The Leanne Edelsten story

Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Photography by Peter Brew-Bevan. Styling by Maia Liakos
Photography by Peter Brew-Bevan. Styling by Maia Liakos

Was Leanne Edelsten just a pretty trophy bride who soaked up "millionaire medico" Dr Geoffrey Edelsten’s money and fame, but left him when the going got tough? Michael Sheather reveals a very different story.

There are two Leanne Edelstens. One is a beautiful 21-year-old woman draped across the bonnet of a bright pink European sports car, her face framed by a cascade of blonde hair, a designer skirt ending precipitously where her thighs begin.

Yet that Leanne Edelsten – once the wife of Sydney’s so-called “millionaire medico”, the controversial medical entrepreneur Dr Geoffrey Edelsten – today exists only in newspaper photographs and distant memory, though it remains an unrelenting image that has haunted Leanne through most of her adult life.

The other Leanne Edelsten is much older and wiser, someone who no longer courts the dubious affirmation of rampant publicity. She is a woman of experience and maturity who, at 46, has transformed her life, going to university and carving out a rewarding career as an intensive care nurse in one of Sydney’s busiest and most respected hospitals, and is today the dedicated mother of two beautiful teenage girls.

This Leanne Edelsten is a woman tempered in fire, strong and determined, who has learned the painful lesson that her destiny should be shaped only by her own hand. She is a woman whose life reads like the script of some incredible movie and includes a terrifying stalker, who left her traumatised and fearing for her life, a prominent politician who offered to make her then husband’s many legal problems disappear in return for an ongoing sexual relationship, and a husband who, she alleges, forged her signature on loan documents and left her with crippling debt before she stepped in to take over his crumbling medical empire and repay the money, ultimately walking away with nothing.

This Leanne Edelsten is no longer willing to allow the many misconceptions about her to perpetuate. This Leanne Edelsten wants to be heard.

“I want people to know what really did happen all those years ago,” she says. “I have sat back for the past 25 years and been told repeatedly by people that I ran away with Geoffrey’s money or that I ran out on him when the money ran out.

“This is one piece of history that I want to correct – for myself, for my children, my family, for my friends who all know the truth. There was a reason I left him. He betrayed me and left me with debts of hundreds of thousands of dollars. I have lived with misconceptions about me for decades and, now, I want people to know the truth.”

Leanne has never spoken about the end of her marriage to Dr Geoffrey Edelsten, the man who once famously bought her a helicopter, a mink-lined Italian-made De Tomaso Pantera sports car and a footy team, the Sydney Swans. It is perhaps the biggest secret of her colourful and high-flying past.

She and Geoffrey have spoken only a few times since their divorce became final in 1988. Struck off the NSW medical register in the same year, he served 12 months in Goulburn jail after being convicted, in July 1990, of soliciting a hit man to assault a man he believed was stalking Leanne and for perverting the course of justice.

He began a new life in Melbourne, where on November 29 last year (coincidentally Leanne’s birthday) he married again, to another much younger woman, American Brynne Gordon, who, at 26, is 40 years his junior.

Leanne also has a new life. After her divorce, she remarried and had two daughters. That marriage ended in 2004 and Leanne is now bringing up her daughters on her own, working as a nurse in the intensive care ward of Sydney’s St Vincent’s Hospital.

Your say: What do you think of Leanne Edelsten's story? Do you think she was a trophy bride? Or a woman wronged? Share your thoughts below...

Read more of Leanne's story

The doctor's wife

In 1980s Sydney, a city in which flamboyance could be a finely tuned art form, Geoffrey stood out as the playboy king of conspicuous consumption.

“Pamela [Leanne’s modelling agent] called me in and told me that there was this guy producing a coffee table book about Sydney identities and their car collections,” says Leanne. “Geoffrey was one of them. Pam said go out there on Sunday and do some shots with the cars. It’s all paid for, but watch this guy, he’s a real playboy. Call your father when you get there and call him when you leave.”

It was scheduled for July 29, 1983. Leanne was 19 and had been modelling for about a year. The job involved several facets. Geoffrey wanted to interview her to see if she was suitable. He wanted her to drive his Ferrari as part of a planned promotional video and be photographed with him and the cars for the book. The only thing was that Leanne couldn’t drive a manual car.

“The only experience I had was at school, when I took a friend’s Mini for a drive in the Todd River at Alice Springs when it was dry,” recalls Leanne. “I had no idea how to drive a sports car. But I figured, how hard can it be? A friend gave me a lesson the day before and off I went.”

It proved a disaster. Geoffrey asked Leanne to drive his Ferrari while he sat in the passenger’s seat. “I need to see if you can handle the car,” he explained. “Can you drive a manual?” “Oh, yeah,” said Leanne.

“I literally turned the ignition and kangaroo-hopped the car up the drive,” she says. “I managed to get out the gate, but it stalled on a hill in the next block and he just killed himself laughing. He looked at me and said, ‘You don’t drive, do you?’, as I sat there trying to hill-start a Ferrari. I said, ‘No’, and he said, ‘Well, I’m impressed that you came anyway. It shows interest and commitment to the job’. That’s how we met.”

It quickly became apparent to Leanne that Geoffrey was attracted to her. “It was intense, right from the word go,” she says. “We finished the interview and it seemed to go well. As I started to get ready to leave, he asked if I would like to go to dinner with him that evening. I didn’t quite know what to say. I said I have to ring my father and Dad spoke to him, and he promised to drive me home.”

That evening, Geoffrey took Leanne to dinner at the Regent Hotel in central Sydney. It was a business dinner with a man named Bob Pritchard, at the time Geoffrey’s business manager. Leanne was privy to a discussion about buying the Sydney Swans AFL team.

“They were talking about whether it was possible and whether it would all work, what they would have to do to make it fly,” recalls Leanne. “It was the first time they’d talked about the Swans.

“After that, Geoffrey drove me home. He was very polite and a complete gentleman, very respectful. He walked me to the door and said, ‘Good evening, it was lovely to meet you’. And he left and I didn’t really think any more about it.”

Yet, next morning, a delivery man knocked on the door of Leanne’s family home. He was embarrassed because he was carrying a 183cm pink teddy bear with a stethoscope around its neck. “He was red-faced and kept muttering, ‘I am a fully grown man and I had to drive all the way here with a pink bear in the passenger’s seat because it’s too big to fit in the back. Look, can you just sign’,” says Leanne. “It was hilarious.”

The next week, he asked her out on their first date and took her to the San Francisco Grill in Sydney’s Kings Cross. “He asked me to marry him that night,” she says. “And I wasn’t in love with him. I think I liked him. I said, ‘You make me laugh, you’re a really nice man, but I don’t want to marry you.’ He just looked back and said, ‘I’m a very patient man and I always get what I want. I’ll wait.’ He was very self-assured.”

During the next few months, Geoffrey tried to win her affections. “He wooed me and spent every waking minute he could with me,” she says. “For my 20th birthday, he booked a surprise party at the Hilton Hotel and he organised the [Royal] Australian Navy Band to play Happy Birthday for me when I walked through the foyer,” says Leanne. “He told me that he’d seen Paul Newman do that for Joanne Woodward, while he was living in Los Angeles.”

Not long after, Geoffrey again asked her to marry him. “He sat me down and he was clearly upset. He said that he was really in love with me. He told me that he knew that I had said I wouldn’t marry him, but asked me to reconsider. He started to cry and told me that he was Jewish and if that was a problem, then I should tell him because he wanted to marry me. I realised that I had fallen in love with him and that I did adore him, and later, even when I divorced him, I was still in love with him.”

Your say: What do you think of Leanne Edelsten's story? Do you think she was a trophy bride? Or a woman wronged? Share your thoughts below...

To read the rest of Leanne’s remarkable story, pick up the February issue of The Australian Women’s Weekly out now with Lisa Wilkinson on the cover.

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