By Geoffrey Levy
Two days ago she was simply Rupert Murdoch’s Chinese wife, a tall beauty for whom the media tycoon brutally abandoned his wife of 32 years, Anna.
Now Wendi Deng Murdoch is a global heroine, a tigress who leapt to claw and punch a man throwing a plate of foam (but it could have been anything) – into her 80-year-old husband’s face at Tuesday’s House of Commons committee hearing.
Even Murdoch’s 102-year-old mother Dame Elisabeth, who has said that after what her son did to Anna she ‘finds it hard to accept Wendi’, must have been impressed.
Tigress: Wendi Deng captured Rupert Murdoch's heart in the late 1990s and many viewed her as a ruthless opportunist. However that all changed within 30 seconds two days ago
It hasn’t always been like this. Until now, most people have paid obeisance to the girl born into what she has called ‘poverty’ in provincial China purely because she is Mrs Rupert Murdoch although, it must be said, she carries off the role with ease, having both style and brains.
They have viewed her as a ruthless opportunist whose capture of Rupert when he was in his late sixties and she a mere 31, was an act of naked ambition in the style of fiction’s faithless social climber Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair.
When the Wall Street Journal published details of her extraordinary rise, Murdoch is understood to have told a friend: ‘I didn’t know half of that.’ Not that it shook his faith in her, and when he was treated for prostate cancer in 2000, she never left his side.
Since then they have had two children, Grace, nine, and Chloe, seven (the children who, we learned this week, played with Gordon and Sarah Brown’s sons John, seven, and James Fraser, five).
Slap that made her famous: Wendi Murdoch leapt to the defence of husband Rupert as he was attacked at the Parliamentary hearing on Tuesday
Wendi, born Deng Wen Ge, grew up with her two sisters and a brother in a £25-a-month flat in the southern city of Guangzhou.
She enrolled at medical college but left after two years. Then she met Jake and Joyce Cherry, a couple from Los Angeles.
Jake was building a factory making freezers and their interpreter told them of a girl, Wendi, who wanted to improve her English. Joyce, then 42, began to teach her but then returned alone to LA to enrol her children in school.
Soon afterwards Jake telephoned his wife and asked her to prepare the papers for Wendi to study at a college in Los Angeles. When he returned to America, she stayed with them, sharing a bedroom with one of their children.
Joyce has talked of discovering pictures of 5ft 10in Wendi in ‘coquettish’ poses taken in her husband’s Guangzhou hotel room. He had, she believed, become infatuated.
Before long her husband, then 50, moved into an apartment with 19-year-old Wendi, who had enrolled at university, and in 1990 they married.
But it became his turn to suspect she was seeing someone else and they divorced 31 months later – seven months after the minimum period required for her to get a green card to work in the US.
Wendi enrolled for a Yale management course and graduated in 1996.
Then came a chance meeting with a Murdoch executive, at a time his corporation was expanding into China. The girl who spoke both Mandarin and English was offered an internship which grew into a full-time job in business development at News Corp’s Star TV.
By early 1998 the striking Chinese girl with supermodel looks was accompanying Rupert Murdoch to Beijing and Shanghai as his interpreter. Soon the company buzz was about a relationship. They were seen holding hands.
Back home: The couple looked happy to be back in New York yesterday
He and Anna had been married 31 years but he was besotted with Wendi and, despite the dismay of his mother, Rupert and Anna divorced in 1999. He and Wendi were married 17 days later.
Murdoch has always maintained that, as his wife, Wendi would never have a job in the organisation.
Yet she has always been an influence, albeit exercised with utter discretion. As age has caught up with him, particularly in the last two or three years, Wendi has become increasingly protective, supervising his diet and monitoring his health.
Besotted: Rupert Murdoch married Wendi just 17 days after his split with his wife of 32 years, Anna
He is always telling friends how ‘loving and supporting’ she is. Only one woman has apparently threatened to destabilise her position as the pre-eminent woman at his ear.
Rebekah Brooks never lost an opportunity to be at his side and was once heard asking him if he had ‘taken your pills’.
She was, frankly, adored by Murdoch who afforded her virtual family status and elevation to chief executive of News International. But though tough, Rebekah never stood a chance.
Few were surprised that Wendi was not at the Rupert’s News International summer party last month, because she knew Rebekah would be there.
‘Not that Wendi suspected anything physical,’ says a mutual friend.
‘But she’s proud of her place in Rupert’s life and hates other women getting too close to him.’
As for the Murdoch matriarch Dame Elisabeth, of course she is grateful to Wendi for providing her with granddaughters Grace and Chloe.
This new generation of children caused something of a rumpus with Anna over her children’s inheritance. It has been solved by giving Lachlan, James and Elisabeth Murdoch some £65million each so that Grace and Chloe can be beneficiaries of the family trust. Wendi, the poor little girl from China, surely wouldn’t have had it any other way.