On Sunday Night, the story of Olivia Mead – neglected by her mega-rich dad, and the wrangle over his fortune. Courtesy: Sunday Night/Channel Seven
OLIVIA Mead’s father told her as he was dying to be prepared for a fight.
That was 2012, when few knew of the existence of the then 16-year-old “secret daughter” of billionaire Michael Wright, the product of a short relationship between he and her mother, Elizabeth Mead, between his third and fourth marriages.
Answering a call to his hospital bed, accompanied by her mother and stepfather Mick Kirby — the man who raised her — it was the first time Olivia had seen her father cry.
Or show any emotion, for that matter.
“He said that night, ‘Sorry for being such a bad father’,” Olivia told the Australian Financial Review in 2015. He also thanked her stepfather for raising her and said she and her mother would be looked after.
“He told me to be prepared to fight,” Olivia said.
“Now I sort of know what it meant.”
Michael Wright died with an estimated fortune of S1.5 billion on April 26, 2012.
He left Olivia a $3 million trust she could not access until the age of 30, with a truckload of conditions including she couldn’t convert to Buddhism or Islam, be convicted for drink driving or be in possession of marijuana.
He provided well for his first three children. Her two half-sisters, Alexandra Burt and Leonie Baldock, inherited more than $400 million apiece.
It was time for the fight.
THE LAVISH WISHLIST
Hamstrung by the myriad conditions on the trust, Olivia headed to court.
Along the way her cover was blown: suddenly all of Perth knew of the existence of Wright’s “secret daughter”.
The scandal became ridicule with the emergence of her jaw-dropping “wish list” as her lawyers mounted a case for what figure they considered appropriate as her inheritance.
She may have been a teenage university student who worked part-time as a supermarket checkout girl and drove a 1994 Corolla called Stephen, but Olivia Mead was dreaming big.
She wanted a $1.6 million crystal-studded grand piano, upkeep for her pet axolotl, the world’s most expensive diamond-encrusted bass guitar ($250,000) a $2.5 million home, $40,000 for holidays a year, Tiffany sunglasses, 20 pairs of $300 shoes every year for the next 75 years. Pilates lessons until she was 97.
The judge said in his ruling some of the items were “clearly fanciful”.
But the teenager became a millionaire heiress when the judge awarded her $25 million. The West Australian Supreme Court ruling her father did not make adequate provision for her in his inheritance.
After the judgment, she told Channel Seven’s Sunday Night she was unprepared for the backlash that surrounded the list of items.
“One list can’t really shape a whole person,” she said.
Her mother told the program the list had been compiled to give the judge “a realistic view of what it would cost for a 16-year-old to live for the rest of their lives”.
She added her daughter was unfairly made out to be a “gold-digger”.
“She was spoiled with time, but not with possessions,” she said.
“HE WASN’T THE BEST FATHER”
Michael Wright was the son of Peter Wright, who formed Hancock Prospecting and Wright Prospecting with iron ore magnate Lang Hancock in the 1950s.
Peter died in 1985, leaving a $900 million fortune to Michael and another daughter. Michael also received $1 billion from Hancock’s daughter Gina Rinehart after she was gave up a share in another mine their fathers ran together.
In the wake of her $25 million court win, the media-shy teen told Sunday Night “ he was very intimidating”.
“No, he wasn’t there for me,” she said, adding that she was sad she didn’t get to spend more time with him before he died, and she had felt neglected by him as a child.
“He wasn’t the best father,” she said.
“It was hard for him to interact with someone so young and it was never the typical affectionate daughter and father thing. He wasn’t affectionate at all, he wasn’t there for me.”
She remembered her father from about the time she was three years old, but only saw him every couple of months. Rarely, she said, did she see his other children: her half-sisters and half-brother Myles Wright.
He had paid her school fees and given her some pocket money, but never gave his daughter extravagant gifts or bought a home for her and her mum to live in as they moved from rental home to rental home.
“There were a lot of times I thought he could help us out a bit,” she said.
Of the conditions he imposed on her $3 million, Olivia said her father was “a strange man”.
“To be honest I can’t tell you why he would do that,” she said.
“For a long time I thought that maybe he didn’t love me.”
Olivia is now 21, and the war is not over.
She’s been paid $3 million, but it’s up to WA’s Court of Appeal whether the remaining $22 million will be handed over.
The fight continues, with an appeal now being heard on behalf of the executor of her father’s estate.
In the WA Court of Appeal this week, Jane Needham, representing estate executor David Lemon, told the full bench that $3 million was adequate for the proper maintenance of Ms Mead.
In his 2015 judgment, Master Craig Sanderson of the Supreme Court of Western Australia
said Ms Mead had simply let her imagination run wild the same way most teens would if asked to outline such needs, was not “a gold digger” and awarded her $5 million more than she had initially asked for.
But Ms Needham said Master Sanderson had in effect regarded the size of the estate as trumping any other factor he needed to consider and he erred in regarding his discretion unfettered.
She said it was wrong to award Ms Mead twice as much as what she ultimately sought after considering “some quite extraordinary items” — even in the revised wishlist — without accounting for her or her partner’s future income.
Ms Needham cited Ms Mead’s call for 20 pairs of $300 shoes every year for the next 75 years and pilates lessons until she is aged 97.
But Olivia’s lawyer Lindsay Ellison said there was nothing that couldn’t be taken into account when assessing what a daughter from a wealthy family might need for the rest of her life.
There were also no competing claimants, he said, and the court could “go that extra bit further, and add some cheese and jam” rather than just the essentials of life.