Will You Still Need Me?

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Paul McCartney and wife Heather Mills McCartney last year. The couple announced they are separating

A divorce after four years of marriage between an older man and a younger woman isn't usually headline material. But the split between Sir Paul McCartney, 20th century cultural icon, and Heather Mills, former model and campaigner against landmines and fur, is another matter entirely. The couple issued a bland statement blaming the media for most of their problems. "Our parting is amicable and both of us still care about each other very much but have found it increasingly difficult to maintain a normal relationship with constant intrusion into our private lives," they said. But the British tabloids are awash in breathless speculation about the true reasons for the breakup, most of which basically blame Mills, who had a rough childhood before becoming a topless model and catwalk star and who lost her left leg in 1993 after being struck by a police motorcycle. She has been called a gold-digger;unstable; a publicity hog; jealous of his fame; she supposedly upbraided him about his style and his marijuana smoking; she won't tour with him; his children by his beloved first wife Linda can't stand her. McCartney, 64 next month, rushed to Heather's defense. "In reading the media reports, I would urge people not to believe them. Almost everything I'm reading is 100% untrue" — though he wasn't more specific except to say, "It's been suggested that she married me for the money and there is not an ounce of truth in this. She is a very generous person who spends most of her time trying to help others in greater need than herself."

She is unlikely to have many unfulfilled needs in the future. The couple signed no prenuptial agreement. McCartney's fortune, based on his part-ownership of Apple Corp., which owns the Beatles brand, as well as song royalties and his active touring career, is estimated at over $1.5 billion, and rising. "Over the years, the British courts have come closer to an equal division of assets" between divorcing couples, says Anthony Burton, a partner at solicitors Simons Muirhead & Burton in London. In this case, despite the relatively short (four-year) marriage and the fact that McCartney had accumulated most of his wealth before they wed, several factors point toward a generous award to Mills. They have two-year-old daughter Beatrice, and Mills, at 38, is young enough to require support for many years. Estimates for what she'll get range between $90 million and $360 million. "The figure will probably be quite substantial," says Burton — "though I imagine this will be resolved quietly rather than through conflict in court." The negotiators' theme tune will no doubt be "We Can Work It Out."