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Sir Martin Sorrell's ex bemoans life as top boss wife, read the insight into life with rich man


Pot-bellied men prancing about in bathrobes, screaming into their mobile phones, are a familiar sight at the exclusive Swiss detox clinic where I’m spending the week.

And invariably, trailing behind them, looking mortified and somewhat maltreated, is a beleaguered, surgically enhanced wife.

One titan of industry at this famous clinic — which caters for oligarchs and CEOs — demands an off-menu breakfast every morning, intimidating the waitress until she obliges (even though she knows it could cost her her job).

His wife can be seen desperately trying to calm him down and instil a scintilla of reason in him, while also managing the situation in the room (this sort of scene doesn’t go down well here).

What’s most interesting — and sadly all too predictable to those ‘in the know’ — is the scant regard this powerful man has for his wife: his attitude is that she leads a nice life thanks to him, so she can jolly well pick up the pieces.

The more successful this type of husband becomes, the harder it is for his spouse. 

Helen Kirwan-Taylor (pictured) was married to a former investment banker for 32 years. She said her advice to any mega-rich wives-to-be is don't give up the day job

Helen Kirwan-Taylor (pictured) was married to a former investment banker for 32 years. She said her advice to any mega-rich wives-to-be is don’t give up the day job

She may have been his Oxbridge-educated intellectual equal when they met, but marriage has relegated her status to a mere decimal point above the PA in his view. 

Even the PA can log off at some point; the wife is forever on call.

The fact is that these rich and powerful masters of the universe may be many things — interesting, clever, charming, inspiring, charismatic — but they are also hellishly hard work to be married to.

This is how Cristiana Falcone, 47, an Italian corporate adviser currently in the process of divorcing the advertising tycoon Sir Martin Sorrell, 75, describes it. 

She recalls a secretary asking why she continued to work, despite being married to a man now worth an estimated £269 million. 

‘The woman said she wished she could have married a rich man. I wanted to tell her: “Honey, it’s double the work.”‘

Though Falcone, who married Sorrell in 2008, sat on several corporate boards and was a media adviser for the World Economic Forum in Davos, until recently, she says she felt pigeon-holed as ‘just a wife of’. 

‘The assumption was I wasn’t working,’ she says. ‘I am paying for that now. They put me in one category [wife], and this was my definition. I couldn’t get out of it.’

I could have told her all that and spared her a lot of misery. 

The Sorrells of the world are familiar to me, thanks to being married to a former investment banker for 32 years.

My husband and I were introduced by a friend in New York in the Eighties banking heyday. 

Back then, well before the financial crisis, senior investment bankers were akin to rock stars. 

This is how Cristiana Falcone, 47, an Italian corporate adviser currently in the process of divorcing the advertising tycoon Sir Martin Sorrell, 75, describes it (pictured)

This is how Cristiana Falcone, 47, an Italian corporate adviser currently in the process of divorcing the advertising tycoon Sir Martin Sorrell, 75, describes it (pictured) 

We mixed in circles with bankers who later became top partners earning £50 million to £100 million plus.

They commanded respect and were hugely influential in every sector, including the British government. Prime Ministers returned their calls immediately, believe me.

I soon learned these high-profile businessmen are a different breed from simply ‘rich’ men.

Where a scion of a wealthy family can be difficult and spoilt, he tends to suffer from an inferiority complex when confronted by a Martin Sorrell or Philip Green-type figure.

It takes an extra level of effort, sacrifice and ruthlessness to reach the dizzy heights of CEO or chairman of a multi-national company. 

And with that comes high-strength arrogance and an exaggerated self-belief.

The individual may have been perfectly reasonable as a young adult but later developed into what is known as a ‘situational narcissist’.

This transformation happens when status is suddenly elevated, which instils a sense of superiority, entitlement and privilege.

With each extra billion, promotion, Oscar or knighthood, the behaviour becomes more obnoxious.

Men also develop the ‘winning effect’, where they are essentially drunk on their own success.

Within this small band of society, unreasonable, petulant and demanding behaviour is not only tolerated, but almost enabled. 

Not only is the wife on the receiving end of such outbursts, she must also smooth things over when he explodes publicly.

As a friend married to a private equity adviser puts it: ‘The wives of rich men are like glamorous snowploughs: they smooth the wrinkles of daily life and ensure that the husband can fully focus on his job.’

These men are ‘double the work’, partly because they do double the work of other men. Hence, they expect to be revered at home.

Everyone else is lazy, a hanger-on, treats them like an ATM (they say that a lot). The moment the adulation wanes, they find a substitute. This applies as much to a wife as to an employee.

All the while their manners dwindle. One entrepreneur we know (now extremely wealthy) once arrived at dinner two hours late and spoke very loudly on the phone the entire evening. 

When I threatened to put his phone in my wine glass, he shut up. His wife looked horrified, embarrassed and apologetic. Another formerly impressive woman diminished.

Bankers often marry bankers, as they have no time to date. But the lifestyle of the double-banker couple ultimately proves too complicated, so the wife resigns.

Initially, this is considered a good ‘trade’. She manages the house, children and staff; he flies around the world being important.

There are perks for her, of course: many homes to be decorated, holidays in five-star hotels, as much help as needed, limitless American Express Platinum credit card expenditure and lots of leisure time.

But then comes the reality check: the stressed-out husband is never home; he misses every dinner party and school function; he flies off from family holidays because a deal is happening, and he keeps a corporate apartment near the office so as not to be distracted by children or renovation projects.

As his salary pays for his domestic staff, he also makes huge demands on them. Unlike his office minions, however, they resign. 

So in comes the wife smoothing the edges and once again offering each a huge pay rise to persuade them to stay.

On top of all this come the increasingly egocentric demands. 

For example, one banker I know with four children ordered that upon his return from work his wife should present him with a drink in his study and leave him alone for at least an hour before serving dinner. 

This despite the fact his children needed to be put to bed. If dinner was not to his liking, he would explode.

In his mind, his Cambridge-educated wife ‘did nothing’ and therefore should at least be able to maintain a perfect home.

A hedge fund manager I know refuses to allow his wife to speak to him when he comes home because he has to ‘think’. He also silences her at meals if he needs to think some more.

His wife sheepishly explains to me that she tolerates this because he ‘looks after so many people’s money and works under such stressful conditions’. ‘The least he can expect at home is peace,’ she says.

Whether his wife has had a good or bad day doesn’t matter because, in his mind, ‘she gets lots of money and should therefore be happy’.

Another well-known European hedge funder we know ran off briefly with his Russian mistress.

He argued that he was entitled to do so because he had been neglected: his wife had been too focused on the children and her (part-time) job and had let herself go. 

They reconciled briefly on condition that she give up her job and lose 10lb. Another condition was giving him unlimited sex.

During their subsequent divorce, it came out that part of managing him had been replacing the designer furniture he broke whenever he chose to throw it at a wall — or her.

The fact he couldn’t remember where their children went to school, when quizzed by the divorce lawyer in court, speaks volumes.

A rich man’s detachment from his family can be profound. I’ve heard many men mock their wives and belittle them in public for doing ‘f*** all’, even though she runs half a dozen charities and multiple renovation projects. 

That their children excel at music, sports, get into the top schools and universities, or that their houses are impeccable, is deemed irrelevant.

The fact is that such wives, often highly intelligent themselves, find their self-esteem plummeting. It’s hard for them to confide in their peer group because they are either envied or dismissed as spoilt.

Meanwhile, any achievement of their own is written off.

A friend was awarded an MBE for her charitable works. The response among her pals was ‘anyone can get an MBE — if they throw enough of their husband’s money at it’.

Corporate wives must always be groomed, affable, informed and furiously forbearing. 

I have seen first-hand how the committed (often ambitious women in their own right) prop up their husbands, schmoozing with his clients and entertaining at home at the drop of a hat. 

All the while having to bite their tongue as others make demeaning remarks about them. I’ve had a taste of this myself. 

I was once told, during a corporate lunch in a VIP tent at Wimbledon, that this ‘treat’ should make up for all my husband’s absences.

Having always maintained my job as a journalist, I’d had to get up at 4am that morning to meet a deadline so, no thank you, this was not a treat. 

Besides I hate tennis! Of course, it’s hard to feel sorry for the sort of women who willingly give up careers as soon as they are married, eager to embrace a life of pure luxury (which many do).

Some become lazy, pampered, and almost delusional, believing themselves to be as important as their husbands. 

These are the ones who fall hardest and fastest. But spare a thought for those who toil away in the background, plumping up their husband’s ego as all their own self-esteem slowly evaporates.

I do know of high-net-worth business couples who are perfectly happy together, but the women in question have always maintained their own, outside life.

Either they continued to work in some capacity, or they engaged in hobbies (from horses to gardening) on an almost-professional level.

I have taken art courses with women who may have had a chauffeur waiting outside, but they concentrated as if their lives depended on it.

My advice to any mega-rich wives-to-be? Don’t give up the day job, retain a sense of self — and grow a thick skin. 

Your husband may work hard, but don’t doubt you’ll be putting in the hours, too.

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