Paul Barry, who has been writing about the Packer family for more than 15 years, combines observation with well-honed investigative skills, to focus on fourth generation James Packer.
Assuaging our curiosity about the world of the rich and famous, Barry’s unauthorised biography, which follows books on Alan Bond, Kerry Packer and the Murdochs, took three years and involved about 230 interviews with teachers, schoolmates and friends.
Starting with recent times, the prologue ‘Unlucky Jim’ describes James Packer sitting in front of his computer watching the markets fall in early 2009, “haemorrhaging wealth at a rate of $8000 a minute, $480,000 an hour or $11.5 million a day.” In the space of a year he had waved goodbye to two-thirds of his $6.2 billion fortune and was no longer Australia’s richest man.
Barry then takes us from James’s school years in Chapter 1, ‘Mummy’s Boy’, to his business and personal life today – ending with Chapter 26, ‘Dreams and Nightmares’.
There are many names and company dealings to digest, a generous index and 24 pages of notes acknowledging where comments come from, plus plenty of useful and necessary cross-references. What doesn’t help, however, is a frustrating shortage of dates as topics change, and there is a lack of names on some of the photographs.
Because of his enormous influence on his son, the story of 42 year old James Packer could not be told without looking at Kerry Packer (aka ‘The Big Fella’). This takes up a fair slice of the book and paints a picture of a dictatorial father and businessman, a gambler, drinker and womaniser with a foul mouth, who kept control of the business until his death in December 2005.
James, who struggled to win his father’s love and respect, is described as being very different from Kerry Packer – he has a soft heart, takes life seriously and is often naïve. Barry explains how the two also had different ideas about how to make money, with James backing casinos and pay TV while Kerry’s focus was newspapers.
Going through the years, Barry looks at the mentors who affected James; the shifts in the balance of power between James and Kerry as Internet and mobile phones took off, and the rivalry in the media arena between the Murdoch and Packer families – especially over the ARL and new Super League in relation to Australian pay TV, Foxtel and Fox Sports.
As well as the rise and fall of Internet company Ecorp, created by James, the dramatic growth and collapse of One.Tel and subsequent $400 million loss to the family fortune, is there too.
“That experience had driven him to the very edge of a nervous breakdown and caused him to take refuge in Scientology,” writes Barry.
What will the future hold for James Packer?
“So far luck has not been on James’s side,” Barry concludes. “He inherited the Packer fortune on the eve of the biggest financial meltdown the world has seen since 1929. But despite a close call or two he is still in the game. And after all his billion dollar losses and defeats, James Packer is doubly determined not to quit.”
Linda Donald is an Auckland-based freelance writer and book reviewer. Email email@example.com