lows, and in the different James Packers who would confront them, depending upon the time of day – one was smart, charming and generous; the other angry, depressed and foul-mouthed. This changeable personality made them wonder about his mental condition. At the end of 2015, as Packer sat on his favourite cream couch in the living room of his Ellerstina polo ranch in Argentina, it was the latter persona who was firing off searing emails to his closest advisers and friends, screaming: ‘How the fuck do I now have $4 billion of debt??? We all said never again, never again!’

* Other manic emails on topics like Australia’s foreign policy or the nation becoming a republic went to a wider circle, including Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. In March 2018 The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Packer had ‘fired off the emails to the Prime Minister with an intensity that prompted worries about his health at a time when he was under pressure in his personal and professional life. The Prime Minister responded to the emails with a quick decision to speak to Mr Packer over the phone to find out what was worrying him.’

* At the insistence of Kerry Stokes, he flew to Israel to visit a mental health facility. ‘There, I was diagnosed with a mental health illness,’ Packer now recalls. He was manic and paranoid, plagued by unpredictable mood swings and an inability to manage stress. He was put on powerful medication to help his condition. ‘It was really strong. I can’t describe the feeling it gave me but six to eight months later, it was so powerful I could barely function.’ In Israel he was also diagnosed – utterly unbeknown to him, because he had experienced no symptoms – as having had two mini-strokes during 2015. ‘I was in Israel for three weeks [after Kerry Stokes had sent him there],’ he says. ‘I ended up spending a lot of time there in 2016 and was sober the whole time. I had my house [in Israel] at that stage and was very comfortable there.’

* ‘Arnon would always be the first person to encourage me to start drinking again if I’d been off it.’

* AFTER GOING PUBLIC ABOUT his illness, Packer immediately checked himself into the exclusive Boston mental health facility at the McLean Hospital, called the Pavilion. It is renowned as one of the top psychiatric hospitals in the US, with a list of patients including Nobel Prize–winning mathematician John Nash – whose struggle with mental illness was depicted in the film A Beautiful Mind – and best-selling, five-time Grammy-awarded music artist James Taylor. Packer’s mother, Ros, and new girlfriend Kylie Lim visited him there.

The good news for Packer from his fortnight of treatment at McLean was that the doctors believed that the mental condition from which he has been suffering was both treatable and manageable. Their opinion was that, provided he was serious about his recovery, he could live a completely normal life in the future.

* ‘I’m scared of Australia. Leave aside whether if I’ve got a thin skin or my skin’s not thick enough. As a person, I’m very soft. I think that’s why I get hurt. I think that’s why I react. As a default setting I’m not a hard man, I’m soft,’ he says. ‘I’m scared of the media, I’m scared of the attention, I’m scared of the judgement. If you think about where I’ve been spending my time, whether it was even Israel or Argentina, I’m anonymous. Aspen, I’m anonymous. Tahiti on the boat, I’m anonymous.’ It is a stunning revelation coming from the son of Kerry Packer, one of the hardest and most ruthless people in Australian corporate history, a man who was contemptuous of weakness.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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