UK: HE'S ON TOP, SHE'S ON TOP - This is the age of the power couple While celebrities may dominate the ...

UK: HE'S ON TOP, SHE'S ON TOP - This is the age of the power couple While celebrities may dominate the ... - HE'S ON TOP, SHE'S ON TOP - This is the age of the power couple While celebrities may dominate the papers, equally powerful pairings are at work

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

HE'S ON TOP, SHE'S ON TOP - This is the age of the power couple While celebrities may dominate the papers, equally powerful pairings are at work in business, finance and the law. In the commercial world where there are more contacts than friends, more time for meetings than romance, partnerships of real influence are spreading. Simon Mills reports.

Like some super-charged version of Tatler's society pages, rarely a day goes by without the newspapers throwing up the names of a bright new power couple. May 5 this year was no exception. It was on this day that the broadsheets introduced us to a hard-headed, hard-working couple, Liz Airey, 40, and Paul Murray, 37: no-holds barred adversaries in big-money arbitration, loving partners after work. Even Aaron Spelling couldn't have dreamt up something so dramatic.

As one would expect, they made for great copy. Airey, finance director of Monument Oil & Gas, and an ex-NatWest and Warburgs staffer, spent several weeks in negotiation with Murray, her opposite number at Lasmo, hammering out a £550-million oil industry merger. Maintaining a glacial level of professionalism throughout, Airey and Murray suffered the inevitable consequences of sharing both bedroom and boardroom: leg-pulling, nudge-nudging and endless office jokes.

They remained completely unfazed throughout, not discussing the merger at home. 'They were both extremely professional,' said a friend after the deal was done. 'It's a measure of the extent to which they are respected that both boards approved the situation.'

It is this kind of scenario which encapsulates all the dilemmas of a modern relationship, where ascendancy and careerism are as much a part of life as babies, new kitchens and soft furnishings.

But what makes a power couple? What are the distinguishing features that mark a pair out as power players? First, they are rich. They work in areas where there is big money at stake, and big salaries to be earned. Second, they control the destiny of other people's jobs and futures. And third, they will be high-profile in their own worlds.

Increasingly they have something else in common: they are struggling to balance the demands of work with the responsibilities of home. The 'bad day at work, dear?' scenario can be multiplied by two, leading to increased tensions when domestic duties demand attention. And this trend of the pressurised power couple is bound to continue. The mere fact that work is becoming a harder, more time-consuming process means that the most likely place for couples to meet is at work. We should get used to the phenomenon of the power couple: they are the shape of things to come.

For some time they have been a familiar feature in media and showbusiness circles. But it is the phenomenon that has quietly spread to other areas such as business, finance and the law. It is now possible to identify key pairings in these fields many of whom have kept out of the limelight until recently. Management Today has identified six areas of business and public life where power couples are making their presence felt. Over the following pages we name the pairings that are having the biggest influence on modern Britain.


A power couple is the union of two big-hitters. While it is possible that neither will be household names, they will be among the cream of their chosen profession. Their power will often extend outside the workplace, too. Their presence at a meeting, at the launch of a new campaign or initiative, or on any other public platform, will be sought. In terms of social functions they are on the A list. They are likely to be the kind of people regularly co-opted onto pressure groups, political lobbies and high-profile charities. So much the better if they are quotable, visible, noteworthy and telegenic. One half of the couple will never be caught living vicariously through the other's success. Instead they will thrive together on equal terms, giving one another a boost when needed.

That said, each half of the couple must learn to feed off and complement the other, merging databases, extending their social web and combining mental Roladexes when required. They must know when to operate as a couple and when to perform solo to avoid any lurking suggestion that one is the driving force who is 'carrying' the other. Working for the same organisation is usually out of the question, or at least unlikely to maximise the advantages of having a high-achieving partner. Most importantly (and it has to be said, also rather paradoxically) they must never, ever admit to being a part of something as vain or frivolous as a 'power couple'. Even if they are secretly rather pleased with themselves for being considered such a pairing.

Social change lies behind the rise of the power couple. The increasing amount of women occupying pivotal positions of power, influence and responsibility is one major factor in the couples' rise to prominence. Another is that high-achievers have little time (or interest) for mixing outside their professional circle. Children and spouses come second to a high-powered career. 'In the old days it was very rare for successful women to be married into a power couple,' says Stephen Bampfylde, managing director of City head-hunters Saxton Bampfylde Hever. 'There was a cliche that went 'everybody needs a wife - no matter what the gender'. So in order for women to break through in business they'd need a husband who was supportive and understanding of pressure but not particularly powerful himself. We used to refer to that kind of husband as 'the trailing spouse' in the trade.'


It used to be said that 'a friend in power is a friend lost', but when Henry Brooks Adams, the 19th-century historian, made that bold statement the dynamic, dual force of the high-earning power couple was yet to be conceived. Fast forward around 100 years, make that 'friend' your wife or husband, boyfriend or girlfriend, and the pendulum of influence, political leverage and financial clout swings dramatically in your favour.

In the age of power couples the rules of social engagement have changed.

Any aspiring professional who wants to enter elite circles will have to understand and master them. The director-general with his stay-at-home 'trophy' wife, who looks good at dinner parties but doesn't join in the debate is no longer so highly prized in business and financial circles. These days, power shared is power doubled. In the entertainment world, being photogenic and gossip-column friendly can reap major rewards. Who can forget Hugh Grant and Elizabeth Hurley's dynamic coming out as the British film industry's first couple at the Four Weddings and a Funeral premiere? It was a photo opportunity which Vogue described as having the same significance in tabloid folklore as the nativity has to the Christians.

But Hugh and Liz are relatively modest figures when compared with David Beckham and Victoria Adams (aka Posh Spice). The alarmingly talented Manchester United winger is one of the highest paid players in the world and, when he marries car-dealer's daughter Victoria this summer, it is estimated that their combined worth will be more than £20 million.


Independence and discretion are vital qualities for any power couple. Public displays of affection are out. With many of them it is not always obvious that they even are a couple. In these situations married women often keep their own surnames, at least during working hours.

This might explain the legendary plight of the hapless socialite who, while at a drinks party a few years ago, attempted to introduce a satirical artist to a thespian cake maker. 'Gerald Scarfe, do you know Jane Asher?' he said. 'Yes, I do,' replied a rather po-faced Scarfe, 'she's my wife.' In many cases women are the most famous and high-profile half of the pairing. Has anyone ever mistakenly asked, for instance, whether Tim Horlick, MD of Salomon Smith Barney Europe, took on his wife Nicola's surname when they got married?

Any ambitious bachelor MP knows that, these days, he needs an impressive working wife to keep his political career in the ascendant. Not a Norma Major, with her sensible outfits and WI hair-do (certainly no Cherie when it comes to style or working a room) but someone whose professional life operates on equal or similar terms to his own; a confident, wave-making Hillary to his Master-of-the-Universe Bill.

The 'your-dinner's-in-the-oven' type of woman is a dying breed, says Peter York, consultant and social commentator. 'I firmly believe that modern men wouldn't know what do if faced with the kind of lifestyle that kind of wife dictates. They simply wouldn't know to how to deal with the etiquette of such a situation.'

Thirtysomethings Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper, adviser to Gordon Brown and MP for Pontefract and Castleford respectively, are doing their best to prove themselves as distantly conceivable pretenders to number 10, the home of politics' ultimate contemporary power couple Tony and Cherie Blair.

Derek Draper, former aide of Peter Mandelson, once encountered Balls and Cooper working the room at a Whitehall party and noticed how they would exchange 'only an occasional grin as they pull the levers of power. They are, without doubt, Labour's new golden couple,' pronounced Draper.

After his wife's victory in Pontefract, Balls started referring to himself playfully as 'the Lady Mayoress'. When you wield a great deal of power, a little modesty goes down well.

Balls' boss, chancellor Gordon Brown, and his girlfriend, PR director Sarah Macaulay, have chosen to avoid the limelight. Neither has given an interview or talked publicly about the other; quite a feat when you consider that one is a PR and the other a ruling party operator.

In the image-conscious media world, Charlie Parsons and Lord Waheed Alli, formerly of The Big Breakfast Production company Planet 24, are now freelance producer and managing director of Carlton Productions respectively. They share homes and working arenas but match the discretion of the chancellor and Macaulay.

Parsons and Alli have, in the past, worked closely with Matthew Freud, the entertainment PR man who went on to form his own power pairing with Elisabeth Murdoch of Sky TV. Even these two, however, would be no match for seasoned operators Tina Brown and Harold Evans, the media world's prime movers and shakers and, by all accounts, formidable room workers.

A source close to the couple, who has watched them in action at many mutually attended parties and functions, describes them as 'pretty lethal on their own ... but as a pair quicker and shrewder. When they enter a room their eyes flash like a couple of hungry cheetahs on the African plains, salivating as they assess the quality of prey on the horizon. In perfect synchronisation they seem to be able to immediately latch onto whoever is the most powerful or influential in the room; be it Michael Eisner, Harvey Weinstein or Sy Newhouse,' says the source, almost salivating himself at the very thought of such a situation. 'Of the two I'd say Tina is pretty devastating on her own, but when she's with Harry he completes the social pincer movement. It's quite amazing to watch.'

No such frippery exists in accountancy. John Connolly, senior partner at corporate finance accountants Deloitte & Touche, and his second wife, Odile Griffith, who runs finance boutique RKR, are one of the most remarkable pairings in the financial world.

The couple met while they were both partners at Touche Ross ('She was the first woman partner there,' Connolly has said, beaming with pride) and are living proof that power needn't always be weakened when couples work in the same business.

Of course, all this high-flying can play havoc with one's family life. Children are rather surplus to power couple requirements and can end up being treated as such. Griffith, rather sweetly it has to be said, named her boutique RKR after Connolly's three children Ryan, Katie and Ross, from his first marriage, but other couples aren't so 'hands on'.

No such sentimentality, for example, from Ruth Fox, who heads the financial regulation department of Slaughter & May, and her husband Philip Bennett, a partner in employment and pensions. They have a Barbican apartment for themselves and another for their nanny. And what about the ex-Sunday newspaper editor and her historian husband whose children call their live-in nanny 'Mummy'? 'My children are luckier than others,' the editor once said. 'The way I see it, they've got two mummies.'

There appears to be no stopping the rise of the power couple. Peter York says: 'As recently as 10 years ago the career path of a successful woman would have always involved a certain level of 'back-seatism' where the man was concerned. Not anymore. Now the same women want it all; good sex, lots of money, big houses, fast cars, servants and a husband with a really ace job.'

He concludes: 'The fact that we will talk about power couples is what makes being part of one so attractive. Everybody secretly wants to be a part of such a pair, they don't want to someone who is the little wife or the little husband. They want to be teamed with someone who has equivalent stripes on their shoulders. It makes for more complete and stimulating lives.' York has even found a name for this phenomenon, which he prefers to the more restrained label of power couple. He calls them 'wolf pairs', where each is as beautiful and as beastly as the other.

And to be 50% of such an alluringly puissant duo would seem to be a rather desirable thing to be. To be half of a power couple in the 1990s is to possess much more than just the power of two. These days, it appears, a partner in power is not a friend lost but power multiplied. Several times over.


Until recently, discretion and lack of publicity have characterised this profession; there was nothing to gain from a high public profile. Competition and the Americanisation of the profession may change that. Senior figures in law have been marrying for some time but now the pairings are growing in profile and influence.

Mance and Arden are racing each other to the top of the legal establishment, while Fox and Bennett work for the same firm. The overlap with politics, in this age of the barrister-prime minister, is emphasised by the Vaz/Fernandez pairing. This couple find themselves in sensitive position. Vaz's appointment to the Lord Chancellor's department has not made him popular with the Law Society.

MARIA FERNANDES AND KEITH VAZ The Leicester East MP recently joined the Lord Chancellor's department. Fernandes is a leading light at the Law Society and runs her own legal business.

MARY ARDEN AND JONATHAN MANCE Arden was the Law Commission's first female chairman and is the only female high court judge in Chancery. Mance was promoted to the Court of Appeal this April and is widely tipped for the top.

PHILIP BENNETT AND RUTH FOX Partners at Slaughter & May, Fox and Bennett reverse the City prejudice against married couples in one firm. She heads the financial regulation department, he specialises in employment and pensions.

GORDON PELL AND MARION PELL Marion Pell, head of corporate insurance at Herbert Smith, advised BAT on its merger with Zurich. Gordon is a board director at Lloyds TSB.

DEBORAH FINKLER AND ALLAN MURRAY-JONES A partner at Slaughter & May, Finkler's work has earned her the accolade of 'courtroom queen'. Murray-Jones is a partner and group head of private equity at Lovell White Durrant.


Some marriages increasing resemble business arrangements - perhaps we should start thinking of them as mergers? In busy and competitive industries there are obvious synergies to be achieved in combining experience and contacts. And with the pressures of long working hours and limited leisure time, where better - or where else - to forge a relationship than in the office or at a business-related function? Our business power couples embody this trend and the heightened power of these already significant figures is clear. The business of these partnerships is business.

ANOUSHKA HEMPEL AND MARK WEINBERG Sir Mark assured his fortune in 1997, closing St.James's Capital's acquisition of Jacob Rothschild's Assurance vehicle. His wife Anoushka is the spirit behind London's elegant Blakes Hotel.

PHILIP GOULD AND GAIL REBUCK Rebuck, chief executive of publishers Random House and pollster and image guru husband Gould are both moving forces behind the New Labour phenomenon.

CHRYSS GOULANDRIS AND TONY O'REILLY While charismatic O'Reilly runs Heinz, Waterford Wedgwood and Independent Newspapers, his wife Chryss has inherited a multi-million dollar Greek shipping empire.

ANITA RODDICK AND GORDON RODDICK Body Shop partners for more than 20 years, the Roddicks have always played as a team. She out front, he on the inside.

ROGER PARRY AND JOHANNA WATEROUS Parry met wife Johanna at McKinsey. He now runs Clear Channel International. Waterous is London's most senior female McKinsey partner, a director.


Power in the City usually remains hidden. Large voting shares are wielded discreetly, billions of investment funds are quietly committed.

It's not surprising that some of the City's true power partnerships remain as secret as the discussions that precede the biggest deals. And there's another more obvious reason for some couples' low profiles: the Square Mile was traditionally a gentleman-only zone. No more: women are rising to senior positions in the City as elsewhere. Like Karen Cook, director of Corporate Finance at Schroders; like Liz Airey, finance director at the merging Monument Oil; like Odile Griffith, running her own corporate finance boutique; like Nicola Horlick, running SocGen's asset management team. Their male partners (see right) are no minor figures either. The power effect is multiplying.

JOHN CONNOLLY AND ODILE GRIFFITH The forthright managing partner at Deloitte & Touche, Connolly's wife is the financial whiz Griffith, chief of the RKR corporate finance boutique.

LIZ AIREY AND PAUL MURRAY The two oil industry finance directors (left), of Monument Oil & Gas and Lasmo respectively, suspended merger talks when they arrived back at the same home in the evenings.

NICOLA HORLICK AND TIM HORLICK The UK's most famous investment manager, Nicola is head of asset management at SocGen. Husband Tim is MD of European industrial group, Salomon Smith Barney Europe.

KAREN COOK AND PATRICK DRAYTON Cook is a rare creature in the City, a female senior executive in merchant banking as Schroders' director of corporate finance. Chinese walls ensure no conflicts of interest arise with husband Drayton, director-general of the Takeover Panel.

HOWARD DAVIES AND PRU KEELEY After stints at the Audit Commission, the CBI and the Bank of England, the impressive Davies now runs the FSA. His successful wife Keeley co-edits Radio 4's The World Tonight.


All-engrossing, notoriously obsessive Westminster life makes it very difficult for political big-hitters to form a relationship outside the working arena. Power couples, therefore, are generally warmly accepted in the political world; it gives them both broader vision as well as providing them with a financial and emotional rock. The dangers of marriage breakdown are even more obvious for politicians living in the public eye in the age of 'sleaze'.

TONY BLAIR AND CHERIE BOOTH They are Master and Mistress of the Universe. Well, Great Britain, at least.

GORDON BROWN AND SARAH MACAULAY The relationship between the Labour chancellor and the smart and discreet PR executive has, if nothing else, scotched tired and unfounded rumours about Brown's sexuality. It may also aid his rise through the political ranks should the top job ever become available.

GAVYN DAVIES AND SUE NYE Seriously rich after his company's recent flotation, the Goldman Sachs senior partner and his wife, who works for Gordon Brown, together make up a heady combination of financial muscle and political leverage.

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL AND FIONA MILLAR Labour party press secretary, image-crafter, media manipulator and spin doctor with a significant other who works for Cherie. They've even managed to raise some kids too.

ED BALLS AND YVETTE COOPER The authoritative and energetic adviser to Gordon Brown and the MP for Pontefract and Castleford are the toast of New Labour. And they've just become parents. Watch your backs, Tony and Cherie.


Contacts are everything in the media world. If you're editing a newspaper or writing a politically provocative column you'll want a Roladex bristling with MPs' mobile phone numbers, and the e-mail addresses of spin doctors and lobbyists. In TV you need to be able to get straight through to heads of programming and have a wide net of media-hungry City types keen to bank-roll a new project. You must also have contacts in Hollywood. In PR, meanwhile, you need a huge address book with all of the above numbers in it. PR Matthew Freud and Sky TV's Elisabeth Murdoch are the best example of the 'Filofax fusion'. And anyway, you need someone to go to film premieres with, don't you?

MATTHEW FREUD AND ELISABETH MURDOCH A leading light at BSkyB (who also happens to have Rupert as a dad) and the PR magnate are both previously married but now make up London's most potent media power pairing.

BARBARA AMIEL AND CONRAD BLACK The proprietor of Telegraph newspapers and his micro-skirted political columnist wife still have the power to provoke and wave-make if and when necessary.

TINA BROWN AND HAROLD EVANS Ex-Vanity Fair and New Yorker editor, now transplanted to Miramax films, and her husband Harold Evans, ex-Sunday Times editor, now Random House guiding spirit, are seasoned prime-movers in the trans-Atlantic media world.

LORD WAHEED ALLI AND CHARLIE PARSONS (Bottom left) The only gay couple on our list, the super rich, ex-Planet 24 duo are now doing their own things. Lord Alli is managing director of Carlton TV's Carlton Productions, Parsons freelances.

KIM FLETCHER AND SARAH SANDS The editor of the Independent on Sunday and deputy editor of the Daily Telegraph are now rivals in their working world, where formerly they were both employed by the Telegraph group.


Visibility, glamour, multi-faceted talent (not just actor/producer/director but singer too) and an ability to indulge in shameless self-publicity all work wonders in the fizzy entertainment world. Fronting the odd fashionable charity also helps. But join forces with someone of equal bankability and pull and you ensure a bright, lucrative future in entertainment's fast lane. Play your cards right and your very togetherness (eg Hugh and Liz) will become a useful, seductive calling card. Sting and wife Trudie Styler, superannuated singer and fledgling film producer (Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels) respectively were not included because we feel Trudie has yet to really prove herself in the business. So it's Posh and Becks who head this little list.

VICTORIA ADAMS AND DAVID BECKHAM The Manchester United winger and leggy Spice Girl have an estimated combined wealth of £20 million-plus. And a combined age of just 48.

DAWN FRENCH AND LENNY HENRY Lenny's company Crucial Films encourages young black writers, while Dawn is half of the highly successful Saunders and French. The couple has recently been subject to tabloid scrutiny.

HUGH GRANT AND ELIZABETH HURLEY After the runaway success of Notting Hill and the continuation of Liz's career as actress and Estee Lauder model, the future looks bright and bankable for this photogenic couple and their production company, Simian Films.

LADY ANTONIA FRASER AND HAROLD PINTER The playwright and historian are still important enough to wield significant power in the newspapers, on the stage and in London's literary circles.

TIM BEVAN AND JOELY RICHARDSON The Working Title boss behind Notting Hill and Four Weddings and his actress wife from the famous Redgrave dynasty may not have the highest public profile, but they still exercise considerable power.

Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime