Billionaire James Packer shocked the world when he announced earlier this year that he was resigning amid reports at the time that he was entering rehab over mental health issues.
Now, some of the 51-year-old’s closest friends have broken their silence on how he’s doing – and recalled his difficult past relationship with his media tycoon father Kerry Packer.
Speaking on Channel Nine’s A Current Affair, former Aussie politician Graham Richardson said Kerry’s tough love was often obvious to those closest to him, and likely had an impact on James throughout his life.
“I think he [James] always was trying to be Kerry, and he shouldn’t have been because he’s not Kerry. I think by doing so, he puts way too much pressure on himself… That came down to how much money was he worth,” he said.
“You couldn’t characterise it as your average father son relationship, it was nothing like it,” Richardson said, before admitting: “So Kerry I think was too hard on (James) at times.”
Richardson recalled how Kerry would take James to the backyard and force him to face 190km/hr cricket balls flying out from an American-made baseball launcher at the age of just 14.
“I saw him be pretty hard on James in front of others,” he explained. “He chose quite often to do it in front of others. I saw it myself three or four times, which wasn’t overly pleasant.”
Journalist Damon Kitney agreed with Richardson that Kerry was often “hard” on his son – but said a lot of it may have been done unknowingly.
Kitney got to know James after interviewing him for his biography The Price of Fortune – The Untold Story of Being James Packer, and he told the show: “But I think sometimes – and James makes this point himself – Kerry probably didn’t realise the impact he was having on his son.”
Kitney said a major issue between Kerry and his son was the collapse of OneTel, a telecommunications company that James had previously backed in the 1990s.
“It was just that that terrible time where I guess Kerry felt maybe let down – I mean, that’s my words, not James’ – by what happened with OneTel,” Kitney added.
Elsewhere on the show, social analyst David Chalke defended James’ initial decision to back the company, explaining: “In the case of OneTel, they’d obviously got it right, they got it into telecommunications early, they were pitching at the young market who were the early adopters and taking up on mobile phone technology.
“The positioning was right, everything was right, there’s just the day-to-day managing of the business. They just ran out of money, they blew the money through inept management.”
However, Chalke admitted of James: “He’s clearly a very troubled soul.”
After James began spending more time in the US, he became good friends with a lot of famous faces, including Warren Beatty.
“I think the most important thing Warren did for James, and it’s documented amazingly, is that he drove him to psychiatrist offices in LA when James was at his lowest point, when he was really hitting the booze hard,” Kitney told the show.
That friendship also led to James meeting and getting engaged to singing superstar Mariah Carey – however, all of his friends expressed doubts over the whirlwind romance, and admitted their relief when the engagement broke down.
James announced earlier this year he was resigning and later checking into rehab, amid claims he was battling mental health issues. However, Kitney reassured fans on the show that he is doing well now.
Kitney said: “I think overall, James has had a go. That’s probably the most important thing and he says it himself – ever since his father died, he certainly had a go… I think he’ll be comfortable today that the empire is in good shape.”
Richardson added: “He’s a terribly bright guy, so I just hope there’s a comeback somewhere… or it’s a waste.”