Bill and Melinda Gates have had a decades-long agreement that the Microsoft boss could vacation for a long weekend at the beach every year with his venture capitalist ex-girlfriend.
The odd arrangement raises eyebrows now that one of the richest couples in the world are going their separate ways after 27 years together and building a $130billion fortune.
Bill, 65, and venture capitalist Ann Winblad, 70, dated in the 80s but broke up in 1987, the same year he met future wife Melinda. Ann was reportedly more ready for marriage than Bill as he worked day and night to build his billion-dollar Microsoft empire.
However, the pair maintained a friendship and in a 1997 piece in TIME Magazine, Bill said, ‘When I was off on my own thinking about marrying Melinda, I called Ann and asked for her approval.’
She approved and the former lovers – with Melinda’s blessing – kept their yearly vacation alive, with Bill spending a long weekend with Ann at her beach house on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
The pair spend their getaway every spring riding dune buggies, hang-gliding and taking walks on the beach.
Bill Gates dated venture capitalist Ann Winblad, 70, in the 80s but broke up in 1987, the same year he met future wife Melinda
Bill and Melinda Gates announced their split after 27 years of marriage on Monday
The 65-year-old Microsoft founder and his 56-year-old wife shared the news with identical statements on Twitter
‘We can play putt-putt while discussing biotechnology,’ Bill said in the 1997 interview.
Ann was reportedly more ready for marriage than Bill as he worked day and night to build his billion-dollar Microsoft empire
Ann said, ‘We share our thoughts about the world and ourselves. And we marvel about how, as two young overachievers, we began a great adventure on the fringes of a little-known industry and it landed us at the center of an amazing universe.’
Bill and Ann first met in 1984 at a Ben Rosen-Esther Dyson computer conference.
While in different cities, they began going on ‘virtual dates’ by going to see the same movie at the same time and talking about it on their cell phones. She even convinced him to stop eating meat for a short time.
They broke up three years later, but in the TIME Magazine piece, Ann was quoted telling Bill that Melinda ‘would be a good match for him because she had intellectual stamina.’
The pair even got into business together and in 1999 Bill partnered with Ann on Hummer Winblad Venture Partners.
Bill and Melinda both posted the same joint statement about their divorce on Twitter Monday, which read: ‘After a great deal of thought and a lot of work, we have made the decision to end our marriage.
‘Over the last 27 years, we have raised three incredible children and built a foundation that works all over the world to enable all people to lead healthy, productive lives.
‘We continue to share a belief in that mission and will continue to work together at the foundation, but we no longer believe we can grow together as a couple in this next phase of our lives. We ask for space and privacy for our family as we begin to navigate this new life.’
In papers filed in Washington state, Melinda, 56, described their relationship as ‘irretrievably broken’
Bill and Ann first met in 1984 at a Ben Rosen-Esther Dyson computer conference. While in different cities, they began going on ‘virtual dates’ by going to see the same movie at the same time and talking about it on their cell phones. She even convinced him to stop eating meat. Ann is pictured in 1984
Bill made his first billion in 1987, becoming the youngest ever billionaire. He was 31. He founded Microsoft in 1975. Melinda joined the company that year. He is shown, left, in 1985, aged 29, and she is shown, right, in 1995, the year after they married
They broke up three years later, but in the TIME Magazine piece, Ann was quoted telling Bill that Melinda ‘would be a good match for him because she had intellectual stamina.’ Pictured in 2019
The couple’s eldest daughter, 25-year-old Jennifer Gates, has spoken publicly on social media about the ‘challenging stretch’ the family recently endured. Neither of their two other adult children have commented.
Jennifer is the oldest of Bill and Melinda’s three children, followed by 21-year-old son Rory and 18-year-old daughter Phoebe.
No other details of why the pair are splitting have been given but the court papers reveal the pair did not have a prenuptial agreement in place when they married in 1994 – putting their $130billion fortune at the center of the split.
In the divorce petition, which was filed in Superior Court of Washington – King County on Monday, Melinda asked the judge to dissolved the marriage ‘on the date stated in our separation contract’. The separation contract was not included in the filing so that date is unclear.
Melinda says in the petition that spousal support is ‘not needed’ – meaning she won’t seek regular payments from Bill but take a settlement which is likely to be privately negotiated, if it hasn’t already been decided upon.
Lawyers are shocked there was no prenup, given Bill had already made his first billion dollars at the age of 31 in 1987 – the same year he met Melinda. Now, their myriad assets are up for grabs.
While the couple have no prenup, it appears a lot of the work of dividing up their estate – which includes properties in five states, a private jet, an astonishing art collection and a fleet of luxury cars – has already been done, as their divorce papers repeatedly refer to a ‘separation contract’ which both have signed. The contract itself has not been made public.
Melinda filed a petition for divorce from Bill on Monday in the Superior Court of Washington – King County. In the petition (pictured) she described their marriage as ‘irretrievably broken’
The pair are pictured during a Zoom appearance on April 19 at One World: Together At Home, a broadcast special to support healthcare workers
Bill and Melinda tied the knot in 1994 after dating for about seven years. They are pictured together in 1998
The announcement comes less than two weeks after they made their last public appearance, virtually, at a COVID event for healthcare workers.
Bill was already a billionaire he married Melinda in the early 1990s.
He founded Microsoft in 1975 and became the world’s youngest billionaire in 1987 at the age of 31. He also met Melinda that year when she was working at the company where he served as CEO.
They married six years later but he deliberated over it and, according to previous interviews given by Melinda, even made a list of pros and cons for marriage on a whiteboard.
In 2000 they founded the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – the most influential private foundation in the worth with an endowment work nearly $50billion.
Over the last year the foundation has focused on the development and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines around the world.
As of December, the foundation had committed a total of $1.75billion to the global pandemic response.
In their statement on Monday, the Gates vowed to continue that work together after their split.
The reason behind their split after over a quarter-century remains a mystery but Melinda has previously suggested her husband had trouble balancing work and family.
In 2019, shortly after their 25th wedding anniversary, Melinda gave a rare interview to The Sunday Times in which she revealed how Bill struggled to balance work with family.
‘We’ve just gotten to a point in life where Bill and I can both laugh about more things.
‘And, believe me, I can remember some days that were so incredibly hard in our marriage where you thought, “Can I do this?”‘ she said.
The couple are pictured with their three kids in a 2019 family photo. The kids – Jennifer (center), Rory (right) and Phoebe (left) are now aged 25, 21 and 18
Jennifer Gates, 25, (left) responded to the news of her parents’ split in an Instagram post on Monday evening (right)
In her memoir published that same year Melinda wrote about her private struggles as the wife of a public icon and stay-at-home mom with three kids.
Melinda described the meeting Bill in her 2019 biography The Moment of Lift, writing: ‘I showed up late, and all the tables were filled except one, which still had two empty chairs side by side. I sat in one of them. A few minutes later, Bill arrived and sat in the other.’
After a year of dating, Bill made a list of the pros and cons of getting married.
‘You know, we cared a lot for each other and there were only two possibilities: either, we were going to break up or we were going to get married,’ Bill said in a Netflix documentary about his life.
Their divorce will be the largest division of assets since Jeff Bezos and his wife MacKenzie split in mid 2019.
The Gateses are worth an estimated $130 billion, making them the fourth-richest people in the world, behind Bezos, Elon Musk, and French luxury goods owner Bernard Arnault.
When the Bezos divorce was finalized in 2019, Jeff kept 75 percent of their joint stake in Amazon – then worth $144billion – leaving MacKenzie with a quarter worth $35.8billion.
It appears that Bill and Melinda have already done a lot of the work of dividing up their estate, as their divorce papers repeatedly refer to a ‘separation contract’ which both have signed.
The Gates empire includes homes in five states; a fleet of cars including a rare $2 million Porsche; an art collection that includes a $30 million book of writings and sketches by Leonardo Da Vinci; and a series of private jets.
Gates is also the biggest private owner of farmland in the United States, with 242,000 acres across 18 different states.
Bill and Melinda have already pledged to give most of their fortune away before they die. Their three children will receive a reported $10 million each – a tiny fraction of their parents’ fortune.
Yet, despite The Giving Pledge, they retain plenty of assets which will need to be split between them.
Xanadu 2.0 Mansion, Washington
The Gates family owns a string of luxury mansions across the US, in Washington, Florida, California and Wyoming.
Prime among them is their main family home in Washington, known as Xanadu 2.0.
The 66,000-square-foot mansion overlooks Lake Washington in Medina, nine miles out of downtown Seattle – where The Gates Foundation has its headquarters.
Gates purchased the lot in 1988 for $2 million, but spent seven years building his dream home – at a cost of $63 million.
The construction along the picturesque lake angered some neighbors, The Washington Post reported at the time – so Gates responded with free car washes, and made his construction crew available to help with little projects at nearby homes.
The home is now worth an estimated $125 million.
‘I wanted craftsmanship but nothing ostentatious,’ Gates wrote in his book, The Road Ahead, which was written from the guest house, while the main house was being constructed.
‘I wanted a house that would accommodate sophisticated, changing technology but in an unobtrusive way that made it clear that technology was the servant, not the master.’
The Gates family home contains a 30-car garage and 20-room main living area
An outside deck at Bill and Melinda Gates’s home in Medina, Washington state
Gates said that he wanted his home to be of the highest craftsmanship, but not ostentatious
A statue of Abraham Lincoln stands just inside the entrance of the home, on the outskirts of Seattle
The home has an indoor-outdoor pool with an underwater music system and fossil designs on the floor, plus an ancient fossil imprint of a palm frond behind the diving board.
In the five-acre plot, there is an artificial stream stocked with salmon and cut-throat trout, and a beach with sand imported, according to some, from the Caribbean.
Inside the seven bedroom mansion, with a reported 18 bathrooms, is an art deco home cinema with seating for 20, and a 1,000-square-foot dining room with seating for 24.
For larger gatherings, the 2,300 square-foot reception hall can seat 150 people for dinner, or 200 for a cocktail party.
The 2,100-square-foot library includes two secret pivoting bookcases, one of which contains a bar.
A special nook has been constructed to display one of Gates’s most prized possessions – a scientific notebook kept by Leonardo da Vinci in the early 1500s, called the Codex. Gates bought it at auction in 1994 for $30 million.
On the ceiling is engraved a quote from The Great Gatsby: ‘He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it.’
There are four rare copies of the book in his library, The Washington Post reported.
Guests at the property, according to Seattle Curbed, are giving a pin to wear on arrival, with sensors.
Depending on their preferences, the temperature, music and lighting will change in the house.
Each room comes with its own touchpad to control the room environment.
‘I have a nice house,’ said Gates, in a February 2019 ‘Ask Me Anything’ forum on Reddit.
‘It includes a trampoline room which seems kind of over the top, but my kids love using it to work off their excess energy.
‘I am not sure how guilty I should feel about being in a great house.’
Xanadu 2.0 is not the only great house owned by Gates.
They also own a $59 million ranch in Wellington, Florida – an area known for its equestrianism, which will appeal to his eldest daughter Jennifer, a talented horsewoman.
Jennifer Gates is seen competing at The Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Wellington in 2009
Jennifer Gates on Pumped Up Kicks competes at the Longines Global Champions Tour in Chantilly, France in 2017
Bill Gates could drop from #4 to #17 on billionaires index if he splits fortune 50/50 with Melinda
Bill Gates currently holds the title of fourth-richest person in the world with a net worth of $124billion, per Forbes. But if he were to split his fortune in half with Melinda in their divorce, he would drop to 17.
1. Jeff Bezos – $177B
2. Elon Musk – $151B
3. Bernard Arnault & family – $150B
4. Bill Gates – $124B
5.Mark Zuckerberg – $97B
6. Warren Buffett – $96B
7. Larry Ellison – $93B
8. Larry Page – $91.5B
9. Sergey Brin – $89B
10. Mukesh Ambani – $84.5B
16. Carlos Slim Helu & family – $62.8B
17. Alice Walton – $61.8B
Wellington, described by The Real Deal as the winter equestrian capital of the world, is the seasonal playground for the families of a number of billionaires – Michael Bloomberg, the late Steve Jobs, the Campbell’s Soup family, and celebrities whose children compete in horse riding competitions.
The family also own the Irma Lake Lodge, a $9 million, 492-acre Wyoming ranch which was originally settled by Buffalo Bill in 1902 and named after his oldest daughter.
Gates bought the property in 2009.
According to the realtor’s description, obtained by Insider: ‘The ranch lies adjacent to Shoshone National Forest and nearby Washakie Wilderness, which gives this property a backyard of over three million acres containing continuous wilderness and forest lands.’
In addition to the main 15,000-square-foot house with its five bedrooms and three bathrooms, there is a guesthouse, caretaker’s house, dairy cabin, Buffalo Bill stable and a rustic hut on the island located in the middle of Irma Lake.
Perched on a knoll is Buffalo Bill’s original three-room hunting cabin – not fit for habitation, and kept in its original state.
The land is home to elk, moose, Mule deer, Bighorn sheep, bear, mountain lion, wolves, bobcats, wolverines and lynx.
The couple also have two homes in California – the 228-acre Rancho Paseana, which he purchased for $18 million in September 2014 from diet queen Jenny Craig.
It includes a racetrack, orchard, and five barns with space for 50 horses.
He bought another $43 million property in California near San Diego, closing the deal in April 2020.
The luxurious six-bedroom, four-bathroom, 5,800-square-foot home was sold by Madeleine Pickens, a former wife of the billionaire oil baron T. Boone Pickens.
According to the listing details, obtained by The Real Deal, the house is well-known as a city landmark and is considered ‘one of the most prominent coastal contemporary beach homes on the West Coast.’
It has 120 feet of private ocean frontage.
Bill and Melinda Gates bought the massive San Diego beachfront estate in April 2020
A picture showing the inside of the home the Gateses bought near San Diego for $43 million
The terrace of the Gateses’ San Diego home, which they bought in April 2020
The ocean-front home, above, is seen with parasols on the terrace
In addition to his five homes, Gates has quietly built up a massive agriculture portfolio.
He is now the biggest private owner of farmland in the US, with 242,000 acres across 18 different states.
But even with his big new agricultural holdings, Gates still doesn’t rank in the Top 100 of private landowners overall in the U.S. – when considering owners of land of all types, not just agricultural.
The title for largest landholdings overall goes to US businessman John Malone, chairman of Liberty Media, who owns 2.2million acres.
It is unclear why Gates has invested in farmland so heavily, and details of the land are scarce, as revealed in The Land Report.
The acquisitions are held directly, as well as through Gates’ personal investment entity, Cascade Investments.
The tech billionaire has quietly bought up 242,000 acres of farmland in 18 states – and 268,984 of multi-use land in 19 states in total, making him the biggest agricultural landowner in the US, though far short of the biggest overall landowner in the country
In 2018, a ‘Louisiana investor’, later revealed to be Gates, paid $171 million for a large swath of farmland in the Horse Heaven Hill, making it one of the largest real estate transactions in recent memory
In 2014, Gates reportedly purchased more than 4,500 acres in Suwannee County, Florida, for nearly $28 million
Bill Gates is known for his love of cars – his Seattle home has a garage with space for 30 vehicles.
He told Ellen DeGeneres in February 2018 that his biggest splurge after founding Microsoft was buying a Porsche 911 supercar, which he later sold.
‘That was an indulgence,’ Gates told DeGeneres.
The car, which he bought when Microsoft was based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, wasn’t just for show: Gates loved to put its speed to the test and race it in the desert.
His partner Paul Allen once had to bail him out of jail after one particularly reckless ride.
Gates is also the owner of a Porsche 930 Turbo, a Jaguar XJ6 and a Ferrari 348.
His most valuable car is believed to be an extremely rare Porsche 959 – only several hundred were ever made – that he had to wait 13 years for while its arrival was held up by customs into the U.S. It even required the passage of a special law, the Show or Display Rule, to allow its use in the country.
They will sell for up to $2 million at auction.
Gates’ most recent purchase, he said in February 2020, was a Porsche Taycan – an electric car.
‘I have to say it’s a premium-priced car, but it is very, very cool,’ Gates said, in a YouTube interview.
‘That’s my first electric car, and I’m enjoying it a lot.’
A Porsche 959, similar to that owned by Bill Gates, is seen in Britain
A Porsche Taycan Turbo S, of the kind owned by Bill Gates. He said the car was ‘very cool’
Gates in 2019 said that having a private jet was an indulgence, but one which made his life more efficient.
Gates famously plans his day in five-minute blocks, for maximum efficiency.
‘I sometimes use a private jet,’ Gates said in the 2019 Reddit chat.
‘It does help me do my foundation work but again it is a very privileged thing to have.’
One of the Gulfstream G650 jets belonging to Bill Gates
Gates is believed to own two $65 million Gulfstream G650ERs, two Bombardier Challenger 350s, a Cessna Seaplane and a collection of helicopters.
In February, speaking to Fox News to promote his book How To Avoid a Climate Disaster, Gates was asked how he could justify the use of private jets with his eco-warrior stance.
Gates appeared to suggest the question was ‘absolutely right’ but noted he takes steps to make up for his personal carbon footprint via his work.
‘I am offsetting my carbon emissions by buying clean aviation fuel and funding carbon capture and funding low cost housing projects to use electricity instead of natural gas and so I have been able to eliminate it and it was amazing to me how expensive that was, that cost to be green,’ he said.
‘We’ve got to drive that down.
‘I felt like, if we have this idealistic generation and this wonderful goal, we need a plan, and that my experience could help contribute to that plan.’
Gates is also known for his art collection – most famously Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex, which he bought in 1994 for $30 million, at auction at Christie’s in New York.
The Codex takes pride of place in his Seattle library.
It is known as the Leicester Codex, as it was once owned by the Earl of Leicester.
Gates is also known for his art collection – most famously Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex, which he bought in 1994 for $30 million
It is described as a notebook, with 36 leather-bound sheets, containing a mixture of Da Vinci’s observations and theories on the properties of water, rocks, and fossils; air, and celestial light.
His art collection also includes an oil painting named Lost On The Grand Banks, by Winslow Homer, which he purchased at $36 million in 1998.
He also owns a work entitled Polo Crowd, by George Bellows, which he bought for $28 million in 1999.
The Room of Flowers by Childe Hassam, for which Gates paid $20 million, hangs inside the library.
Gates also owns William Merritt Chase’s The Nursery, worth $10 million.
Gates also owns a work entitled Polo Crowd, by George Bellows, which he bought for $28 million
Bill Gates owns this oil painting ‘Lost on the Grand Banks’ by Winslow Homer, which he purchased at $36 million.
Bill and Melinda Gates have signed a separation contract – but what is it?
In their divorce filing, Bill and Melinda Gates make it clear that they have no prenuptial agreement – but the papers make repeated reference to a ‘separation contract’ which will divide up their estate.
A separation contract, or separation agreement, is a legally binding document drawn up by divorcing couples in advance of their split in which they agree how to split their lives – including child custody and access, debts and property.
It is governed by contract law, meaning that either party can sue the other for breach of contract if the agreement is broken.
Signing a separation contract allows a couple to divide their assets by mutual agreement, rather than having to go to court.
For the average couple, this means saving money in lawyers’ fees. For Bill and Melinda Gates, it avoids a lengthy, public process during which details about their private lives an assets may have been revealed.
However, a separation agreement is not necessarily final and a judge may overrule it if they feel the contract is unfair to the children involved, unfair to one of the partners, or that one partner has not fully disclosed their assets or earnings to be divvied up.