LONDON – Arriving separately and saying little, Paul McCartney and Heather Mills went to court Monday to reach a financial settlement in their acrimonious, high-stakes divorce.
The High Court hearing, called to divide up the former Beatle's fortune of as much $1.6 billion, had all the elements of high show-biz drama — hovering news helicopters, swarms of photographers, waiting reporters.
But what happened in Court 34 on the first day of the five-day hearing is shrouded in secrecy. Unlike most British court cases, divorce proceedings are heard in private. The windows of the oak-paneled courtroom were papered over to stop prying eyes, the door plastered with signs reading "No Admittance — Strictly Private."
Mills, 40, looked tense and said nothing as she entered the courtroom wearing a gray suit and bright pink shirt. McCartney, 65, arrived after his estranged wife, wearing a gray pinstriped suit and a black-and-white wool scarf. He said "good morning" to a group of reporters as he entered court carrying a large black case.
Neither made further comments to reporters who gathered outside the courtroom door all day.
McCartney went into court accompanied by his lawyer, Fiona Shackleton. Mills, who fired her legal team late last year, is believed to be representing herself.
The terms of any settlement will not become public unless it is challenged in the Court of Appeal, or either of the parties chooses to reveal details. Even the size of McCartney's fortune is unknown. Some legal sources think it may be only $390 million, far less than the $1.6 billion give by the Sunday Times newspaper in its annual Rich List.
Press reports have suggested that McCartney has offered Mills around $50 million, and that she is seeking at least double that amount.
"Current estimates suggest that Heather is likely to receive anything from 50 million to 100 million pounds as her final settlement," said Suzanne Kingston, a family law expert. That sum is equivalent to $100 million to $200 million.
Legal experts said several factors that would be taken into account, including McCartney and Mills' 4-year-old daughter, Beatrice; the relative brevity of their marriage; and that most of McCartney's wealth was generated before he married Mills in 2002.
Mills parted company with lawyers Mishcon de Reya Solicitors in November, and also lost her press spokesman, after a series of interviews in which she accused McCartney of failing to protect her and Beatrice from abuse, which she says ranges from lies and slander to death threats.
"We've had death threats, I've been close to suicide. I'm so upset about this," she said in one of her November interviews. "I've had worse press than a pedophile or a murderer, and I've done nothing but charity for 20 years."
"I have protected Paul for this long and I am trying to protect him, but I am being pushed to the edge and I don't want my daughter when she is 12 going on the Internet and reading this totally one-sided story," she said.
Mills is a former model whose left leg was amputated below the knee after a motorcycle accident in 1993. She became active in campaigning against land mines and in favor of animal welfare.
The couple married in June 2002 — four years after the death of McCartney's first wife, Linda, from breast cancer. Beatrice was born in October the following year. McCartney and Mills announced their separation in 2006, and McCartney filed for divorce alleging "unreasonable behavior" by Mills.