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The way James Packer talks about his ex-wives is next level.

The following is an extract from The Price of Fortune: The Untold Story of Being James Packer by Damon Kitney. Harper Collins. RRP $45.00.

James Packer calls it ‘the best Christmas I’ve ever had’. In December 2017, he and his ex-wife, Erica, spent their first family Christmas – with their three children, Indigo, Jackson and Emmanuelle – in the Aspen house they jointly own, West Buttermilk Estate. A week later, the day after his children headed back to Los Angeles, his first wife, Jodhi Meares, arrived in Aspen with her sister Sophie Morgan. James’s mother, Ros, was also there for the New Year period, spending some precious time with her only son.

Remarkably, through the horrors of recent years, as everything else spiralled out of control, James’s greatest comfort came from his contact with these three most important women in his life. He still calls his ex-wives, whom he affectionately refers to as ‘Eri’ and ‘Joda’, his ‘best friends’, while he calls his mother ‘Mummy’. Over recent years, another name has been added to the list of his closest female confidantes – his current partner, Canadian-born model Kylie Lim. James says he hopes to have the same ‘magical’ experience with Erica and his children in Aspen for Christmas 2018. It’s a fair bet Meares and his mother will visit again at some stage, as will Lim.

Sitting in the living room of that very house, with its spectacular backdrop of magnificent Colorado snow country visible over his shoulder through the floor-to-ceiling windows, I ask him how he has managed to stay friends with both his exes. There is a long pause before he eventually answers; it is clear this is tough terrain. ‘Erica is my priority. She is the mother of my kids. And the kids are my priority,’ he says, slowly. ‘Jodhi is a great source of happiness and friendship in my life. I talk to Erica multiple times a day. And I think Jodhi is an incredibly special person. I’m just so lucky to have them both in my life.’

***

James and his first wife, Jodhi. Image: Getty.
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James describes his weddings as ‘epic and different’. After a four-year romance – punctuated by a short period apart – he and Erica married at the majestic Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc in Cap d’Antibes on the French Riviera in June 2007 in a lavish $6 million affair. They invited 182 guests to the wedding, and 180 turned up for the big day, including Rupert Murdoch and his then wife Wendi Deng, Lachlan and Sarah Murdoch, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, Lloyd Williams, Alan Jones, cricketer Shane Warne, TV host Karl Stefanovic, and Packer company executives John Alexander, Chris Anderson and Ian Law. Erica wore a $100,000 Christian Dior gown. Hundreds of thousands of flowers were flown in specially from the Netherlands. Erica’s sister, Joanna, was her bridesmaid, while then Channel Nine chief executive and James’s best mate David Gyngell was his best man. But this was not a show wedding.

It was a strictly private affair. The guests were asked not to take photos on their phones or post anything from the event on social media. One attendee recalls it was hard to hear the ceremony for the drones of the paparazzi helicopters circling above seeking to get an exclusive shot of the billionaire couple. Friends say that throughout their subsequent marriage, Erica, who was born in the NSW country town of Gunnedah, was always important in ‘grounding’ James.

To those around them, the Packers appeared solid and stable through good times and bad, even as James suffered his second nervous breakdown following the intense pressure of saving his business from the brink of disaster in the wake of the GFC. After his recovery he began to travel the world again to oversee new casino projects in Macau, the Philippines and Sri Lanka. But the stresses of growing his businesses began to take their toll, especially as he worked to get the green light – and public approval – for his controversial Crown Sydney project. At the same time he was also trying to conclude the sale of his pay-TV investment company, CMH, to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.

Several friends remember him being ‘simply miserable’ at the time. He would constantly tell Erica how much he wanted to get out of Sydney. One friend recalls, ‘He used to say to Erica: “Can’t we live somewhere else? Why do we still live in Sydney?”

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James and Erica in 2009. Image: Getty.

Still, James and Erica had spent more than three years expanding their Vaucluse home La Mer, with its rooftop lap pool, gymnasium, soaring 6.2-metre ceilings, twenty-seat cinema, internal lift, soundproof twenty-car garage, and bedrooms for guests and staff. But James never felt comfortable there, and he and Erica lived together in the house for only a month after moving in around April 2013. They were drifting apart and fighting over email, as Erica spent an increasing amount of time in Los Angeles. She rented a $100,000-a-month Beverly Hills mansion featuring seven bathrooms and a separate guest house in a high-security gated community, one of the most expensive estates in Beverly Hills.

Everything came to a head at Bora Bora in French Polynesia in mid 2013. Eventually, James asked for a divorce and Erica agreed. The news was announced to the world on the afternoon of 6 September. In a short statement, the estranged couple said: ‘We remain deeply close friends and incredibly proud parents, and our children are our priority going forward.’

Forty-five days later, supermodel Miranda Kerr announced her marriage to Orlando Bloom was over. Almost immediately James and Kerr reportedly started dating, a relationship James has never confirmed or denied. In fact, he will say nothing on the subject when asked. But friends of Erica say she was hurt by the liaison, given she and James had been friends with Kerr (also a Gunnedah girl) and Bloom. They had even all holidayed together in Tahiti in May 2012.

When James and Erica sold La Mer for $70 million in 2016, breaking a property record for the most expensive home ever sold in Australia, Erica received half of the sale proceeds. She now has an apartment in Paris, which she visits regularly, in addition to her base in Los Angeles with their children.

For more, listen to Packer's biographer Damon Kitney on No Filter. (Post continues below.)

She initially agreed to talk to me face to face for this book during one of her visits to Sydney, before James went public about his mental health battles. After that she preferred to talk over email. ‘I love Sydney,’ she writes to me from Los Angeles of her decision to move abroad in 2013. ‘But I wanted to escape the hothouse pressure and start again somewhere I wasn’t the subject of gossip. I had three kids under five years old and was still breastfeeding Emmanuelle. So I really wanted to gather up my babies, try to heal and find some silence from all the noise. James didn’t want to be in Australia at that time either so it worked for both of us.’

She says it has been fundamentally important that she and James remain close, especially for the sake of the children. ‘We are a family no matter what. As I said earlier, families come in all different shapes and sizes and my family is my highest priority; the kids always come first.’ Erica explains that she still has a deep regard for James. ‘I first fell in love with James for the following characteristics: his kindness, curiosity, tenacity, and enthusiasm for life,’ she says. ‘These traits are the fundamental reason why James and I continue to have a loving and respectful relationship.'

Despite speculation to the contrary, James has not sought in recent times to reconcile with Erica. Rather, Erica’s friends say she just wants James to be a happy and healthy dad for their kids. James himself says he felt in 2013 and continues to feel ‘enormous guilt’ about the failure of their marriage. He adds, in his characteristically self-critical way: ‘It was entirely my fault. I followed [Erica] to America in my own way. I knew I should be near her and the kids, and our break-up is my biggest failure. I think in some ways I have never gotten over it.’ So what does he believe are the prospects of a reunion? His reply is short: ‘I’m not sure Erica would want to.’

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