Kate Fis­cher: James Packer’s ex re­veals how she went from mil­lion­aire to pen­ni­less

As Kate Fis­cher, she was the “It” girl of the 1990s – a model, ac­tress and fi­ancée of bil­lion­aire James Packer – but it all came crash­ing down and she ended up pen­ni­less, liv­ing in a home­less shel­ter. Known as Tzi­po­rah Malkah since her em­brace of Ju­daism,

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - CONTENTS -

In a home­less shel­ter, Tzi­po­rah Malkah sits on a sin­gle mat­tress in a bleak room no big­ger than a prison cell, remembering the day she moved in. With a fridge by the bed and cig­a­rette burns on the so­fas, it hardly felt like home, but it was bet­ter than sleep­ing on the street, and she had nowhere else to go.

“I didn’t come out of my room for three days,” she re­calls. “I just sat there and cried.”

Tzi­po­rah re­mem­bers the ter­ror and hope­less­ness, but most of all the shame. How had she fallen so far? In the 1990s, as Kate Fis­cher, she had been a dar­ling of the Sydney so­cial pages – the fun, feisty model and ac­tress who had won the heart of bil­lion­aire James Packer – but she was used up and spat out by the celebrity ma­chine when the pair broke up in 1998. By Septem­ber 2011, she sat alone in that cold, in­sti­tu­tional room in Mel­bourne, with noth­ing.

The story of how she came to be there is ex­tra­or­di­nary – and one she hasn’t told un­til now. The way she sees it, her split with James de­stroyed her rep­u­ta­tion and es­sen­tially cast her out of Australia. She fled to Los An­ge­les and tried to get an act­ing ca­reer off the ground, em­brac­ing her Jewish faith and chang­ing her name along the way, but even­tu­ally fell in love with a man who em­bez­zled all her money – a man who, she sub­se­quently found out, was mar­ried with a child.

Tzi­po­rah was al­ready on a spir­i­tual quest, but her lover’s be­trayal forced a bru­tal mo­ment of reck­on­ing and, ul­ti­mately, her rein­ven­tion. Now 43,

she says, “I had to grow up.”

For the past five years, Tzi­po­rah has led a quiet life in Mel­bourne as a carer for el­derly psy­chi­atric and de­men­tia pa­tients, but a mag­a­zine “outed” her two months ago, when James Packer split from his lat­est fi­ancée, singer Mariah Carey. Tzi­po­rah was pho­tographed col­lect­ing her mail wrapped in a bed sheet, and dragged out of her self-im­posed ex­ile in spec­tac­u­lar fash­ion.

She was mor­ti­fied at the time, but says she now feels “un­muz­zled” and fi­nally able to set the record straight. Keen to make the most of her res­ur­rected pub­lic pro­file, Tzi­po­rah wants to speak out for home­less women and let read­ers know how easy it is to hit rock-bot­tom, no mat­ter what your up­bring­ing or your bank bal­ance.

A model at 13, high-school dropout at 15 and mil­lion­aire at 17, she had had a wild ride even be­fore she be­came en­gaged to James Packer at 22, but Tzi­po­rah says she missed out on a lot of life les­sons, which meant she had to learn them 20 years later than most. “I had to go through it – hav­ing the crappy job and the car that doesn’t al­ways start… that teenage stage of be­ing an­gry with every­body,” she says. “But it’s hard to do it in your late 30s be­cause peo­ple ex­pect more from you.”

At the shel­ter – a 1980s prop­erty with peach car­pet and fake flow­ers – Tzi­po­rah shows The Aus­tralian Women’s Weekly the ne­glected gar­den out­side her room where she used to plant sun­flow­ers. Now in the process of shut­ting down, it is of­fi­cially called a “room­ing house”, but for Tzi­po­rah, it was a refuge. Sent there by a city mis­sion, she shared the place for 22 months with every­one from for­mer pris­on­ers and fam­ily vi­o­lence vic­tims to refugee doc­tors and ex-CEOs – all sin­gle women over 35 too broke to go any­where else. With the lack of af­ford­able hous­ing, she says, no woman is im­mune: pro­fes­sion­als can find them­selves home­less af­ter a busi­ness goes bust or a mar­riage fails, and many women, es­pe­cially moth­ers in low-paid oc­cu­pa­tions, re­tire with per­ilously lit­tle su­per­an­nu­a­tion. “We’re just faded flow­ers,” she says. “We’re not what so­ci­ety deems ex­cit­ing any more. We’re washed up and no one cares.”

When Tzi­po­rah moved into the shel­ter, she spi­ralled into de­pres­sion and was put on med­i­ca­tion. Shar­ing a kitchen with 36 strangers, she says, you couldn’t leave a potato unat­tended with­out it be­ing stolen – and then there was the per­va­sive smell of dirty dishes. Tzi­po­rah was study­ing for her aged-care qual­i­fi­ca­tion at TAFE when she moved in and got a job a few months later, but not all the residents were ca­pa­ble of work­ing. “Some of the women have had all their con­fi­dence kicked out of them and have had so many hor­rific things hap­pen to them, shunted from fos­ter home to fos­ter home since the age of two, that they’re un­em­ploy­able,” she says. “They are the sorts of vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple we need to pro­tect.”

Tzi­po­rah had been liv­ing there for a cou­ple of months when a woman she’d be­friended told her she looked just like Kate Fis­cher. Know­ing she could be stalked by pa­parazzi, she felt it only fair that her fel­low residents knew who she was, so she came clean. “That says a lot about the in­tegrity of those women be­cause they could have rung the me­dia and sold that for $10,000 and they didn’t,” she says. “They

knew I was suf­fer­ing, too.”

Sip­ping a sauvi­gnon blanc at a nearby pub, the sound of pokie ma­chines dis­pens­ing coins in the back­ground, Tzi­po­rah ad­mits she is ner­vous talk­ing to The Aus­tralian Women’s Weekly, yet she is breath­tak­ingly can­did. “I like to re­main raw and vul­ner­a­ble,” she ex­plains, “be­cause if my ex­pe­ri­ences can help some­one, then that’s re­ally what God wants from us – just to share our­selves a lit­tle bit.”

Given her priv­i­leged Ade­laide up­bring­ing, per­haps the most glar­ing ques­tion is why Tzi­po­rah didn’t ask her fam­ily for help. “I wouldn’t give them the sat­is­fac­tion of lord­ing it over me,” she replies. If they did won­der about her ab­sence, “they prob­a­bly just thought I was be­ing a flake”.

The daugh­ter of a health economist, Alas­tair Fis­cher, and a NSW gov­ern­ment min­is­ter, Pru Goward, Tzi­po­rah says her fam­ily didn’t know that she was liv­ing in a women’s shel­ter and weren’t up­set when they found out. “I think they kind of felt like, ‘Well, it’s about time – you were a princess in an ivory tower for so many years.’ I think they were quite happy.”

While she gets on well with her step-fa­ther, jour­nal­ist David Bar­nett, and half-sis­ter Alice, she says she only re­cently saw her mother for the first time in more than eight years. “Her con­stituents are very lucky to have her – she is a won­der­ful, won­der­ful politi­cian,” says Tzi­po­rah. “She is so pro­fes­sional and she cares so much about what she does. That’s where all her love has gone.”

Mother and daugh­ter have ap­par­ently al­ways had a dif­fi­cult re­la­tion­ship; Tzi­po­rah seems sad about it, but also re­signed. “It’s been a long time,” she says. “I pretty much started mod­el­ling so I didn’t kill my­self, re­ally. Mum and I fought all the time.”

When 13-year-old Kate in­sisted on en­ter­ing the Dolly cov­er­girl com­pe­ti­tion, Tzi­po­rah jokes, her mum be­grudg­ingly took a roll of pho­tos and picked the ugli­est of the bunch to send in, but the beau­ti­ful teen won any­way, launch­ing an in­ter­na­tional mod­el­ling ca­reer that earned her up to $750,000 a year. Later, she tried act­ing, ap­pear­ing with Elle Macpherson and Hugh Grant in Sirens as one of Nor­man Lind­say’s nude mod­els in the 1994 film. “It was fun un­til I had to say my lines be­cause I was so self­con­scious,” she re­calls. “I just didn’t feel like I was an ac­tress – I wasn’t de­serv­ing to be there with Sam Neill.”

Af­ter the film came out, James Packer saw her at a Sydney ho­tel and asked her to din­ner. They were on and off for three years, but in 1996, he pro­posed. Tzi­po­rah says she was in­trigued by his fam­ily’s strato­spheric wealth; on the one hand, she got to dine with Henry Kissinger in New York, but the Pack­ers could also be “com­plete bo­gans”. For din­ner, for ex­am­ple, she says a but­ler would bring them their meals on trays and they would sit in their movie theatre watch­ing Nine news in si­lence. “You might as well just heat some­thing up in the mi­crowave and throw a few tin­nies at the screen,” says Tzi­po­rah. “They were just be­ing them­selves, but it wasn’t what I was ex­pect­ing.”

Nor did she un­der­stand the seg­re­ga­tion of the sexes in the Packer world. “The woman does ba­si­cally noth­ing,” she says, “and the man works all day long and you never re­ally get to see him.” At 22, she be­came a kept woman, put on an an­nual $250,000 al­lowance and for­bid­den to work. Her own lu­cra­tive ca­reer was sud­denly over.

Tzi­po­rah ad­mits she was a “needy

We’re faded flow­ers... washed up and no one cares.

night­mare” at the time, but says James also ne­glected her, sur­round­ing him­self with hang­ers-on who en­ter­tained him like court jesters. “In the be­gin­ning, it was a bit more ro­man­tic,” she says, “but once we moved in to­gether, it was like the deal was done.” When she in­sisted on a ro­man­tic hol­i­day for two one Easter, do­ing the en­tourage out of their all-ex­penses-paid trip to Bali, the mates turned on her. “Then [his dad] Kerry, who was very old-fash­ioned, started teas­ing him about be­ing pushed around by a woman,” she says. “I just think it was all too much for him.”

That’s when, she says, James made an im­pos­si­ble pro­posal: she could live in the lap of lux­ury as Mrs Packer, but he wanted com­plete free­dom to do as he pleased. “He’d never have to tell me where he was; if he didn’t want to talk to me for a few days he wouldn’t have to,” she says. “He knew he was mak­ing me an of­fer that I had to refuse.”

The cou­ple split and it was ru­moured she’d scored a $10 mil­lion set­tle­ment – a myth Tzi­po­rah couldn’t re­fute be­cause of the con­fi­den­tial­ity clause. “I just had to grin and bear it for years while he swanned around like Prince Charm­ing, every­one think­ing what a gen­er­ous bloke he was and what an aw­ful young woman I must be, run­ning off with my ill-got­ten gains from the Packer fam­ily.” For the record, she says she was given the Bondi apart­ment the cou­ple shared, which she sold for

“two and a bit” mil­lion (“I can’t re­ally re­mem­ber”), and a $250,000 cash pay­out.

She left the coun­try and James was pho­tographed just days later, ca­vort­ing on the beach with Jodhi Meares, whom he later mar­ried. Tzi­po­rah took act­ing classes in LA, but says she couldn’t work be­cause James cast such a long shadow: not only was her rep­u­ta­tion trashed by the $10 mil­lion ru­mour, he owned a chunk of movie dis­trib­u­tor Vil­lage Road­show. “In LA,” she says, “they’re not go­ing to go with the woman who just pissed off the boss.”

It felt like pun­ish­ment. “He was used to get­ting his own way,” says Tzi­po­rah, “and the fact he couldn’t with me – and I’m the one who got away – I think re­ally stuck in his craw.” Af­ter 10 years, she asked James if she could speak about the set­tle­ment and he re­luc­tantly agreed, she says, but the dam­age had been done. Mind­ful that im­age is ev­ery­thing, Tzi­po­rah asked if she and a male friend could be papped so­cial­is­ing with James and his then wife, Erica, but the an­swer was no.

Search for a soul­mate

Ac­cord­ing to Tzi­po­rah, her fledg­ling ca­reer was shot down be­fore it was al­lowed to take flight, and yet she also ad­mits she was never much of an ac­tress. She en­joyed chat­ting on TV panel shows, but wasn’t “emo­tion­ally coura­geous enough” to ex­cel at act­ing.

By 2008, she had drifted away from show busi­ness and had tried teach­ing tran­scen­den­tal med­i­ta­tion. She had al­ways been at­tracted to Ju­daism, so when she started dat­ing a Jewish man, she met with a rabbi to learn more. Although her mother’s fam­ily had re­nounced Ju­daism many years ear­lier, he told her she was tech­ni­cally still Jewish. “That was the hap­pi­est day of my life,” she says. Tzi­po­rah re­claimed the He­brew name of her ma­ter­nal grand­mother, which tra­di­tion­ally she would have been given, and moved to an Ortho­dox part of Bev­erly Hills, mak­ing her kitchen kosher, dress­ing mod­estly from neck to toe, and keep­ing the strict rules of the Jewish Sab­bath.

In 2011, a busi­ness­man she had been dat­ing for two years of­fered to in­vest her nest egg, but kept mak­ing ex­cuses when she asked about it. Even­tu­ally, she dis­cov­ered he had taken all her money and al­ready had a wife and child.

“Ju­daism is a psy­cho­log­i­cal re­li­gion and I’d started to re­alise I needed to grow up,” she says. “If I didn’t start pro­cess­ing my past, it would al­ways come back to bite me. If I was go­ing to start again, I had to start from the bot­tom... with clean money.”

The US was no place to be poor, so Tzi­po­rah gave away ev­ery­thing, in­clud­ing rugs, furs and chan­de­liers, to friends and flew to Mel­bourne. There was a big­ger Ortho­dox com­mu­nity there, she fig­ured, and too much “dirty wa­ter” un­der the bridge in Sydney. In a sym­bolic (or reck­less) act of lib­er­a­tion, she hurled more than half a mil­lion dol­lars’ worth of jew­ellery over the cliffs of Bondi.

These days, Tzi­po­rah drives an un­re­li­able 11-year-old Holden Calais and works night shifts with el­derly psych and de­men­tia pa­tients for $23 an hour, keep­ing them clean and fed. It’s tax­ing, but she has an affin­ity with the pa­tients and gets a kick out of calm­ing them when other car­ers can’t. Ide­ally, she’d like to work as a nurse in Is­rael, or per­haps go into pol­i­tics.

When asked if she’s happy, there’s a long si­lence. “Some­times,” she says. “I feel I have more to of­fer than I used to and that makes me proud. I cer­tainly have more con­fi­dence, more self­aware­ness. I still have a lot of anger.” Tzi­po­rah ad­mits it’s not easy look­ing at pic­tures of her 20-some­thing self with all that po­ten­tial. “My self-es­teem was so low,” she says, “and I was so gor­geous.” She’d love to be mar­ried with chil­dren, but hasn’t lived with a man since James Packer, and she hopes she hasn’t missed her chance at moth­er­hood. Her soul­mate would be “some­one who has enough con­fi­dence to let me be who I am,” she says. “Just some­one who loves me.”

For the past few years, though, Tzi­po­rah has kept to her­self and con­cen­trated on the hum­bling, of­ten painful work of grow­ing up. She’d like to man­age her emo­tions bet­ter and stop seek­ing so­lace in food, but says, “I feel like it’s go­ing to be an aus­pi­cious year”. In hind­sight, Tzi­po­rah sees her dark, home­less pe­riod as the ed­u­ca­tion she had to have. “Maybe,” she says, “it’s time for me to grad­u­ate.”

He was mak­ing me an of­fer I had to refuse.

The shel­ter of­fered Tzi­po­rah refuge, along­side for­mer pris­on­ers and do­mes­tic vi­o­lence vic­tims. RIGHT: With mother Pru Goward in the 1990s. BE­LOW: A cov­er­girl in 1988 and 1993.

ABOVE: With James at the Aus­tralian Grand Prix in 1998, the year they split up. RIGHT: By 2000, Tzi­po­rah was liv­ing in LA and try­ing to break into act­ing.

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