Say what you like about Wendi Deng’s romantic CV, she would certainly appear to have a ‘type’.
The 47-year-old former wife of Rupert Murdoch has, in recent years, required her men to tick three specific boxes: they should be extremely powerful, stratospherically rich and at least a decade older.
Being shorter than Wendi isn’t a problem — she’s 6ft 1in even before strapping on killer heels — but on the physical front, the Chinese-born mother-of-two is a sucker for a well-dressed, athletic gent with piercing blue eyes.
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Wendi Deng, 47, pictured on holiday in St Barts, has been romantically linked to Vladimir Putin
Or, as she so famously put it in a leaked 2013 diary entry detailing, in pidgin English, her infatuation with Tony Blair, now 62: ‘He’s so charming and his clothes are so good. He has such good body and he has really, really good legs, butt.
‘And he is slim tall and good skin. Pierce blue eyes which I love. Love his eyes. Also I love his power.’
Consider those words while mulling over the identity of the latest rich and powerful chap alleged to have squeezed himself between Ms Deng’s silk bedsheets.
But the Kremlin has denied any fling with a spokesman for Putin, pictured, saying there is ‘no truth’ in it
He is Vladimir Putin, the 63-year-old Russian President. A man who just happens to be the proud owner of not just an extremely well-honed ‘butt’, thanks to endless judo sessions, but also a cracking set of pectoral muscles which he frequently chooses to display in public.
Though he’s just about 5ft 6in tall, Moscow’s most eligible divorcee also possesses (and here’s the clincher!) a very famous set of ‘pierce blue eyes’ of the type so beloved by Ms Deng.
‘No one is born with a stare like Vladimir Putin’s,’ is how Time Magazine once put it.
‘The Russian President’s pale blue eyes are so cool, so devoid of emotion, that the stare must have begun as the gesture of someone who understood that power might be achieved by the suppression of ordinary needs, like blinking.’
All of which lends a faint whiff of credibility to the extraordinary suggestion, publicly aired in the U.S. late on Thursday, that Deng and Putin are in the throes of a passionate relationship.
A report in the magazine US Weekly quoted an unnamed Kremlin ‘insider’ saying that the couple have been quietly dating for some time, and that things are now ‘serious’.
‘Deng has yet to be spotted looking romantic with the Russian leader,’ the magazine conceded.
‘But [she] was seen boarding her pal Roman Abramovich’s yacht in St Barts on Monday, March 28. Abramovich also happens to be friends with Putin.’
A somewhat tenuous piece of evidence, perhaps. But capturing the heart of Putin, who is arguably the world’s second most powerful man, would represent a timely piece of one‑upmanship for Ms Deng.
After all, the news of her alleged liaison comes just weeks after her 85-year-old former husband Murdoch walked down the aisle with the statuesque Texan supermodel Jerry Hall.
Little wonder, perhaps, that US Weekly’s sensational claim was being mulled over yesterday by mainstream news outlets across the globe.
The rumours of Deng and Putin’s involvement have been met with scepticism across the globe
Though it has met with a healthy degree of scepticism — which we shall look at in detail later — reports about the romance add a colourful chapter to the pair’s already-intriguing romantic histories.
Putin married his first, and so far only, wife Lyudmila in 1983, when he was working his way up through the ranks of the KGB.
They had two daughters together, Maria, 30, and Yekaterina, 29. By the time he first became President, in 1999, the marriage was widely rumoured to be on the rocks and Lyudmila was only very rarely seen in public with her husband during the ensuing 15 years.
In 2008 an opposition newspaper carried a report that he was in an extra-marital relationship with former Olympic gymnast Alina Kabaeva.
Ms Kabaeva, who won a gold medal at the 2004 Games in Athens and was in her heyday famed as the ‘most flexible woman in Russia’, had, in 2007, become a Deputy in her State Duma — or parliament — representing Putin’s United Russia Party.
After meeting her on the political circuit, Putin is said to have become smitten.
It would, however be several years until he became officially single again when, in 2014, Vladimir and Lyudmila announced their divorce.
By this point, Kabaeva was firmly installed as Putin’s mistress. Indeed, according to Western media, their longstanding relationship produced two children, a boy called Dmitry, born in 2009, and an unnamed daughter, born in 2015.
Deng, left and right, was linked to Putin in US Weekly after it quoted a Kremlin ‘insider’ who said the pair were dating
Deng pictured while on a meal out with her daughters in St Barts as the rumours broke about her alleged relationship with Putin
The New York Post claimed last year that she flew to a private hospital in Switzerland for the birth of both, though the Kremlin dismissed that suggestion as a ‘journalistic hoax’.
Officially, their relationship has never been acknowledged, meaning Putin is, in theory, footloose and fancy-free.
As for Ms Deng, her love life has followed a steep upward trajectory.
Born in China’s Shandong province in 1968, she was originally named Wen Ge (meaning ‘Cultural Revolution’, after Chairman Mao’s campaign against supposed dissidents) by her father, a factory manager and devoted communist.
‘I grew up so poor in China that one day I aspired to have meat regularly,’ she once said.
The journey out of poverty began in 1988 when Jake and Joyce Cherry, an American ex-pat couple, met Deng in her hometown, became friends and agreed to sponsor her application for a student visa to the U.S.
Deng was formerly married to Rupert Murdoch, left, with former British prime minister Tony Blair, right, godfather to their daughter Grace
She then moved into their Los Angeles home, working part-time at a local Chinese restaurant to finance her economics degree at the nearby California State University.
But this cosy domestic arrangement swiftly fell to pieces in spectacular fashion. In 1989, when Deng was 20, Joyce Cherry discovered a cache of photos Jake, 50, had taken of their house‑guest in ‘coquettish poses’.
The couple soon divorced and Wendi, by then 21, married Mr Cherry in February 1990.
However, within a few months, Deng had walked out on the husband who was more than twice her age.
‘She told me I was a father to her, but it would never be anything else,’ he later recalled. ‘I loved that girl.’
The divorce was finalised after two-and-a-half years, just long enough for Deng to have secured a Green Card that allowed her to remain in America for good.
In 1996, she clocked up husband number two. And this one was a heck of a catch: the billionaire Rupert Murdoch.
The media mogul visited his Star TV outlet in Hong Kong, where Wendi was completing an internship, and held a staff meeting.
‘Wendi was the first person to put her hand up and ask a question,’ a former colleague has recalled.
‘Rupert likes bright women. He replied: “That was a very interesting question. I’d like to talk to you more.”’
Deng was promptly appointed Murdoch’s ‘interpreter’ during visits to Shanghai and Beijing. In 1999, a mere 17 days after Murdoch had divorced Anna, his wife of 32 years, the world discovered that he and Wendi had married.
Over the ensuing 14 years, their marriage would produce two daughters, Grace — whose godfather is Tony Blair — and Chloe.
It would also see Ms Deng propelled to global superstardom in 2011 for slapping a protester who tried to put a cream pie in her elderly husband’s face during a Parliamentary hearing into phone-hacking.
But behind the scenes, things were combustible. In 2013, she and Rupert split amid persistent rumours of flings with Google chairman Eric Schmidt and Tony Blair (the latter of whom, it should be stressed, vigorously denied any hanky-panky).
Deng was pictured boarding Roman Abranmovich’s yacht earlier this week, with the Chelsea owner a friend of Russian leader Putin
In 2014 the divorce was finalised in a secret settlement which reportedly gave her possession of their £30 million New York home, along with a £10 million residence near Beijing’s Forbidden City.
Since then, Ms Deng managed to keep her love life out of the headlines. This week’s report of a dalliance with Mr Putin has changed all that — although, as said, we should treat it with a healthy degree of scepticism.
As Murdoch’s biographer, Michael Wolff, observed yesterday, even a cursory glance at US Weekly’s report would suggest that it’s ‘based on no facts at all’.
Moreover, the Kremlin (which admittedly can have an arms-length relationship with the truth) has denied any fling, with Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying last night: ‘This is not true.’
Putin rarely, if ever, cultivates relationships with people who aren’t Russian, local analysts point out.
And he almost never makes private trips to the West, which he would most likely have done, to St Barts or anywhere else, had he met Ms Deng. Moreover, there appears to be no physical evidence of the duo ever having met.
While US Weekly says it stands by its reporting (and denies that the article was an April Fool), its track record is somewhat shaky.
A showbusiness title, its recent so-called ‘exclusives’ include an article suggesting, wrongly, that Prince Harry was about to marry his former girlfriend Chelsy Davy.
Meanwhile, Wendi Deng has yet to comment. But in the event that blue-eyed Vladimir Putin hasn’t fallen for her charms, all is surely not lost, for there must be a host of other very powerful, exceedingly wealthy older gentlemen out there who would be more susceptible to her ample charms.