‘An even bigger conservative than Murdoch’: Who is Ann Lesley Smith?

How old is too old to get married for the fifth time? It’s perhaps not a question you’ll ever consider, unless you’re Rupert Murdoch, in which case the answer is apparently not 92. This week, in a twist better than anything the writers of Succession could offer, the media mogul revealed he had proposed to Ann Lesley Smith, a 66-year-old former San Francisco police chaplain. The engagement comes less than a year after his divorce from Jerry Hall and six months after the happy couple met (at Moraga, Murdoch’s vineyard in Bel Air, California).

Murdoch and Smith share similar conservative and religious beliefs.Credit:Jenna Bascom Photography

So who is Smith and what brings her together with the billionaire newspaper and television channel owner? The widow of country music singer Chester Smith, she has enjoyed a career in entertainment and media herself. Her colourful life has taken in stints as a dental hygienist, model, singer, chaplain and radio host, with a spiritual awakening occurring along the way. She has described her new relationship as a “gift from God”, and explained that she and Murdoch “share the same beliefs”. What, then, might these be?

“She has very strong conservative beliefs,” says a US-source. “She seems to be an even bigger conservative than Murdoch, and she’s very strong-minded. She has much more sway over his opinions than Jerry ever did, which is starting to concern his friends and colleagues.”

A picture of her on Facebook, dating from 2016, shows her dressed as Sarah Connor, a fictional character from the Terminator films. Over the image are the words “Terminator 10: The Hillary Solution”. Beneath, the text reads: “Starring O J Simpson as Obama,” and “Donald Trump as The Terminator.”

Further evidence of her views emerged when she appeared to express COVID denial on the radio. “They try to close down people’s business,” she reportedly said. “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.”

Referring to the pandemic, she also asked, on air: “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.”

In 2021, the Financial Times reported that YouTube confirmed it had removed several videos from Murdoch’s Sky News Australia for breaching its COVID medical misinformation policies. Sky News said it “expressly rejected” that any of its hosts had denied the existence of COVID. “No such videos were ever published or removed,” the broadcaster said.

In December 2020, Murdoch received the COVID vaccine, but last year Brianna Keilar of CNN asked: “Why is Rupert Murdoch allowing anti-science BS on air?”

This was before his coming together with Smith. They bonded over wine. “She and her husband also owned a vineyard and had been in the wine business,” Murdoch told his own title, the New York Post. “Last year when there was 200 people at my vineyard, I met her and we talked a bit. Two weeks later I called her.”

It is thought the two have religious faith in common. Little is known about Smith’s early life, but when she gave a talk at the Rotary Club of Beverly Hills in California in January 2020, it was billed as “Rags to Riches to Redemption”.

She came from “humble beginnings,” and “defeated the odds”, said her biography on the club’s site. She was also described as “a cancer survivor [who] has risen from the ashes and has emerged a winner”.

This appears rather prescient now. Born in December 1956, Smith was awarded a scholarship to Idaho State University, becoming a dental hygienist after she graduated. Her first marriage was to John B Huntington, a wealthy man who came from one of California’s pioneering railroad families.

“During the day my life was just so fun,” Smith once told Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN). “John was into cars, and we had a stable full of every kind – exotic Ferraris and everything.

Smith released an album with former husband Chester Smith.

“I spent $USD65,000 a month on clothes easily. Money was not an object. I had everything in the world.”

Facebook pictures she posted many years later suggest her love of cars outlived her marriage, which ended with what the CBN article described as a bitter divorce. She claimed she ended up with nowhere to live and relying on welfare payments.

“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,” she told the interviewer.

“I really wanted to commit suicide ’cause my life was just so bad. Everything was just too much. I was thinking that if I just 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.”

She found religious faith when, during a modelling job in that period, an event co-ordinator handed her a book, The Four Spiritual Laws.

It was her new-found faith that led to her crossing paths with her second husband, a devout Christian as well as a country music star. She was working as volunteer police chaplain in Marin County, California, at the time. The couple went on to release an album together, Captured by Love, in 2005 and appear to have enjoyed a happy three years until his death at 78 of heart failure. They lived in a 25,000 square foot mansion on 156 acres overlooking the Stanislaus River near Riverbank, California, according to a tribute to Chester by Bob Pinheiro of the Modesto Radio Museum. “Together they farmed grapes and olives,” he wrote. Since then, Smith has been busy with her radio show on US platform iHeartRadio.

Murdoch has form in liking women with strong personalities. Smith’s predecessors as Mrs Murdoch include Patricia Booker (from 1956-67), a former department store model and flight attendant from Melbourne and mother to his daughter Prudence; Anna Torv (from 1967 to 1999), a journalist and mother of his children Elisabeth, Lachlan and James; Wendi Deng (from 1999 to 2014), who was working as an intern at News Corp-owned Star TV in Hong Kong and gave him two more children, Grace and Chloe; and Hall, whom Murdoch married in 2016. There are still pictures of Hall on the vineyard’s website, in happier days.

One source says that when Smith met Murdoch last year she was “apparently very direct with him – and she was the one to make the first move”. They will marry in the summer and the vineyard has been suggested as a possible location.

“Rupert Murdoch’s entire life is about new beginnings,” says David Yelland, former editor of The Sun and former deputy editor of the New York Post. “New countries, new markets, new excitements; he continually believes the best is yet to come. You can scoff at it, but it’s served him pretty well.”

The Telegraph, London

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