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Kevin Mitchell on the late media mogul, Kerry Packer
He seemed harmless enough. "Gotta cigarette, mate?" he slurred. My friend was not in the mood. "Listen mate, we're tired, I've got a story to file and I could do without you bending my ear. OK?"
Not really, said our new drinking companion, resplendent in flip-flops, large khaki shorts and blue `singlet', as they are still called in parts of Australia. He was swaying a little, his belly acting as ballast as it bumped up against the tiled bar. My friend fled to his bedroom and his laptop. Fatman stayed.
So did I. Glad I did. Despite looking like a refugee from the Salvation Army soup kitchen, Fatman turned out to be one of Kerry Packer's chief livestock buyers, a substantial property owner in his own right and a well-travelled man with a wide range of interests and a couple of languages. It was a perfect example of how appearances are often totally useless in placing someone in Australia's still largely classless society. Indeed, if you had taken Packer out of his suit and stuck him in Fatman's kit, you would not have pegged him as the richest man in Australia.
We chatted for ages about his boss. Fatman, naturally, was in awe of Packer. "Fantastic boss, mate. Fantastic... As long as you don't bloody well cock things up."
Packer moved that way through his life. Everyman one minute, brutal, no-bullshit martinet the next. He was no oil-painting. In Australian argot some might have described him as having a "head like a beaten favourite", in fact. But his power and his wealth lent him presence.
He might have inherited more than his fortune from his father Frank who died in 1974. Frank, whose empire was built on the Sydney Daily Telegraph, spent a lifetime trying vainly to break into the snob-ridden inner sanctum of the Australian turf nobility. They wouldn't have him. When Kerry picked up the A$100m baton, he too found himself on the outside looking in - especially when he shook up cricket with his World Series. He didn't give a damn.
His in-bred arrogance and self-belief drove him on - and his keen gambling instincts. Few bet like Packer. There is one excellent anecdote, relayed to me years ago by a Las Vegas croupier, about how he dropped US$11m in one night on the baccarat tables there, then invited 11 girls up to his room to work off his frustrations. Packer denied reports of such a huge loss but was not so quick to turn down the story that he had taken a London casino for £7m in one night.
I badgered him for an interview at his suite at the Savoy in London a couple of years ago but, for a man who made his money in the media, he was never one for opening up in public. There were Packer rules and the rest of us could please ourselves. And, if anyone did get through the gates, he kept a revolver in his top drawer. He was not a man to trifle with.
As for his love of cricket, it was probably driven simply by the thirst for a buck. But what a difference he made to the game, from the technical wizardry through to unshackling players from their feudal past.
And how my colleague in Adelaide cursed himself for missing a night with one of Packer's best mates.
This article was first published in the February issue of The Wisden Cricketer.
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