‘You might think Rupert’s the catch with his billions, but Ann-Lesley shines a very bright light. He’s lucky to have her!’: The world is agog over Murdoch’s relationship with a glamorous widow. Now one of her close friends speaks out
In the admittedly unlikely event of Rupert Murdoch — the billionaire media owner and one of the world’s most powerful people — ever resorting to placing a lonely-hearts advert, what would he say he was looking for in a woman?
So far, his marriages have run, in date order: model, journalist, media executive and model.
His most recent wife, Jerry Hall, dumped by email, was hugely sociable and well-connected. Her predecessor Wendi Deng brimming with acumen. Before her came Anna Torv, the mother of three of his six children, who was said to be his moral compass, and his first wife, Patricia Booker, was a young model whom he married when he was only 25.
But now, with 91-year-old Murdoch having only finalised his fourth divorce in August, comes another striking match.
Beach life: Ann-Lesley Smith is on holiday with Rupert Murdoch in Barbados
Soaking up the sun: Relaxing with the media mogul in the Caribbean
His new companion is Ann-Lesley Smith, a 66-year-old Californian widow.
A former prison chaplain turned broadcaster and agony aunt, her social media indicates that she loves German shepherds, fast cars, inspirational speaking, viticulture (the science behind cultivating grapes) and Jesus. Although not necessarily in that order.
She is also deeply suspicious of politics and in a radio broadcast called Covid ‘the Plandemic’, speculating that the global emergency was possibly cooked up by Bill Gates at a summit in Davos in 2019 — of which more later.
She and Murdoch, who has a family fortune of £14.3 billion, are currently holidaying in Barbados. Friends say they met in November and that Murdoch ‘seems very happy’.
Twice-married Ann-Lesley is certainly the wealthiest woman he has ever dated. Her last husband, millionaire Chester Smith, a country and western legend who became a TV mogul, was 75 when she married him, and sadly died only three years later in 2008, leaving her in charge of his 156-acre holding in California, where she grows grapes and olives.
Murdoch — who owns the only vineyard in Los Angeles — cannot fail to be impressed by that. Indeed, one of Ann-Lesley’s close friends revealed this week that they actually met — and bonded —through the wine business
Jennifer Ogden told the Mail: ‘She went to one of his wine parties in LA. She’d been attending them for a while and they got talking. You might think he’s the catch, but she’s quite a catch. She’s a beautiful woman. She’s got a beautiful personality and shines a very bright light. He’s lucky to have her in his life.’
Of the romance, Ogden adds: ‘It’s exciting. She did let me know that. It’s something exciting for her. Ann knows what she’s getting into — she’s a very, very intelligent woman. She’s been alone for a while. She was broken-hearted when she lost Chester. I’m very happy she’s found some happiness and had some fun, and found someone she can care about.’
Ann-Lesley’s home is a 25,000 sq ft mansion where, to her great credit, she teaches participants from rehab groups about viticulture to improve their job skills.
She is also involved with other charities, having founded the Last Chance Ranch, which is described as a ‘remapping’ programme that ‘helps wayward men to reach higher ground, regardless of life’s obstacles, instructing them to use personal setbacks as launching pads’.
Her personal motto, according to her Facebook page, is: ‘Where your problems are, there is a pearl.’
Certainly, there has been grit in her oyster. As she said: ‘I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor, rich and then poor.’
Not much is known about her early life. After graduating from Idaho State University in 1980, which she attended on a scholarship, she worked as a model and also set up her own business as a dental hygienist.
Records indicate that she married John B. Huntington, an attorney who was a descendant of one of California’s pioneering railroad families. He died of cancer aged 59 nearly 30 years ago. According to interviews given by Ann-Lesley, their life together was gilded but miserable. Huntington had a public profile — he was on the San Francisco Ballet’s board of trustees and was a deputy district attorney and honorary deputy sheriff.
She told the Christian Broadcasting Network in an interview: ‘The world just opened up to me. Almost like royalty. During the day my life was just so fun. John was into cars, and we had a stable full of every kind — exotic Ferraris and everything. I spent $65,000 [£53,000] a month on clothes easily.
‘Money was not an object. I had everything in the world.
‘At times it was wonderful. It’s the kind of marriage anybody would have loved to have had. During the day he would shower gifts on me and praise.’ But she added: ‘When John started drinking, he became a different person. He would lock me out of the house. He physically abused me, mentally abused me, emotionally . . . which is worse than physical because you start to believe the lies.’
In the divorce which followed she found herself broke.
‘I was ashamed. It just was so different. What was I to do? I’d go shopping at midnight so no one would see me.
‘I really wanted to commit suicide because my life was so bad. Everything was just too much. I was thinking that if I drive my car real fast into someone else, then I’d end it. Well, I was driving recklessly. I wanted it to happen, [but] it didn’t.’
Her life changed when, during a modelling job, she was approached by the event co-ordinator.
She recalled: ‘She takes me into the coffee shop and says, ‘Honey, I can see right through you. You’re hurting. The only thing that’s going to help you is you need Jesus Christ’.
‘Quite a catch’: Ann-Lesley enjoys a wealthy lifestyle and is also a keen horsewoman, like several in Murdoch’s family
‘So she gave me [a book], The Four Spiritual Laws, and I begrudgingly took it, went home that night, and got down on my knees. I was so hurt, so alone and so rejected. And I prayed for God to help me and forgive me of my sins . . . Everything in the book I did.
‘The Lord gave me thirst and a hunger for Him, and I actually replaced the things of the world with the Scriptures.
‘As I began to walk with God, the things of the world just seemed pointless to me.’
Prompted by her Christian faith, she became a volunteer police chaplain, and used her life experiences to care for others.
‘When I go on my calls and I’m dealing with people who are in a lot of pain, I say, ‘I’ve been here. I’ve been here and you can get out.’ It gives them hope.’
It was through her prison chaplaincy that she met the man who would become her second husband: Chester Smith, a divorcé 27 years her senior with three children, who was also a devout Christian.
Smith had a hit back in 1955 (two years before Ann-Lesley was born) with the song Wait A Little Longer Please Jesus. A successful performer, he later launched a country music radio station in Modesto, California, followed by a TV station in northern California, and then others, including a Spanish language one.
He was very wealthy. Before his divorce from his first wife, there were homes in Carmel and Beverly Hills. He and Ann-Lesley lived in a mansion on a bluff overlooking the Stanislaus River, just outside Riverbank, California. Their olive oil was marketed under the name Olivewood Estate. There was also a 2,800-acre cattle ranch in San Andreas.
Ann-Lesley, like several in Rupert Murdoch’s family, is a keen horsewoman. The jewel in Murdoch’s property empire is a 340,000-acre ranch in Montana. In an interview, Ann-Lesley said of Chester: ‘He did help a lot of people. He was a wise man and he was a quiet man, but boy, did he make some breakthroughs.’
The two of them released a music CD in 2005, the year of their marriage, titled Captured By Love. He died of heart failure three years later.
‘When Chester was dying, he said, ‘Honey, you’re now me’. And it took some time to figure that out,’ she said. ‘I’m a person who can make things happen for other people.’
Since being widowed — she has no children of her own — she has enjoyed offering life advice on a radio show.
‘My show is about people, about lives. I’m sort of like the guru of the components of life,’ she says.
She told another interviewer: ‘A lot of people haven’t gone through a lot, and they pontificate on stuff they’ve read in a book.
‘Like my late husband used to say, ‘Would you rather go down the Amazon river with someone who’s been doing it 35 years, or someone who’s a college professor at Stanford who’s studied it in books?’ ‘
Last year, she shared her thoughts on a radio show about businesses being closed during Covid. ‘They try to close down people’s business. Do they know what this is doing? It’s part of the plan, the Plandemic — oops! — pipeline. It comes and it swoops over. It’s invented for the most part; it’s killing a lot of people . . . they’re stepping over bodies now. The way something starts is the way something ends. Trust me. That’s a little wisdom bomb for you.’
She went on to say that the ruling class should be put in a landfill, and then said of the pandemic: ‘Wasn’t it planned in Davos?
‘Someone told me this was planned in — Bill Gates had a meeting in October of 2019, holy smokes — and they did this pandemic run-through, like a fire drill like we used to do in school? And that’s what they did. I could see them sitting around laughing [laughs]; this is what they’re going to do.’
Further opinions were revealed when she shared an anti-Hillary Clinton post of herself on social media dressed as Sarah Connor, the heroine from the Terminator films with the caption: ‘Terminator 10 — the Hillary solution.’
Some of this, of course, dovetails with attitudes displayed by contributors to the Fox News channel, owned by Murdoch. He also owns national and international newspapers including The Wall Street Journal and New York Post in the U.S., and The Sun and The Times in the UK, as well as the book publisher Harper Collins.
Ann-Lesley clearly has strong views, but it’s the efforts she’s made to improve other people’s lives that her friends most admire her for.
Ogden met her at a professional event, quickly becoming the sort of friend who would share Sunday morning walks round Ann-Lesley’s vineyard. She says: ‘She’s a beautiful woman inside and out; she has such a kind soul. She has quite a story.
‘She’s a very bright light in a world where there’s a lot of anger and cynicism, and hurtful angry people; she’s a bright spot. She has a lot of love and goodness. She’s a wonderful singer-songwriter and wrote a beautiful song about angels and homeless people.
‘I don’t know Rupert Murdoch, I know he has a wad of money, but that doesn’t make a human being better than anyone else, and she has a lot to offer.
‘She’s been rich and poor, that’s why she has a lot of compassion.’