For months, rumors swirled about the state of the marriage between Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest and his wife Nicola, Australia’s richest couple.
Questions from reporters about their apparent separate lives — and what that means for their sprawling $32 billion mining empire and their various philanthropic ventures — were dismissed in the strongest possible terms.
That was until Wednesday night. The couple, who have been married for more than 30 years and share three adult children together, released a 481-word statement that confirmed what many had suspected for some time.
‘After 31 years of marriage we have decided to separate. Our friendship and commitment to our family remains strong,’ the couple said in a joint statement to the Australian Financial Review.
Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest and Nicola Forrest (pictured), who have been married for 31 years and are worth more than $30 billion, have said they will now separate.
Australia’s richest couple insist their split will have no impact on the strategic direction of their mining empire or their philanthropic ventures.
A sign that marriage is almost over
– The couple was spending increasing amounts of time in different parts of the world
– A flurry of large share transfers between different companies within their empires
– Rumors swirled that the end of the relationship was near
Mr Forrest, known by his nickname ‘Twiggy’, became Australia’s second richest man this year – behind rival mining magnate Gina Rinehart.
The couple’s wealth is largely amassed through their 36 per cent stake in iron ore miner Fourq Metals Group, which they founded in 2003 and is now the eighth-largest company on the ASX by market capitalisation.
They jointly oversee their private investment arm, Tattarang, and they co-founded, and serve as co-chairs of, their philanthropic venture Minderu Foundation, which works to tackle issues ranging from modern slavery to plastic pollution.
The couple insisted that their split would have no impact on the strategic direction of their mining empire or their philanthropic ventures.
Their statement added, ‘There is no influence over the operations, control or direction of Fortescue, Mindaru or Tatarong.
But it has become clear to many that something is up after the couple have been apart for so long in recent years.
Suspicions have been fueled by recent massive share transfers between various companies within their empire.
The breakup came to light after the AFR contacted the pair last month about a transaction that transferred $1.1 billion worth of Fortescue shares to a new company called Coaxial Ventures, which is wholly owned by Ms Forrest.
The transaction took place after Mr Forrest effectively gave half of his Tatarong shareholding to Ms Forrest.
Pictured: Andrew and Nicola Forrest with their daughters Grace and Sophia
Both transactions granted Mrs Forrest control of more Fortescue shares than her now-estranged husband, according to the AFR.
As recently as March 2020 it is quite controversial given that around 95 per cent of the family’s Fortescue shares were held by companies owned by Mr Forrest.
The couple, who met at a house party in 1988, insisted the new measures would not affect the direction of their various ventures.
It is understood that Tatarong – which owns around 65 per cent of the Forrest family’s Fortescue shares – will vote in future decisions by the Fortescue board.
Mr and Mrs Forrest hold equal shares in Tatarong and he remains executive chairman of FourQ.
Since the pandemic, the couple has spent long periods apart. Mr Forrest met US President Joe Biden in London this week, while Mr Forrest is also said to be abroad.
Grace Forrest was Western Australia’s 2018 Young Australian of the Year for her work with the charity Walk Free, funded by her parents’ fortune.
Sophia Forrest is an actor who recently got engaged to his girlfriend Zara Zoe
How Foresters Made Their Money
Andrew Forrest found early success as a stockbroker for Kirk Securities and Jackson.
But the ambitious entrepreneur laid the foundation for his $32 billion mining fortune in mining in 1994 by founding Anaconda Nickel Limited, now known as Minara Resources.
He was ousted as CEO in 2001 when the company nearly collapsed, but within two years he took control of Allied Mining and Processing, renaming it Fortescue Metals Group.
Fortescue had iron ore mining in Western Australia’s Pilbara region, which saw Forrest’s wealth explode on the back of exports to China.
Mr. Forrest was famously ambitious, borrowing heavily and spending $1 billion to $2 billion building roads and railroads to support his new mines.
Some of his operations, including mining on traditional lands without treaty, were highly controversial.
In 2019 he lost a High Court ruling that awarded native title to the Solomon Hub iron ore mine, which is located on Indjibarandi land.
The ruling means the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation will pursue millions of dollars in damages – something Fortescue has vowed to fight.
In recent years Mr. Forrest has diversified into sustainable energy sources, including hydrogen.
It also has agricultural operations to capitalize on China’s growing appetite for meat and dairy products.
The couple has three grown children – Grace, Sophia and son Sidney.
It is understood that they have no plans of divorce.
The Forrest family joke has long been that Nicola was known as an ‘undercover billionaire’.
The nickname is partly a reference to her notorious frugality and partly to the fact that she preferred to live in her husband’s shadow for decades.
‘The [undercover billionaire title] Daughter Grace Forrest told the ABC last year that she would encourage dad, Sidney, and me to eat a week’s worth of expired yogurt because it would spoil.
‘UCB does not like any kind of waste.’
Her mother’s hatred of waste even led Mrs. Forrest to stop using cling wrap and to wash and reuse plastic Ziploc bags.
Mr and Mrs Forrest have pledged to give away the ‘vast majority’ of their fortune during their lifetime and have previously said they will give a little to their children.
Instead, their fortunes will be distributed to various charities, including tribal affairs, education reform and scientific research.
In April last year, Mrs Forrest said she and Andrew would give away their fortune because they did not want their children to be ‘burdened’ by a handout.
‘We live in a house and I have a great life – but the things in life that are most important, money can’t buy,’ she told ABC’s Australian Story.
‘Children do not benefit from the thought that they will inherit a large sum of money.’
Last month, it was revealed that the former couple donated $5 billion worth of shares in his mining company to his charity, the Mindaru Foundation.
Forrest, Australia’s second-richest person behind mining heiress Gina Rinehart, and his wife Nicola Fortescue donated 220 million shares in the metals group.
The donation is about one-fifth of their stake in Forrest, a company founded in 2003 and of which he is now executive chairman.
US President Joe Biden welcomes Andrew Forrest during a climate finance solidarity forum in the Green Drawing Room at Windsor Castle on July 10, 2023
‘As our world faces enormous challenges, we have chosen to continue using our material resources to help humanity and the environment deal with these existential risks,’ he told Nine newspaper.
‘Accumulating wealth should be a small part of a person. Their contribution to their family and society is much more important.
‘If you are good at accumulating wealth, I believe in using that skill for the greater good.’
Their statement on Wednesday evening added: ‘We will continue our shared mission to build and gift our wealth to address community and global challenges, as demonstrated recently by the donation of one-fifth of our Fortescue shareholding to the Mindaru Foundation.’