Jeff Goldbum (The London Sunday Times Magazine, August 5, 2018)

Jeff Goldblum and Chrissy Iley
Jeff Goldblum and Chrissy Iley

We are in a small, dark supper club – The Rockwell. We are in a bohemian district of Los Angeles.  Packed to the rafters. The waiter  warns the food will take a while. But no one’s here for the food. They are here for Jeff Goldblum, to hear him play jazz piano with a curious charm.  Soon his be-ringed fingers will flash and sparkle across the keyboards.
Everybody loves Jeff. I’m not sure if that was always the case but somehow, rather stealthily he’s now Hollywood royalty. Not just for reprising roles as Ian Malcolm, the scientist in the Jurassic movies, for blockbusters like Thor and Independence Day. Not just for turning in so many expertly quirky roles including his recent gangster chief in Hotel Artemis. Not just for his iconic and still quiver making performance in The Fly in 1986. But because he survived it all. He’s 65 and has grown into his face and body. 6 foot 4 ½ no longer seems geeky. He’s sexy in a way that he never used to be.
He comes onstage and he’s so fully himself.  Random friends are texting me messages like ‘he got me through my college years’. I’m not sure what did other than be around and be a constant but he’s still doing it.
He’s in a sharp suit and thick rimmed glasses and snappy hat. He’s his own warm up guy. He plays a game with the audience called The Movie Game. Similar to that one a few years ago Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon where everything led back to him. Any film, any co-star and then it’s a direct Goldblum association.
Then, in manner of Dame Edna, he’ll select audience members, no point in cowering because he’s coming for you. In his game Would You Rather, first up it’s Johnny Depp vs Orlando Bloom. He asks “Chrissy Iley, which one smells better?” As one reviewer said “You haven’t truly heard your name unless you’ve heard Jeff Goldblum say it.” Its a great voice.
Then it’s Nic Cage vs Matthew McConaughey.  I go for Cage and tell the audience about the time McConaughey was getting a haircut and he made the stylist pick up all the hair from the floor in case someone would perform voodoo on it. I think he has researched every person I’ve ever interviewed.
Then the show itself begins. He favours cool jazz from the fifties and sixties. There’s an incredible energy to his playing and his band, the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra all have presence. He’s generous onstage. The audience whoops especially for ‘I Wish I Knew What it Felt to be Free’ which Brits would recognise as the theme tune to Barry Norman’s long running BBC film show.
He’s been doing these shows on and off for quite a few years but Decca Records picked up on his talent when he accompanied Decca artist Gregory Porter – who he met at an airport – on the Graham Norton Show.
The atmosphere at The Rockwell was recreated at Capitol Records with a club set up, Imelda May on guest vocals, Sarah Silverman on Me And My Shadow and a celebrity filled audience for the album recording of his version of Cantaloupe Island, My Baby Just Cares for Me and Straighten Up and Fly Right.
The next day we meet for brunch at the Chateau Marmont. Goldblum is wearing skinny black trousers, a multi coloured knit shirt that looks Italian and a very soft fawn suede jacket.  It’s a hug hello and I can feel it’s a body that he takes care of. He gets up at 5.30 am every day, practices piano and then works out. He became a daddy for the first time in his sixties. He now has two little boys, River Joe who’s one and Charlie Ocean who’s three with his wife Emilie Livingstone (35), a former Canadian Olympian gymnast.
He invites me to smell his neck so that at some future point I can compare his scent to Depp, Bloom etc. He smells of dark flowers. “Ah yes, the title of my first autobiography – Dark Flower.” He’s joking, of course. We agree it would be a good title. There is something dark about him but something deliciously floral.

Jeff Goldblum rocks Chrissy Iley's shades
Jeff Goldblum rocks Chrissy Iley’s shades

I’m wearing my wide, dark rimmed sunglasses so we match. We swap glasses for a quick photo op.

Jeff Goldblum's Jewelry
Jeff Goldblum’s Jewelry

He’s wearing more jewellery than me. A classic Tank Cartier watch and quirky gold and silver rings on every finger. His wedding band is platinum with rose gold on the inside and his wife Emily had put on an engraving ‘Patches plus Peaches eternal love.’
Who’s Patches and who’s Peaches? “She’s Peaches because she’s quite peachy and my first nightmare which I recalled to her was about a witch trying to tie me down on a tree stump. I was four or five years old and instead of cutting my head off she said ‘Peeeaaches, Peeeaaches.’ I told my two older brothers that dream. We all shared a room and when we went to bed at night they would all go ‘Peeeaaaches’ and scare me.’ He mimics a gurgling witchy tone.
“She is Peachy and she is Peaches and I have a nice distribution of hair on my torso but on one side, right here there’s a little bit of extra. It’s a patch so I’m Patches.”
Isn’t Patch a dog’s name? “I AM a dog!” he says enthusiastically. “I LOVE dogs.”
He was in the Wes Anderson animated movie Isle of Dogs where he was the voice of Duke.  He has a dog, a red poodle called Woody Allen. “Officially the term is apricot but Woody is darker and redder.”
Did he name his dog Woody Allen because he admires his namesake as a director or as a clarinettist? “It’s either or both”.
The names of his boys Charlie Ocean and River Joe “were not just tossed up.
I spent years before I had kids fantasising about what their names would be. What would go with Goldblum?”
Charlie had dark feelings about the introduction of his younger brother so we keep them safe and say you can hit the floor. You do not have to suppress your feelings. You can say you don’t like him but you can’t hurt him. And now there are many moments of friendship and sweetness. They bathe together and Charlie helps and protects his younger brother. River always wants to know what his brother is doing. He’s just started to walk. He’s a bit wobbly but he follows Charlie around.”
Goldblum too was a younger brother. One brother four years older (Rick who died at the age of 23 from kidney failure), the other (check name) five years older went into real estate. He also has a younger sister Pamela who is an actor and artist.
At the moment his wife and children are in Toronto with their mother and grandmother and last night Goldblum slept only with Woody. “He sleeps with us anyway. Last night it was just us and we are very close.”
Now we look at pictures on each others phones. I am showing him cat pictures, he is showing me dogs and babies. It’s almost like there’s no barrier and there’s instant intimacy, or maybe it just seems that way.  Maybe it’s all part of the smart illusion.
Actually No – he’s an insatiably curious person about all sorts of things . Where do I live? What do I like? Who am I? And I ask if this is a distraction technique just so we don’t talk have to talk about him. “No,” he says, a little abashed and refers me to his acting teacher Sandy Meisner who instructed him that the best performance was always about chemistry with other people and although this is not quite a performance it’s an exchange of sorts and I see him feeling around for the correct level and pitch of the interview. “He said you have to be interested otherwise you’re not interesting.”
Did everyone always love Jeff and how exactly did he help my friend through her teenage years? “Ah yes. I show up and sense somebody on this block having a difficult teenage time and I get them through,” he jokes, bemused at his sudden superhero status. In fact it’s taken a while for him to arrive even though his breakthrough performance was possibly in The Big Chill over 30 years ago.
There was a brief first marriage to Patricia Gaul 1980-86, The Fly co-star Geena Davis 87-90 and a brief engagement to Laura Dern but essentially over two decades as single man. When we tried to play the Would You Rather game at brunch I tell him I can’t throw female stars at him because I don’t know if he’s slept with them or not. “Well there’s that but I think it’s nicer these days in that setting to stick with men. I’m hypersensitive to the challenges of womanhood.”
Has he had experiences of female co-stars crying about having to touch the white bathrobe? “No. I was never reported to about Harvey Weinstein. I never worked with him but if you watch something like Mad Men and you have grown up in that culture you can imagine what women have been subjected to. I have had frank discussions and heard women’s stories. Who doesn’t have a story of some discomfort or even some kind of traumatic circumstance and women all over the world still need to fight and we need to fight it with them for equality and dignity.”
Indeed, Goldblum is a “nice fella”. His comedy skirts the edges of discomfort but never humiliation. He likes the idea that he’s very available. “I’m not trying too hard you know. I like the idea that I’m offering something of interest and amusement. I do it to set up the music. As a performer it’s all about a shared experience. I feel I’m hosting a show. It’s kind of like a sixties one – Playboy After Dark. Hugh Hefner early on had a TV show. When I was a kid I used to go to a special part of the dial to find it because it was at that point one of the only portals into adult sensuality. It was called After Dark and the conceit was you’re in some kind of living room, a salon and there’s talk and there’s music. He was in a smoking jacket and had couches in different areas. Ostensibly it was a party and there was a piano.”
The album has a living room party vibe about it. It immediately places you right there. It was produced by Larry Klein who is famous for producing Herbie Hancock, Tracy Chapman and Joni Mitchell.
Did he imagine that he’d ever have a jazz album? “As a kid I would write on the shower wall please God let me be an actor. I think around eight or ten something happened in middle school where I went to this camp and fell deeply in love with performing. I was baying at the moon about it.”
Was he always a person who fitted in or stood out? “Early on when I was a kid I fitted in to our little family. I developed into my own individual person and then through junior high school and high school I was a fish out of water. I didn’t fit in with some groups until I found the arts programmes in that camp. That in one way or another saved my life.”
Now he’s able to fit in and stand out.
“I had piano lessons from eight years old and studied but I didn’t study acting.
My parents both liked music, my dad particularly. If we went on vacation to Miami they would do the Mambo. They took dance lessons in the Cha Cha Cha. You can imagine that era. They also had a taste for jazz and Errol Garner. He was a famous (jazz) pianist from Pittsburgh and they would bring records home and play on the HiFi. He really is kind of wonderful so I was exposed to that kind of music early on. That’s how I got interested in jazz. When I was 15, I went into a room and locked the door because I felt it needed to be secret and I looked through the Yellow Pages and would call one club after another saying ‘hey, I understand you’re looking for a piano player.’ Most people would say no but a couple said, ‘How did you hear about this? Come down and play.’
So I got a couple of jobs when I was fifteen. My parents would drive me to them and somehow I met a girl singer who was older and could drive and I would play for her. It was never that I was trying to be a musician. It just happened. Even with this record. It just happened. I’m not saying it’s going to be my new career.”
And this career wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t met Gregory Porter at an airport. “A few years ago I went up to him and said Mr Porter? I love your music. And then I was going to be on the Graham Norton show a few months ago and the musical guest was Gregory Porter promoting his Nat King Cole album so I offered to play the song with him. That’s how his record company Decca got the idea and here we are.”
We’ve yet to order as we’ve been talking thick and strong. He seems very in the moment but says, “I am nothing if not disciplined. I have a conviction about work ethic. When I was a kid I didn’t know about the joys of getting homework done but after that I couldn’t help but practise my piano and now I have to tear myself away. We’ve been playing for about 20 years and it just developed under the radar.  At first I wasn’t as good as I am now but I made sure I played so I could develop and memorise everything that we were playing. I would go through them most days even if I was on the road I would talk to the concierge in a hotel, find a music store down the road or play the piano in the lobby.”
So people in the lobby of a random hotel would find him giving an impromptu performance. “Yes I like to play with people around.”
Finally we get to order brunch. He wants scrambled eggs but it’s not on the menu. He doesn’t power order or suggest that most kitchens have eggs.  He goes for ancient grain bowl from the menu. He likes to eat clean.  “I get up at 5.30, do my piano and my workout first. I like to get eight hours sleep so it means going to bed at about 9.30.”
He now has a gym in his house where he and his wife workout. Emilie was a rhythmic gymnast. “Those are the dance gymnasts. They do all the hyperstretch contortions. She was the Pan American champion when she was young and she studied in Russia from 11 to 16. She’s now learnt Cirque du Soleil aerial stuff.  She doubled for Emma Stone in La La Land. She was the dancer whose body you see dancing outside the Planetarium. And that movie Valerian, Rihanna plays a part in it and every time you see her face it’s Emilie’s body who’s dancing. We met at the gym. I saw her working out and toddled over and said well you’re not the usual…”
That was his pick-up line? He stalked her in the gym? “It wasn’t a pick-up line. I was interested in what she was doing. I have no lines and formula but I did start up a conversation. It was Equinox on Sunset and that was seven years ago. I went to see her perform and then invited her to a gig. I said I wonder if she’s going to do some contortion dancing on the piano. I said to the guys we should do the song from Fabulous Baker Boys Makin’ Whoopee, the one that Michelle Pfeiffer sings. He sings “Another bride, another groom
Another sunny honeymoon
Another season, another reason
For makin’ whoopee”
And she got on the piano and she did an amazing routine. We got the dog first. We were talking about children. She introduced it,” he says with a proud daddy smile.
Everyone must have said how strange it was that he got to sixty and wanted children. “Yes, right. I had to think about that and I’m still thinking about what it all means and trying to navigate the calendar and my gift of living every day. But when she said maybe it would be nice to have a baby it was so sweet and deeply genuine. I said if you’re serious we should talk about it. I had a therapist at the time who I took her to see. Luanda Katzman – we began having several sessions over a period of time where we excavated considerations and finally we both got enthusiastic about having a child and getting married. We got married here – in the Chateau Marmont in one of the bungalows with fifty people – mostly her family.   We had already started to try to get pregnant and the day before the wedding she presented me with a sonogram saying ‘Look what happened’, so it made the wedding sweet and romantic.
I was a bachelorly kind guy of in the way I never had food in the house. The first time she opened my refrigerator I had a bottle of water and some Chinese takeout. Now it’s a family fridge with abundance all over. It’s great.”
He never wanted to have children before? “Not seriously even though I’ve been married before.”
Then he was alone for a long time. Was that on purpose or coincidence? “I never plotted it that way. There was no strategy but at this point it all seems to have been necessary and perfect, including the not having children.”
Because he wasn’t ready? “I think that may have been part of it, yes. Exactly.”
He wants to know if I can sing.  Maybe we could do a performance together.  I don’t tell him my story about when I blew Bryan Ferry off stage because my version of Jealous Guy was so much better. I just tell him no I can’t sing.
He suggests that maybe we could do poetry readings together. He once read the whole of Wuthering Heights out loud to someone. “Yes I’ve always loved Wuthering Heights and I was so touched by it I wanted to read the book to somebody. I have often read books out aloud and I’m about to do it professionally for the first time. My friend Norm Eisen who is the US Ambassador to the Czech Republic has written a very interesting book about working for Obama. He is a very wise and wonderful guy. I met him via Wes Anderson when we were doing Grand Budapest Hotel. He said ‘we have a guy who is a model for your character.’ So I went to Prague and he let me stay in the Ambassadors Palace and we’ve been in touch ever since.”
He loves food. Nothing fried or saucy. It’s part of the plan to stay healthy, not for getting good roles but for the role of daddy.
Does he think he’s going to go for a girl child? “I’d love a little girl. The other week Emilie said ‘gee I’d like to see you with a girl but I don’t think she really wants it. I think she’s happy to stop with these two.”
Perhaps he has a girl out there already who’s 25. “Not that I know of. I’ve been pretty good. If I could talk to my young self it would be to expose my young self to many lessons that I have come by gradually. I’ve not always been good. I’m still trying to learn about health and relationships and hygiene and how it keeps revealing itself to me in many more refined ways. It’s good that life happens the way it does really. You don’t get a view and no one can tell the future and it’s all a surprise.  I’m amazed and pleased at the way things have turned out. Come on, what’s unpleasing?” We make our exit where everyone seems to greet him to say hello/goodbye. I’m not sure if they are fans or friends. He’s all about making the world a happier place and at the same time he’s all about science, astrophysics, astronomy, practical ways to save the oceans.
“Science is pretty inspiring. The extent and size of the universe and the place of our planet in it. We’re fragile. We need to stick together and do right by ourselves.”
He is all about the feel good – and his gift is to make people feel happy when he plays

Jeff Goldblum debut album is out on Decca records

Alexis Ohanian (The London Sunday Times Magazine, July 1, 2018)

Alexis Ohanian

There’s something disconcerting about having a 6 foot 5 multi-millionaire technocrat come to do a shoot in your home. For a start he’s hitting his head on chandeliers and simply doesn’t fit into my tiny, under the stairs bathroom. The 35 year old Alexis Ohanian manages to make my place look like a dolls house but oddly he doesn’t make it at all awkward. He’s easy company with his charming, beardy smile and his unique ability to switch topics of discussion from crypto currency – he’s a big fan of using money outside the restrictions of any national banking system to his baby – 9 month old Olympia and his tennis queen wife Serena Williams. He shows us videos of the little girl who he refers to as Junior. She’s already training in the gym and standing and walking. In one video, she looks like she’s about to whack a massive serve at the camera. She doesn’t have a racket. It’s just something in that stance. Ahead of her time, fearless and ready for it – traits she inherits from both parents.

Williams became the youngest ever winner of the US Open at 17 and is categorically considered to be the greatest tennis player of all time with 39 grand slams behind her and at 36 she’s still counting.  Ohanian became a multi-millionaire at 23 (in 2006) when he sold Reddit – the internet discussion site that he created with his college roommate Steve Huffman. They built it in 3 weeks.

Ohanian continued to work closely with Reddit, watching it grow to be worth $1.8 billion, the third biggest website in America with 243 million users per month, but he stepped back in February this year to focus on Initialised Capital, an investment fund he started with Gary Tan. It has more than $250 million in assets.

Under this umbrella there are hundreds of start-ups and he’s across all of them – this is a man who knows how to multi task. He has a crazy impressive drive, yet he’s an advocate for parental leave. He was able to take off 16 weeks for the birth of his daughter, the latter in flexi time by taking off every Friday although it’s very hard to see how he ever switches off.

He has dived into the tiny bathroom for another shirt change and chandelier avoidance says with an earnest nonchalance, “Yeah, we’ve collected a few portfolios over the years. We invest in about 15 a year. Some get acquired, some go out of business but a strong number continue to grow and our speciality is providing value at the earliest stages.”

He asks for a glass of tap water but I fear I don’t have a glass giant enough so I hand him a litre bottle from the fridge. He looks for relentlessness in the people he invests in.

But how does he know what starts ups to choose? Is he part psychic? “Yes. Intuition is a huge part of it. Also having gone through the experience of having done it before and in particular with Reddit, having started the company, grown the business, it helps identify a well thought out product. You know I always had a foot in Reddit. I was always advising in one capacity or another and about four years ago I had the chance to turn it around. It’s now fully independent from Conde Nast with a hefty valuation.”

People are always asking him does he regret selling it when he was 23 for an estimated sum between 10 and 20 million dollars as it’s now worth 1.8 billion.

“I am not upset at selling it early. It was tremendously great for me and my family. It gave me the freedom to do all the things I have done since and lo and behold I got the chance to come back, get a stake back and get it to the next level.”

Ohanian was an only child who got his first computer when he was eight. “Neither of my parents were technologically savvy but they got me an educational computer from Sears which you can play games on. I found the exact same one on eBay for my daughter when she’s a little older.”

Older like two? “Maybe one,” he says seriously.

He invested in that computer all the time, energy and care that an eight-year-old might invest in their first pet. It wasn’t enough for him to learn how to use it. He wanted to create new programmes. Money was tight and he didn’t want to have to buy them so he made them.

He was born in Brooklyn in 1983. His father Chris Ohanian (a travel agent) was an Armenian American whose grandparents came to the US as refugees after the Armenian genocide, his German born mother Anke was a pharmacy technician at a hospital. He revered her. He talks about her strength. They were extremely close. She died of brain cancer just after he sold Reddit. He’s grateful that he was able to treat her generously before she died and his father to front row season tickets at his favourite football team.

When he talks about his mother I see someone who is both vulnerable and mature. He has a manner of making everything look easy, everything look possible, but I don’t think it ever was that easy for him and that’s what makes him interesting.

His favourite band is Metallica and he was particularly intrigued with their documentary Some Kind of Monster where they employed a group therapist. Metal bands, like Ohanian are not known for their openness. It’s a situation he related to and made him feel there was nothing wrong with having an executive coach to help you and your co-founder work it out.  He doesn’t let emotions rule him but he’s modern. Doesn’t keep too much hidden and work ethic is his overriding force. That work ethic is just one of the parallels that bonds Ohanian and Williams. “I thought I was the hardest working person on the planet in the hardest working industry but watching my wife is a humbling experience, seeing what high-pressure situations actually look like. What it takes to be that great. It’s work ethic on another level.”

We’re sitting down at the table and my fat black cat jumps on him. His stomach wobbles and he starts talking about his own little dog – the three-pound teacup Yorkie who managed to trick everybody into thinking he was starving and everybody in the house thought they were the only one feeding him. He’s happy to admit he’s been outsmarted by a Yorkie and in the next sentence he’s all about ruling the world with Crypto currency.

“What Bitcoin and Crypto currency allow us to do is to build a new internet. Things like money or stores of value are built into it and allow a greater efficiency and better user experience (which means we can build on that first version of the internet when we didn’t have the infrastructure to do what we can do today). Crypto currencies are interesting to people in countries where currencies are way more volatile.”

Is he talking about the British pound here? “I was thinking recently in Venezuela there’s been some massive currency swings. There are people who have seen generations of wealth evaporate and have limited faith in the long-term liability of the government, so people are putting their money into stores of value like Bitcoin, which also gives them freedom to move the world without worrying about losing their money. They don’t need to worry about getting to an ATM.”

He speaks in technocrat but senses he might be losing me and when the next cat Roger jumps onto his lap, it reminds him that I might like Crypto kitties. “It is a digital collectible, the digital equivalent of Beanie Babies. Where the artwork in question is what we call a non-fundable asset. In the fiscal world so I can say there is only one of these hats” – he takes off his black hat, a perfectly ordinary cap and he continues. “This is the only hat that exists and it’s special because it’s the only one and I will give it to you in exchange for money you’re willing to pay for it because you have just bought a limited thing. In the digital world a cat is infinitely reproduceable so you would probably not pay me for the photo of that cat because you know that I can make a million copies of it. We try to enforce copyright laws but that’s not easy. What Crypto kitties has proven is you actually create a digital image of a cat that you can say is unique and only one of them exists because there is a global ledger where it’s identified as such and can now be traded. It’s a proven way for you to create a marketplace. The possibilities are limitless.”

Then he gets a text from his wife. He says there’s an emergency and he must call her back. She doesn’t pick up and he replays the video she sent this morning of their daughter.

“She has a lot of grace and a lot of swagger. I think she’ll be a super athlete and a super businesswoman programmer. I really want to give her the opportunities my parents made for me. I owe them everything, even though they didn’t understand what exactly they were giving me. By the time I was in 8th grade I was campaigning for a computer in our home, a desktop. Computers were very expensive back then and it was a huge investment for my parents but I wore them down. I promised them I would use it for homework even though I just wanted to play video games. It was through the video games that I got interested in programming. I would look under the hood and see the parts and think why am I paying someone else to install new memory? I’ll just do it myself. It was very empowering as a kid.

I have two sisters now but back then it was just me and my computer. I had some best friends from my kindergarten who were only children so we were like brothers but I really relished time alone. The time to be bored. I enjoyed doodling in a notebook or staring out of a window. I hope this delight in boredom is something I can instil in my daughter because it’s so much easier now with technology to have mindless distractions and little hits of adrenaline. I feel some of my best ideas have come from being bored and letting my mind wander.”

She doesn’t strike me as bored. She strikes me as switched on. He nods. “That was my yesterday video and it already feels like a hundred years later. It’s a challenge. She travels with her mum while I am working. I’m gone this week then back for a couple of weeks. Then we will all go to Wimbledon together.

She got her first jetlag on a trip to Abu Dhabi when she was only a few weeks old. She was there for 72 hours and was a real champ. It helps that the grand slams are usually in major cities so there are usually tech conferences. Being in London is great because we have investors there so Serena will train in the morning and I will take meetings.

I’m really pushing swimming with Olympia at the moment. A lot of my parental leave I was in Florida. We were all there as a family and we had a pool outside. As a kid my parents took me to the YMCA in Park Slope, Brooklyn. It made me comfortable with water. In Florida I could get Junior out there every couple of days. She can’t swim but is very comfortable and always has been.  During her pregnancy momma did lots of pool work for exercise. Every time she got in the water she could feel Olympia kicking and getting excited. Serena made a point of saying this baby loves water and sure enough she does.

It’s things like that which are good daddy daughter moments. As soon as we get her in the pool she loves kicking and dunking her head.” Williams was shocked to discover herself pregnant two days prior to the Australian Open in January 2017. She summoned Ohanian from across the world and presented him with a brown bag containing 6 positive pregnancy tests. He was thrilled and determined to have a strong and enduring relationship with his daughter. “I took full advantage of my 16 weeks parental leave. I always assumed that 16 weeks would be 16 weeks straight but if it’s flexible this is particularly helpful to fathers as we are not needed, at least on the nursing side, so you can build a plan depending on your family’s needs. You can take a month off at first and then take every Friday until those days are used up. that’s how I used it and I found that I had the freedom I needed to be there for my family. And then get out of baby talk for a day or two, get some work done, feel connected and not miss a beat. And I think that goes for women as well as men. It’s part of gender equality.”

Finally, Williams calls him back. The baby is projectile vomiting. Visibly distressed, he takes the rest of the call outside. Ten minutes later he returns composed but he has already reorganised all of his flights so he can return to them on the East Coast immediately.

Much has been made about the start of the romance between Ohanian and Williams.

She was playing a tournament in Rome. He was speaking at a tech conference. They were in the same hotel. Williams and her coach went for a late breakfast by the pool. Ohanian came and sat at the table next to them, which they planned to take over with the rest of their team. One of the Williams camp shouted, “There’s a rat!” in order to get Ohanian to shift. He calmly said, “I grew up in Brooklyn. Plenty of rats.”

He was not only afraid of rats, he wasn’t afraid of Williams. Unassuming though he is, Ohanian has a fearlessness about him. This must have been part of the initial attraction and a component of what they have in common. Williams, worth an estimated $170 million, was then and is now ranked number one in the world. They chatted and she invited him to the French Open in Paris. He referred to it as an LA style invite – once you extend because you’re sure it’s never going to happen.

He did go to Paris – saying he was there on business. They met, wandered through the city in the daytime and came across a zoo. He was by her side when a bunny was fed to a big cat. She winced. He held her and knew then he wanted to protect one of the strongest women in the world for the rest of their lives. It was love. The proposal came nearly a year later at the same hotel in Rome. He came armed with a plastic rat. They were already talking about children.

“We are different in a lot of ways and that is helpful because we learn from each There is a set of values that we share. Work ethic and competitiveness. I don’t understand what it takes to do what she does but I understand the level of commitment and doggedness that’s required. She might be up early to train or working on a Sunday on her fashion line but we’d never fight about that. We never fight about ambition or drive. That level of respect and understanding and shared values helps tremendously because we both want to be the best at what we do and that includes being parents and partners. In that way we are very aligned. If there’s a setback or a mistake, we are both geared to self-improvement and we have a lot of the same values in the context of being parents.

We were surprised to be pregnant. So many close friends have spent their thirties trying to conceive and we knew children was something that we wanted. We were grateful it was so quick. No more babies for a little bit because mom is so focused on work right now but we’d love to have more.”

He often refers to Williams as mom or mumma, Does he see the benefit of Olympia being an only child like him? “I do, but now I have two much younger sisters I relish my role as an older brother. But I didn’t have to share anything as a kid.” He laughs.

He has soft eyes and a soft chuckle. It juxtaposes his inner steel but it doesn’t hide it. “My father remarried and his wife adopted these girls so they are my family now. Best of all worlds. But I don’t have the childhood memories that Serena has with her sisters. They all shared a room so were very close literally and figuratively. Early on I joked about wanting a football team. 11 kids are not gonna happen. I’ll settle for a basketball team of 5 although I don’t think that’s gonna happen. We are happy with one. Serena’s got more work to do. In France (earlier this year) she flipped another switch. She’s always had this resilience and toughness mentally and physically but now she has this mom strength button that she pushes and it’s just so powerful. You read these stories about moms lifting cars off their babies. That’s mom strength.”

Williams does indeed play as if she’s lifting a car from a baby with every hit. At 36 she defies time. Ranked number one in the world longer than Stefi Graf and Martina Navratilova, her training must be excruciating but losing would be more excruciating.

“There are moments that are just a shadow of her full power, especially after she had such a traumatic birth. She nearly died and was laid up for a couple of months. To have all this happen less than a year ago and is now back to competing at this level is phenomenal.”

Williams had to endure an embolism during her pregnancy which was very high risk. Ohanian says solemnly, “I’d been tested a few times in my life but I’ve never had to spend a night in hospital myself. I’ve experienced it through the lens of people close to me but this was the next level.”

Becoming a millionaire and then so shortly after his mother dying must have been traumatic?  “Yeah,” he nods, the brown eyes making rare eye contact. “In a lot of ways it convinced me that I wasn’t going to fail. It put into perspective – the struggle of being an entrepreneur. It made me more resilient, gave me fewer excuses. I had a bigger purpose. I knew that my worst day was nowhere near as bad as my mom or my father in supporting her. I see in Serena a superpower to respond and react in the way she did. To get to see her as a mother and a wife with this power… but I’m never gonna play tennis with her. I didn’t even watch tennis before Serena.  I played a lot of team sports growing up because of the camaraderie.  Because I was an only child there were always 10 other guys in a field helping carry me. When you’re out there in a sport like tennis it’s just you and you need to reset your brain after every game.  I appreciate it now, not just because I am in love with someone who’s the best at it but because it combines a physical and mental challenge. My dad is really into boxing. There’s a barbarism to it. Tennis avoids the barbarism and is guilt free to watch but it has some of the same elements. I was named after a boxer, Alexis Arguello, a Nicaraguan fighter who my dad idolised so I would watch boxing with him as a kid and I think all these boxing sessions trained my brain to appreciate the mental and physical battle that’s required for tennis. When I watch Serena play I can’t help. I feel a visceral reaction.”

Does he have that same visceral reaction when he acquires a new start-up or grows a new company? He nods. “Partly. You cultivate it in your own head. It’s this idea of them against the world. You are gonna build a team to be successful. Somewhere there’s going to be a need to go through the wins and the losses as quickly as one might do on a tennis court and find the ability to reset. To reset mentally after losing the first set when all eyes are watching you takes mental strength. It’s not dissimilar. Those eyes watch you when you launch something new into the world. I show up to work and I don’t have millions of people watching me in a meeting, which would be traumatising, but they are watching even though it’s not a camera.”

Certainly, Williams and Ohanian have more in common than you might initially assume but these days technocrats are the new rock stars. It’s all about the Beauty and the Geek. Technocrat king Elon Musk, creator of PayPal and founder of Space X married British actress babe Tallulah Riley twice before finally divorcing her in 2016 where he was rumoured to date Cameron Diaz and Amber Heard. And now he is dating Canadian pop star Grimes. The powerful creative geek and the female superstar is a meeting of equals and work ethic supremo’s.

A quick swig from his water bottle and he changes track to talk about freedom on the internet. He has been dubbed the Mayor of the internet after constantly standing up to Congress against over regulating of the internet.

“We definitely lost a set in the US with the FCC repealing neutrality. But different states, including the state of California, are proposing bills to enforce it at a state level so you could start to build a case to get to Congress.

Without the safeguard of neutrality, it means any internet provider in America can discriminate traffic which means for the consumer that instead of paying $60 a month for internet where they can go to Google or Facebook and your internet will start to look like your cable television where you have to pay an extra $10 a month to visit Google or Facebook and as soon as you tier and discriminate across the internet you break the free market. The only people who don’t want neutrality are cable providers and politicians who get paid by them. Net neutrality…I still have to remember it’s game, set and match. We might be a set down but we’re still in the match.”

Ohanian talks effortlessly in tech speak as if it’s a language he owns. I switch us to talk about the Royal wedding which he attended with Williams. Williams was in a dusky pink Versace creation which skimmed and ruched in all the right places. “It was a lot of fun. I was a history major so I was geeking out to be in Windsor castle.”

Was he the tallest person there? “Yes, I think so, I’m used to always being the tallest person in the room. Idris Elba was pretty tall.”

He is only 6’3. One rarely sees a Brit who’s 6’5.

“It’s really unsettling to meet someone who is 6’5 because I’ve never seen eye to eye with anyone so it’s startling if someone’s taller than me. I will watch them all night and make sure I don’t turn my back on them.”

And there you have it. Alexis Ohanian, technocrat, multi-millionaire always has to be a head above everyone else. He looks down, not up.