For months, rumours had been swirling about the state of the marriage between Australia’s richest couple, Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest and his wife Nicola.
Journalists’ queries about their apparent separate lives – and what this meant for their sprawling $32billion mining empire and their various philanthropic enterprises – had been rebuffed in the strongest possible terms.
That was until Wednesday night. The pair, who have been married for more than 30 years and share three adult children together, released a statement confirming what many had suspected for a while.
‘After 31 years of marriage, we have made the decision to live apart. Our friendship and commitment to our family remains strong,’ the couple said in a joint statement to The Australian Financial Review.
Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest and Nicola Forrest (pictured), who have been married for 31 years and have a net worth of over $30billion, said they will now be living apart
Australia’s richest couple insist their separation will have no impact on the the strategic direction of their mining empire or their philanthropic ventures
Signs the marriage was about to end
– The couple had increasingly been spending time apart in different parts of the world
– A flurry of large share transfers between various companies within their empire
– Rumours swirled the relationship was nearing the end
Mr Forrest, known by his nickname ‘Twiggy’, was ranked the second richest person in Australia this year – behind rival mining magnate Gina Rinehart.
The couple’s wealth has largely been amassed through their 36 per cent stake in iron ore miner Fortescue Metals Group, which they founded in 2003 and is now the eighth-biggest company on the ASX by market capitalisation.
They jointly oversee their private investment arm, Tattarang, and they also co-founded, and continue to co-chair, their philanthropic venture Minderoo Foundation, which works to tackle a range of issues from modern slavery to plastic pollution.
The couple insist their separation will have no impact on the the strategic direction of their mining empire or their philanthropic ventures.
‘There is no impact on the operations, control or direction of Fortescue, Minderoo or Tattarang,’ their statement added.
But it became clear to many that something was afoot after the couple spent long periods apart in recent years.
Suspicions were heightened further by a recent flurry large share transfers between different companies within their empire.
The revelation of their separation came after the AFR approached the pair about a transaction last month that moved more than $1.1 billion worth of Fortescue shares into a new company called Coaxial Ventures, which is wholly owned by Ms Forrest.
That transaction came shortly after Mr Forrest effectively gave half of his Tattarang shareholding to Ms Forrest.
Pictured: Andrew and Nicola Forrest with their daughters Grace and Sophia
Both transactions have granted Ms Forrest control of more Fortescue shares than her now-estranged husband, according to the AFR.
It is quite the reversal given as recently as March 2020 almost 95 per cent of the family’s Fortescue shares were held by companies owned by Mr Forrest.
The couple, who met at a house party in 1988, insist the new arrangements will have no impact on the direction of their various ventures.
It is understood Tattarang – which holds almost 65 per cent of the Forrest family’s Fortescue shares – will vote in accordance with decisions of the Fortescue board in future.
Mr and Ms Forrest have equal shareholdings in Tattarang and he remains executive chairman of Fortescue.
Since the pandemic, the couple have spent long periods apart. Mr Forrest was in London this week meeting US President Joe Biden, while Ms Forrest is also reportedly overseas.
Grace Forrest was 2018 Western Australia’s Young Australian of the Year for her work in the charity Walk Free, funded by her parents’ wealth
Sophia Forrest is an actor who recently got engaged to her girlfriend Zara Zoe
How the Forrests made their money
Andrew Forrest first found success as a stockbroker for Kirke Securities and Jacksons.
But the ambitious entrepreneur, laid the groundwork for his $32billion mining fortune in mining by founding Anaconda Nickel Ltd, now known as Minara Resources, in 1994.
He was ousted as CEO when the company almost collapsed in 2001, but within two years he’d taken control of Allied Mining and Processing, renaming it Fortescue Metals Group.
It was Fortescue’s iron ore mining, in Western Australia’s Pilbara region, that saw the Forrest’s wealth explode on the back of exports to China.
Mr Forrest was famously ambitious, borrowing heavily and spending between $1billion and $2billion building roads and railways to support his new mines.
Some of his operations were highly controversial, including mining on traditional lands without agreements.
In 2019 he lost a High Court judgement which granted native title to the Solomon Hub iron ore mine, which sits on Yindjibarndi land.
That judgement meant the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation would pursue millions of dollars in compensation – which Fortescue has vowed to fight.
In recent years Mr Forrest has diversified into sustainable energy sources, including hydrogen.
He also has farming operations, seeking to capitalise on China’s growing appetite for meat and dairy products.
The couple have three adult children – Grace, Sophia and son Sydney.
It is understood they have no plans to divorce.
It has long been the Forrest family joke that Nicola was known as the ‘undercover billionaire’.
The nickname is partly a reference to her notorious thriftiness and partly down to the fact she preferred to remain in her husband’s shadow for decades.
‘The [undercover billionaire title] comes from the fact that she’d be encouraging dad, Sydney, and I to eat a week-old expired yoghurt because it’d be wasted,’ daughter Grace Forrest told the ABC last year.
‘The UCB does not like waste in any form.’
Her mother’s hatred of waste even led Ms Forrest to abstain from using cling wrap and to wash and reuse plastic ziplock bags.
Mr and Ms Forrest pledged to give away the ‘vast majority’ of their fortune in their lifetimes and have previously said they will give little to their children.
Instead their fortune will be distributed to a range of charitable causes including Indigenous affairs, education reform and scientific research.
In April last year, Ms Forrest said she and Andrew would give away their fortune because they don’t want their children to be ‘burdened’ by a handout.
‘We live in a home and I have a great life – but the things that are most important in life, money doesn’t buy that,’ she told ABC’s Australian Story.
‘Children don’t benefit from thinking they’re going to inherit a huge amount of money.’
Last month, it was revealed the former couple had donated $5billion worth of shares in his mining company to his charity, the Minderoo Foundation.
The donation is about one-fifth of their stake in the company Mr Forrest founded.
‘As our world faces enormous challenges, we have elected to continue to use our material wealth to help humanity and the environment meet these existential risks,’ he said at the time.
‘Accumulating wealth should only be a small part of a person. Their contribution to their family and society is way more important.
US President Joe Biden greets Andrew Forrest during a Climate Finance Mobilisation Forum in the Green Drawing Room at Windsor Castle on July 10, 2023
‘If you happen to be good at accumulating wealth, then I believe in using that skill for the greater good.’
The former couple’s statement on Wednesday evening added: ‘We will continue our shared mission to create and gift our wealth to tackle community and global challenges, as recently shown by last month’s donation of one-fifth of our Fortescue shareholding to Minderoo Foundation.’