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Billionaire’ Bill Gates Say I Won’t Get My Kids An iPad: Rare interview with the world’s second richest man

Travie McCoy and Bruno Mars’s hit Billionaire reached No 3 on both sides of the Atlantic last year. The irony of the lyrics isn’t lost on either of us. They are, Gates chuckles, regularly used by his three children to poke fun at him.

At 55, he has graced the cover of Forbes magazine many times. As the co-founder, with Paul Allen, of Microsoft, he grew a 1975 back-room start-up into a software behemoth worth, at its peak, $400 billion. Oprah Winfrey is a close friend; the pair meet regularly and she has discussed signing his ‘Giving Pledge’ to donate the bulk of her $2.7 billion estate to charity.

And the Queen? Well, she gave him an honorary knighthood back in 2005.

‘The Billionaire song is what my kids tease me with,’ he says. ‘They sing it to me. It’s funny.’

They have apparently also introduced him to the ‘joys’ of Lady Gaga, ‘but the 12-year-old is always worried about the nine-year-old listening to songs with bad words. So he’s like, “No! Skip that one!” So I only know some Lady Gaga songs.’

It’s probably just as well his children have a well-developed sense of humour. Gates is officially the second richest man in the world, only losing the No 1 spot to Mexican businessman Carlos Slim last year, after holding it for nearly two decades, on a technicality; he has given away $28 billion to charity, so is now personally worth ‘only’ $56 billion.

But Jennifer, 15, Rory, 12, and Phoebe, nine, aren’t going to inherit anything like that much.

‘I don’t think that amount of money would be good for them.’

This is a man who built a multi-billion-dollar company yet seems totally unaware of the social niceties of life (pictured above: Caroline Graham with Bill)

He won’t specify what they will get, but the reports that they’ll receive ‘only’ $10 million each can’t be far off, because he concedes, ‘It will be a minuscule portion of my wealth. It will mean they have to find their own way.

‘They will be given an unbelievable education and that will all be paid for. And certainly anything related to health issues we will take care of. But in terms of their income, they will have to pick a job they like and go to work. They are normal kids now. They do chores, they get pocket money.’

He is determined that his family life should be as unaffected as possible by his fortune, and that he should be a hands-on father.

‘I never took a day off in my twenties. Not one. And I’m still fanatical, but now I’m a little less fanatical. I play tennis, I play bridge, I spend time with my family. I drive myself around town in a normal Mercedes. I’ve had a Lexus. The family has a Porsche, which is a nice car that we sometimes take out. We have a minivan and that’s what we use when it’s the five of us. My eldest daughter rides horses, so we go to a lot of three-day shows. The kids are a big part of my schedule.’

Has he succumbed to the inevitable pleas from the children for an iPad, iPhone and iPod? His face hardens: ‘They have the Windows equivalent. They have a Zune music player, which is a great Windows portable player. They are not deprived children.’

He mentions a U2 concert he attended the previous night in Seattle, which has been the talk of the town. He has been friends with Bono for years; along with his wife, he shared the cover of Time magazine with him in 2005, when the trio, dubbed ‘The Good Samaritans’ for their philanthropy, were named ‘Persons of the Year’.

‘We went to the concert with my daughter and three of her friends, so there were six of us and we took the minivan. I drove.’

Did Bono invite them backstage? A long pause, then: ‘Umm, no – actually, he stayed at our house.’ Of course.

There’s something surreal about hearing Gates talk on such a personal level. Meeting him is comparable to meeting a head of state. We’re in a conference room in the sparkling new home of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle, a $500 million glass-walled, eco-friendly office space which Gates jokes is ‘mostly the brainchild of my wife – I just signed all the cheques’.

To say that Gates is socially awkward is putting it mildly. This is a man who built a multi-billion-dollar company yet seems totally unaware of the social niceties of life. His voice is loud and oddly high-pitched. He’s in constant motion as he speaks, rocking in his chair with his arms folded protectively in front of him, tapping his toes, fiddling with a pen. He fails to look me in the eye and doesn’t engage in small talk.

I ask him whether this is it now – is Microsoft history to him, replaced in his heart by his philanthropy? He retired from the day-to-day running of Microsoft in 2008, with many believing it has since lost its edge to companies like Apple and Google.

He says, ‘My full-time work for the rest of my life is this foundation.’

Police mugshot of Gates after his arrest for driving without a licence in 1975

Will he ever return to helm Microsoft?

‘No. I’m part-time involved. But this is my job now.’

His foundation has assets worth $37.1 billion, thanks in part to contributions of shares from his mentor, American ‘uber-investor’ Warren Buffett. But forget the figures. The only thing Gates wants you to know is that he intends to give it all away.

Famously publicity-shy, he has granted this rare one-on-one interview to Live not – unsurprisingly – to talk about what non-Apple gadgets his children have, but to promote a ‘pledging conference’ for donors and partners of the GAVI Alliance (the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation, which Gates co-founded in 2000) that kicks off in London on Monday.

Hosted by David Cameron, the event marks the culmination of a drive, spearheaded by Gates, to raise $3.7 billion to vaccinate 243 million children in the world’s poorest countries against illnesses such as pneumonia and measles. Gates and Cameron are expected to announce the money has been successfully raised and, it’s hoped, will save four million lives over the next four years.

His foundation began humbly in 1994 after a double whammy that made the billionaire think about his own mortality. It was the year Gates married Melinda, 46, a former Microsoft manager, and when his much-loved mother Mary, a former teacher and businesswoman, died of breast cancer.

After Mary’s death, Gates’s father Bill Sr, feeling listless, started ploughing through the stacks of begging letters which had piled up at his son’s office, simply ‘for something to do’. He would send the requests he thought worthy to his son, who would then write the cheques, which Bill Sr would send out with brief notes. Bill Sr is now co-chair of the foundation, and still shows up for work every day, despite being 85.

In a letter to her daughter-in-law on the eve of the wedding, Mary Gates wrote, ‘From those to whom much is given, much is expected.’

Gates still has the letter.

‘It was six months before my mum died, so of course we kept that. It’s at home.’

Gates decided vaccinating the world’s disadvantaged is a cost-effective, simple way to help the very poor.

‘You get more bang for your buck.’

Why not be the guy who cures cancer instead?

‘The motto of the foundation is that every life has equal value. There are more people dying of malaria than any specific cancer. When you die of malaria aged three it’s different from being in your seventies, when you might die of a heart attack or you might die of cancer. And the world is putting massive amounts into cancer, so my wealth would have had a meaningless impact on that.’

He is swift to praise the Prime Minister for increasing Britain’s foreign aid.

‘What David Cameron is doing is something to be proud of. The UK has led the way, particularly in getting value for money. Your government went and ranked the various aid groups. Some came out poorly and some came out very strongly. GAVI was ranked one of the best of all, because if you give those vaccines to the poorest of the poor, the impact on saving lives and avoiding sickness is incredible.’


The Heat Reporter
The Heat Reporter
Known in entertainment circles as "LA Dre", the Editor of The Heat Magazine works tirelessly to bring you the latest & greatest in entertainment news. He spent years in the industry & now brings some of that insider knowledge to his readers.


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