Won’t you spare a thought for poor William Henry Gates III? For most of America, the collapse of a marriage is a private trauma, or at worst publicized in a series of ill-thought Facebook posts.
But Mr Gates is worth $120 billion — and it turns out an unfathomably enormous fortune can buy a great deal of unwanted attention when your personal life is disintegrating.
Jeff Bezos had an even bigger fortune at stake when he divorced — and his public breakup involved cringeworthy X-rated text messages being leaked to the world via the National Enquirer. Somehow Gates’s divorce has already managed to become more publicly excruciating.
First, there were the leaks about Melinda’s $132,000 a night island getaway where she planned to wait out the media storm. Articles made sure to report that everyone in the family was invited except Bill, because everyone was taking her side in the split.
New humiliations came in a cascade over the weekend, in such quick succession it’s impossible not to suspect coordination. From the Wall Street Journal came the claim that Gates left the Microsoft board due to an investigation into a decades-old affair with an employee. From the New York Times, insinuations of ‘questionable’ conduct with underlings and the allegation that Gates protected his money manager from a #MeToo allegation. And of course, from the Daily Beast, juicy details about Gates’s mysterious long-running friendship with Jeffrey Epstein prior to his ‘suicide’ in 2019:
‘Gates used the gatherings at Epstein’s $77 million New York townhouse as an escape from what he told Epstein was a “toxic” marriage, a topic both men found humorous, a person who attended the meetings told the Daily Beast.
‘The billionaire met Epstein dozens of times starting in 2011 and continuing through to 2014 mostly at the financier’s Manhattan home — a substantially higher number than has been previously reported. Their conversations took place years before Bill and Melinda Gates announced this month that they were splitting up.
‘Gates, in turn, encouraged Epstein to rehabilitate his image in the media following his 2008 guilty plea for soliciting a minor for prostitution, and discussed Epstein becoming involved with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
‘The people familiar with the matter said Gates found freedom in Epstein’s lair, where he met a rotating cast of bold-faced names and discussed worldly issues in between rounds of jokes and gossip — a “men’s club” atmosphere that irritated Melinda.’
What is happening? Some of the allegations may be true. Perhaps most of them! But Cockburn suspects we are seeing the old idiom play out before us: Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and Ms French Gates has ample resources and media contacts to make sure everyone sees her fury on display. By the time this divorce is over, the founder of the world’s largest charitable foundation, TIME’s 2005 Person of the Year, the man who went around drinking poop water, may well be forever tainted as an adulterer and a creep.
But Cockburn draws a very different lesson from the saga — Bill Gates isn’t a predator, he’s something much sadder: he is a beta.
A few secret visits to Epstein’s townhouse might conjure images of hidden bacchanalias and forbidden carnal exercises. Dozens of visits suggest something much more mundane: a lonely, sad man falling into the orbit of a charismatic cult leader.
Ending up in a loveless marriage, sneaking away from a harpy wife to meet a friend she dislikes, and being taken to the cleaners thanks to not getting a prenup are all common enough experiences for pasty nerds-turned-professionals in America. But it is quite remarkable to learn that a centibillionaire has the same problems.
Even Gates’s affairs hardly evoke the wild oats-sowing of Bill Clinton or Donald Trump. Instead, they are the sad indiscretions of a man wholly out of his element.
In 2006, for example, he attended a presentation by a female Microsoft employee. Mr Gates, who at the time was the company’s chairman, left the meeting and immediately emailed the woman to ask her out to dinner, according to two people familiar with the exchange. ‘If this makes you uncomfortable, pretend it never happened,’ Mr Gates wrote in an email, according to a person who read it to the New York Times.
The woman was indeed uncomfortable, the two people said. She decided to pretend it had never happened.
One of the richest men in the world sent meek emails to underlings, asking if maybe they’d be interested in dinner butifthatsweirditstotallyoktoignorethismessagetoo.
If this is what $100 billion gets you, why should any man strive at all? Also, shouldn’t the man who launched MicrosoftMail 30 years ago be a little better informed about not sending embarrassing messages on the internet?