The usually reclusive billionaire James Packer has been blitzing the media recently in a public relations push to expand his casino empire to a $2 billion resort at Barangaroo in Sydney.
In an emotional interview last night with Mike Willesee on Channel Seven’s Sunday Night program, Packer cried and bared at least part of his soul in a bid to garner public support for the bid. Here are five nuggets you may not have heard before from Packer.
1. On the collapse of One.Tel
Packer lost $380 million in the collapse of One.Tel and he told Willesee he became a recluse after the failure of the telecommunications company 13 years ago.
“There is no doubt One.Tel was a terrible investment and something that I regret greatly,” he said.
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“I became depressed and I was emotionally exhausted and my marriage had broken up. I felt isolated, I felt like a failure. Obviously it was not a great time in my life.”
Packer said he managed to turn himself around by turning to friends such as Tom Cruise and to Scientology.
“Sometimes you need time and sometimes you need some new influences in your life and that was what happened to me at that point,” he said.
2. On his relationship with the Murdochs
Packer said he would respect the Murdoch family “till the day I die” for their understanding after the failure of One.Tel.
“It was a lot of money and I was leading it and the Murdochs were investors as well at my behest. And so I felt a large degree of responsibility for the fact that was a failure for them as well,” he said.
“I will, till the day I die, respect and appreciate the way both Lachlan and Rupert were as kind to me as they were.”
3. On China’s potential
Packer sees China as the golden goose for nations around the world.
He has invested heavily in Macau, just off mainland China, the gambling capital of the world and has based his bid for Barangaroo on China’s potential.
“I am a believer that the rise of the Chinese middle class is going to change the world,” he said.
“I think that for Australia it’s an enormous opportunity and I think that Sydney should have something that’s better than anything, anywhere. I think the right thing in Sydney is the opportunity for a real win-win.”
Noticeably, Packer managed to avoid any questions about actually obtaining the Barangaroo casino licence.
4. On his relationship with his father
Kerry Packer built the Packer empire and had a lasting influence on his son, with Packer saying “it was a huge privilege” to be his son.
“My father was an amazing man. No person is perfect and no father-son relationship is perfect,” he said.
Packer admitted Kerry had “a good temper” and was a “larger than life character” who “could be terrifying” but said their relationship ended on a good note with a phone call from Kerry before his death.
“He wanted me to live my life my way and never think about what he would have done or what he would have wanted to do. So it was a strange call and, anyway, it was a lovely call.”
5. On the good times
Packer took his father at his word and sold the family’s stake in Channel Nine before investing heavily in casinos. His gamble has paid off, with Crown’s share price soaring Packer’s private investment vehicle, Consolidated Press Holdings, increased dividends by almost 20% to $143 million in 2011-12.
But in the interview, Packer was keen to play down his recent success.
“You’re never as good as they say on your good days and never as bad as they say on your bad days,” he said.
“It’s more than just money.”