After the tumult of his quixotic year so far, you might think there can’t possibly be another twist in Elon Musk’s astonishing life story. Yet there is.
He has already admitted to secretly fathering twins with a colleague, swooped to buy Twitter only to run away from the $44billion (£36.6billion) deal, then seen one of his children seek to change their name because they want nothing to do with him.
Yesterday the Wall Street Journal aired what is surely the ultimate story of betrayal at billionaire level: That Musk, the world’s richest man, had a ‘brief’ affair with the wife of his long-standing friend and sometime business ally Sergey Brin.
Brin, who co-founded Google, is the world’s seventh richest man.
The affair, according to the WSJ, happened in December and has led to the swift collapse of Brin’s marriage to stunning brunette Nicole Shanahan, his second wife and the mother of his young daughter. Brin, a popular, fun-loving tech tycoon, filed for divorce in January, citing irreconcilable differences.
The pair had been widely regarded as the most glamorous in the tech world – and among the most powerful on the planet. In the months since, Brin has been steadily divesting himself of all of his investments in Musk’s many businesses.
You can hardly blame him.
The Wall Street Journal reported sources at a party earlier this year claiming Musk dropped to one knee in front of Brin and apologised over the affair in order to beg for forgiveness. Brin reportedly acknowledged the apology – but still isn’t speaking regularly to Musk.
If true, it is surely the most colossal act of personal treachery in the history of the billionaire boys’ club. Tech genius Brin famously loaned Musk $500,000 which kept his Tesla company from going under 14 years ago at the height of the 2008 financial crisis.
Musk has said that he habitually ‘crashed’ at Brin’s house when between homes or simply in the mood.
Brin, then married to his first wife Anne Wojcicki, was among those invited to celebrate Musk’s 40th birthday aboard the Orient Express in 2010. He was a guest at Musk’s wedding to Talulah Riley shortly afterwards.
They were such good friends that as a wedding gift he loaned Musk the use of the ‘Google Party Plane’ to get his guests to the event, in Scotland.
However, it seems that there is no honour among tech nerds – at least not when it comes to Musk. A bullied child, autistic and troubled, some of his recent stated ambitions include the colonisation of Mars, saving the world from the effects of climate change, helping Ukraine to defeat Putin’s invading forces and allowing a direct interface between the human brain and artificial intelligence.
While his achievements in business cannot be gainsayed, he has reached his 51st year as the father of nine children and is becoming nearly as well-known for his unconventional love life as his stonking wealth – $253billion (£210billion).
The timings of the latest libidinous eruption are such that they virtually require a colour-coded powerpoint.
For in December, the month in which Musk is said to have bedded Brin’s wife, he was also celebrating the arrival of a baby girl via surrogate with his on-off girlfriend, the singer Grimes.
Grimes, who has called their arrangement ‘very fluid’, already had a son with Musk called X Æ A-Xii (pronounced ‘X-Ash-A-12’). Their daughter is Exa Dark Sideræl. They are known as X and Y for short.
By the time the girl was born, not only was Musk allegedly dallying with Miss Shanahan on the side, he was also a new father via yet another love interest – former Tesla executive Shivon Zilis. She gave birth to his twins, whose names have not been revealed, in November. She had apparently been living at least part-time with Musk at a $4million home in Austin, Texas.
When the news emerged, he wrote on Twitter: ‘Doing my best to solve the underpopulation crisis. A falling birth rate is the biggest danger civilisation faces by far.’
Spool forward to February and Musk had moved on again, to Australian actress Natasha Bassett, who is 29 and appears in Baz Luhrmann’s new Elvis movie. There are already reports they are no longer together.
Oafish and workaholic, with a juvenile sense of humour, thinning thatch and dad bod, Musk is nobody’s idea of Rudolph Valentino. And yet, even before he was wildly wealthy, he was attractive to women.
First wife Justine said he wooed her ceaselessly only to tell her during the first dance at their 2000 wedding, that he was the ‘alpha’ in the relationship and, if she were one of his employees, he would sack her. Justine described him as a domineering figure who wanted a blonde trophy wife.
They had five children: Twins Xavier (who changed name to Vivian and now identifies as female) and Griffin, and triplets Kai, Damian and Saxon. Son Nevada died as a baby.
Vivian, 18, recently filed a legal request to change her first name to reflect that she is transgender and her last name to signal she doesn’t want ‘to be related to my biological father in any way, shape or form’.
Musk’s second wife was British actress Miss Riley, one of the stars of the rebooted St Trinian’s films.
She told an interviewer that he warmed her up to the idea of romance by showing her photos and videos of his SpaceX rockets. They married and divorced twice – and didn’t have children.
He went on to have a romance with actress Amber Heard in around 2017, after she became estranged from Johnny Depp. Musk later admitted he was ‘really in love’ and it ‘hurt bad’ when she broke up with him. He said: ‘It’s so hard for me to even meet people. I’m looking for a long term relationship, I’m not looking for a one night stand.’
And what of Brin?
He is far less flamboyant than Musk, but one of the most important figures in Silicon Valley. Now worth around $93billion, he emigrated to America aged six.
His parents were a pair of Russian-Jewish scientists from Moscow. They had experienced prejudice in their home country and migrated with help from the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, a charity to which Brin gave $1million in 2009.
A computer whiz, his rise began when he and Stanford classmate Larry Page decided to set up a search engine company in the garage of another classmate’s sister – Miss Wojcicki, whom he would marry. The company, initially named Back Rub, became Google, employing 55,000 staff on its campus in Mountain View, California, and expanding to include the email platform Gmail, the browser Chrome, Google Maps, Google News and so forth.
They also make Android, the world’s most popular mobile operating system.
There was free sushi at work and employees could bring in their pets. The company famously pulled out of totalitarian China.
Brin made a name for himself as a genial oddball – he was always far more keen on a party than Larry Page. Page would go to Davos, Brin would cruise the ocean with celebrities.
The unofficial motto of the company was ‘Don’t be evil’. Their Google Camp climate change summit in 2019 attracted speakers including a barefoot Prince Harry.
Brin’s nice guy image was dented in 2013 when he had an affair with a twenty-something female executive involved in Google Glasses. He and Miss Wojcicki, who had two children, were divorced in 2015.
He had appeared to find happiness with Miss Shanahan – and her statements to the media when their split emerged were clearly sorrowful, regretful even.
She said: ‘I hope for Sergey and I to move forward with dignity, honesty and harmony for the sake of our child. And we are both working towards that.’
One imagines that the global embarrassment which has now been heaped on Brin’s head will make that one of the biggest challenges he has faced.