Bill and Melinda Gates were seen as perfect couple but couldn't find happiness, ...

For a man who once listed the pros and cons of getting married on a whiteboard before he took the plunge, Bill Gates was probably never going to be the most conventional husband.

And that was before the Microsoft founder was named the world's richest person and those pros and cons started to become just a little more complicated.

History doesn't record whether he factored divorce into his calculations but 27 years later, as he and wife Melinda announce their marriage is 'irretrievably broken', questions remain over what precisely drove them apart and what will happen to a family fortune valued by the Bloomberg Billionaires Index at $146 billion.

The couple are not believed to have signed a pre-nuptial agreement but have instead worked out an undisclosed separation agreement.

Bill and Melinda have pledged to give half their fortune to charity by the time they die and their $50 billion foundation is the world's biggest philanthropic entity, giving away about $5 billion a year to public health and development initiatives.

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Bill and Melinda Gates with their children Jennifer, below), Rory (right) and Phoebe (left) for Mother's Day

Bill and Melinda Gates with their children Jennifer, below), Rory (right) and Phoebe (left) for Mother's Day

The couple are also the largest owners of farmland in the U.S., not to mention a string of fabulous homes, including a $125 million, 66,000-sq ft Washington state mansion. He remains the world's fourth richest person.

Even if Gates, 65, is only the latest in a succession of billionaires who have been unable to make their marriages last, the announcement still sent shock waves through the worlds of technology and philanthropy where the couple had seemed a united presence.

'After a great deal of thought and a lot of work on our relationship, we have made the decision to end our marriage,' they said in a brief statement. 'We have raised three incredible children and built a foundation that works all over the world to enable all people to lead healthy, productive lives . . .

'We no longer believe we can grow together as a couple in this next phase of our lives.'

Their eldest child, Jennifer, fleshed out that bland, corporate-sounding announcement, writing online that the family had been going through a 'challenging stretch of time'.

The couple have reportedly struggled to keep their relationship going in recent years and there have been claims it has almost collapsed several times.

Mr Gates decided to step down last year from the board of Microsoft and another large company, Berkshire Hathaway, in part so he could spend more time with his family.

Melinda, 56, has dropped the occasional hint that her workaholic husband was not the easiest man to live with. She once described their marriage as 'incredibly hard' as Gates can work 16-hour days and be detached from family life.

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'When he was having trouble making the decision about getting married, he was incredibly clear that it was not about me, it was about: 'Can I get the balance right between work and family life?' ' she said in 2019.

'Believe me, I can remember some days that were so incredibly hard in our marriage where you thought, 'Can I do this?' '

Two years ago, she said patience had been key, although she said workaholic Gates was fairly easy to cope with most of the time. Nevertheless, she once recalled being furious with him because he was reading a book about Winston Churchill instead of helping her pack the car and get the children ready.

Despite his reputation as a socially awkward nerd, Gates had a torrid seven-month affair with another attractive Microsoft executive, Stefanie Reichel, in 1992 — in between meeting and marrying Melinda. 

Another girlfriend until 1987 was venture capitalist Ann Winblad, whose approval of Melinda he actually sought before he agreed to marry her. Bizarrely, the Gateses had an agreement lasting decades that he leave her each year and spend a long weekend beach holiday with Ms Winblad.

However, his colourful romantic life, as well as Gates's history as a ruthless businessman who eliminated rivals and allegedly plotted against Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen after the latter was diagnosed with cancer, tends to be forgotten as he has basked in his image as devoted family man and crusader for global health.

Insiders credit his wife for putting him on the 'good deeds' path. They met shortly after she joined Microsoft in 1987 as a product manager.

She was on a trip to New York for the Seattle-based company and found herself next to him at a dinner. Melinda said she could tell he was interested in her but took his time making a move.

He finally ambushed her one Saturday afternoon in the Microsoft car park and asked her out on a Friday two weeks ahead. 'I laughed and said, 'That's not spontaneous enough for me. Ask me out closer to the date.' And I gave him my number,' she recalled.

'Two hours later, he called me at home and invited me out for that evening. 'Is this spontaneous enough for you?' he asked.'

Bill and Melinda Gates announced their split after 27 years of marriage on Monday

Bill and Melinda Gates announced their split after 27 years of marriage on Monday

She says they discovered they had much in common. They both loved puzzles and were ultra competitive. 'So we had puzzle contests and played math games,' says Melinda who believes Bill became 'intrigued' by her when she beat him at the murder whodunnit board game Cluedo.

He was impressed to discover she had read his favourite novel, The Great Gatsby, twice. 'Maybe that's when he knew he'd met his match. His romantic match, he would say. I knew I'd met my match when I saw his music collection — lots of Frank Sinatra and Dionne Warwick,' she said.

They initially had a casual relationship. 'She had other boyfriends and I had Microsoft,' said Gates. He said he was 'surprised' that, a year into his relationship, they both said: 'I love you.'

In fact, Gates wasn't only seeing Microsoft. Stefanie Reichel, a 25-year-old Microsoft sales manager based in Germany, met him at a business meeting in Monte Carlo and he started bombarding her with embarrassingly romantic emails.

During their seven-month affair, they stayed in luxury hotels in London, at the gatekeeper's cottage of his Seattle estate and even visited Amsterdam's red light district.

Ms Reichel, who said she ended the affair despite his pleas for her to reconsider, later insisted she found him repulsive but was worried for her job if she resisted his advances.

Melinda Gates admits Bill, who dropped out of Harvard to set up Microsoft, eventually had to decide whether he wanted to get married or end their relationship.

She revealed that she once walked into his bedroom and he was making a list on a whiteboard which 'had the pros and cons of getting married'. Neither of them has ever revealed what he had written, although Gates said his wonderfully

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