When Elon Musk first moved to Silicon Valley at the age of 24 without a penny to his name, his father Errol flogged his yacht and game reserve in South Africa to scrape together £23,000 to help set up his son.
Four years later, Elon’s first dotcom company Zip2 sold for £250 million. The rest, as they say, is history.
Today, Elon Musk’s formidable business empire includes the electric car company Tesla (worth almost a trillion dollars), the space exploration company SpaceX (which has 24,000 satellites circling Earth) and Twitter, renamed X. He is the richest man on the planet – but rarely speaks to his 77-year-old dad.
Last month, an explosive biography about the billionaire blamed the differences between father and son on Errol’s relationship with his 35-year-old stepdaughter Jana (with whom he had two further children).
It is alleged Elon, 52, was completely ‘creeped out’ and went on to accuse his dad of being a manipulative, abusive father and husband.
Elon Musk and Grimes attend the Heavenly Bodies: Fashion & The Catholic Imagination Costume Institute Gala at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2018
‘Rubbish!’ says Errol emphatically in an exclusive two-part interview with the Daily Mail and The Mail on Sunday, which started yesterday.
‘I was very strict with my sons. They had their chores but I reasoned with them. When I was a boy, my mother used to say, ‘That belt of your dad’s isn’t just to hold his trousers up.’ I dispensed with that.
‘But my relationship with my sons began to change. It started with differences over Donald Trump on my 70th birthday.’
That was in 2016, when Elon, freshly divorced from British actress Talulah Riley, who he had married twice, was besotted with another actress, Amber Heard.
Back then, he hired a swish restaurant in Cape Town with his brother Kimbal to celebrate their father’s birthday. Errol had recently had heart surgery and was wearing a monitor but he heard that a Bentley Continental was for sale in Johannesburg.
Able to shuffle around, he bought the car to drive to the airport and told his daughter: ‘Book a morning flight to Cape Town and we’ll be back in the hospital by tomorrow afternoon. They won’t know we’ve gone.’
The Musks you see live lives, as Errol says, ‘with no limits’.
He adds: ‘If you see an ocean, cross it. If you see a lake, water-ski on it. If you see a mountain, climb it. Let’s see how high it is up there. I’d say I passed that attitude to my sons.’
Amber Heard and Musk pictured together in 2016. He became besotted with the actress when the pair started dating when Heard filed for divorce from Johnny Depp
Actress Talulah Riley and Musk attend the 2014 Vanity Fair Oscar Party hosted by Graydon Carter in 2014 in West Hollywood, California
Error Musk, 77, has eight children, the eldest of whom, Elon, is the richest man on the planet
Imagine his delight when, 21 years after selling his game reserve and yacht at knockdown prices and smuggling the money out to kickstart the careers of Elon and Kimbal, he arrived at the birthday party arranged for him in that Cape Town restaurant to find about 40 guests, including Hollywood royalty such as Scarlett Johansson, Jennifer Lawrence and Amber Heard.
‘I can’t remember the male actors,’ Errol says, with his huge, throw-your-head back laugh. ‘But I remember that those actresses were very, very pretty but very small with tiny little hands.
‘They came to Cape Town on private jets. These were the people Elon liked to be with – bleeding heart, super-Leftist people.’
It was just before the US Presidential election and someone asked Errol: ‘I believe you support Trump?’ He recalls that the question triggered laughter and he answered: ‘Actually, I do.’
After lunch, Errol says both his sons, particularly Kimbal, were very upset about him saying he supported Trump.
‘I’d never heard Kimbal swear but he swore that day: ‘Are you f****** stupid? How can you possibly say that to these people?’ It was after that that Elon gave an interview saying I was evil.’ He shrugs.
‘When you come from South Africa to the US, those Lefties think you’re a Nazi. To succeed, you need to be accepted by them, so my sons started becoming these flaming liberals – turning away from South Africa and their roots, which included me.
‘They said they’d run away from South Africa because they didn’t want to join the military and fight for apartheid.
Elon Musk is the CEO of Space X, Twitter and Tesla
‘But I don’t believe there was ever any question of them serving in the military. They had a cossetted, privileged life but when they began to say they went to the States as refugees from apartheid Nazis where they were being bullied and beaten, people really bought into it.’
Errol describes his native South Africa as a fast-living, fast-playing chauvinistic place where men were men and women were seen as ‘nest-makers’ or there for the pleasure of ‘red-blooded’ males like him.
Following his divorce from Elon’s mother Maye in 1979 after nine years together, Errol took care of the eight-year-old Elon and then briefly married British fashion model Sue Wilson, before embracing a bachelor lifestyle with a vengeance on his horse farm.
This led to the anything goes, straight from the pages of a Jilly Cooper novel world that would shape the young Elon and his attitude to women.
‘There were literally hundreds of women,’ says Errol. ‘I wouldn’t say serious girlfriends. I’m sorry to say it was like a pipeline. I was mixing with guys who were incredible catches. There was no reason to get married. If you’re living a very high life and seeing lots and lots of women…’ Again, his eyes dance.
‘With horsey women, their main thing in life is horses. Having sex with a man is nothing. You’d go to a party and a horsey woman would go, ‘Who are you? Have I been to bed with you yet?’
‘But I was a very hands-on father. The children came overseas with me from a very young age. By the age of 19, they’d been to every major city in the world.
‘I think a lot of the time they were trying to keep up with me.
‘I would say, ‘Come on, pack your things – we’re going to Tokyo or such and such place. We’re leaving in two days.’
‘The way you stay up well in the world is that you have to be very well connected. You have to be a superboy and I was a superboy to everybody. I’d say the ‘Musk success’ began with me and grew from that.
Elon aged two wearing an American football outfit and helmet
‘Like Elon, I inherited the maths brain. My father could do a crossword puzzle in ten minutes and the mathematical brain in this family is uncanny.’
He says his nephews were the highest recorded matriculants in South African history and now both work at Twitter/X. Errol says Elon gave his older cousin the job of running the social media site when he bought it for £36 billion.
Referring to the mass sacking of Twitter staff, Errol says of his family: ‘They’re not very empathetic people generally. They dispense with people of lesser intelligence.’
Errol shares this impatience. He says he’s prone to depression and, a year or so ago, complained to his brother that he was ‘tired of everything’ and that there was ‘no such thing as an intelligent woman in the world’. Such a view isn’t kind to Jana, mother of his two youngest children and who is the daughter of one of his former wives, Heide.
He says: ‘Oh, Jana has a place of her own. She has a Polo GTI and her own life.
‘I’m very hands-on with the children. I try to be there.’
To complicate matters, Errol says that the previous night he had dinner with Heide and he says she wants to get back together.
Hang on! His ex-wife wants to rekindle a relationship after he had fathered two children with her daughter? Again, he shrugs. ‘She’s one of those people who doesn’t have anything to prove. People at the very top don’t worry about things like that. It’s just not relevant.’
I’m lost for words. Spending time with this extraordinary man is an education.
His son Elon it seems suffers bleak days too.
According to his father, the future tycoon was pretty down, ‘lying in his bed’ at Pretoria University where he had been studying for five months when Errol suggested going to America.
Errol Musk, the father of tech billionaire Elon Musk who spent his early life in apartheid-era South Africa
‘He’s six foot something and wears a size 13 shoe. I pulled him on to the floor by his big toes and said, ‘Come on, this isn’t working for you, is it?’ He said, ‘No’.
‘Then this brilliant idea came to me. Do you want to go and study in the States. He left for Canada 11 days later.’
I wonder if Errol, who patently loves his children dearly, misses this bond he once had with his eldest son.
‘I think the best way to raise children is to make them independent. Elon used to phone me every Thursday evening on a reverse charge call when he first went over there [to university in Canada and then the US]. He’d talk for a long time.
‘I think he was desperately lonely because he had been with me all that time before.
‘I’d try to get him not to fill me in on his life so much and not have these hour-long conversations – try to push him out. Sons, like lions, need to leave their fathers and start a new pride.’
Elon’s pride is, of course, a particularly unwieldy one with 11 children – those that we know of –by three mothers.
There are two ex-wives, Justine (mother to six of his brood, the eldest of who, Nevada, died of sudden infant death syndrome aged ten weeks) and British actress Talulah Riley who he married in 2010, divorced two years later and married again in 2013.
Elon (left) is pictured with Kimbal with their father’s Rolls Royce
A 17-year-old Elon (left) with his brother Kimbal. The siblings hired a swish restaurant in 2016 in Cape Town to celebrate their father’s birthday
Riley finally ended the marriage in 2016 by which time Elon had fallen in love with Amber Heard.
Complicated? It is. So much so that, as he explained in the first part of his interview in yesterday’s Daily Mail, Errol struggles to keep count of his grandchildren.
Elon has three other children, including the bizarrely named son X and daughter Y, with Canadian singer Grimes (‘She’s a bit weird,’ says Errol) and twins with his employee Shivon Zilis.
‘She [Shivon] is very intelligent and has an IQ that matches with Elon, so she seems a good match. He has beautiful children with her,’ says Errol. ‘But Elon is always busy. He employs 250,000 people. There’s a limit to how much he can spread himself around.
‘I imagine he’s measuring his time by how long it’s going to take him to get a rocket to Mars. He’ll think, ‘2034? I’ll be 63 by then. Why can’t we get it up when I’m 57?’ A lot of people wouldn’t think like that but we Musks do. There are no limits to what you can do as a person.
‘But Elon has little spare time. That’s why he got divorced [from Justine] because she wanted him to be at home bringing her flowers all the time. That’s what didn’t work.
‘Talulah [his second wife who he met soon after his divorce in 2008 at a club in London’s Mayfair] was very well-liked by the whole family. The difficulty was that both she and Elon were busy with their own careers.
‘Elon was a tycoon who travelled the world and wanted his wife with him but she also wanted to work.
‘They were probably together for three months out of every nine, which is not grounds for a good marriage.
‘After they divorced, they met up again and decided to give it another chance. They wanted to see if the same problems existed.
‘The relationship would only work if she was prepared to give up her career to be with Elon, but she wanted to have her life as an actress. It was the same with Amber. Either Elon had to give up everything to be her baggage or she had to give up everything to be his. He was very fond of her. She would probably be the best person for Elon.’
Now standing on his balcony, Errol looks out on to the Atlantic. I’m told he stands here sometimes, staring into the night sky trying to wrap his brain around all that his son has achieved.
Elon pictured when he was aged three. He moved to Silicon Valley at the age of 24 with a penny to his name
‘Elon has tremendous power with Starlink,’ he says, referring to the satellites that circle our planet and which he controversially refused to allow Ukraine to use to attack Russian warships.
‘It’s going to take about two years but he’s going to take over the whole world’s wi-fi. You’ll buy a Tesla phone which will go straight to a satellite.
‘People will drop iPhones. It’s like saying to Apple, ‘I’m going to kill your mother, your wife and your children’. That’s very big – dangerously big.’
Should his son have such power?
‘He’s the best person to have it. My sons are very good people. They’re considerate. They’re not bad. They’re not in any way selfish. Curiosity is the biggest thing that drives Elon.
‘Did you know that 100,000 years from now, human beings on Earth will be gone? We’ll be something that’s a flash in the universe.
‘Can’t we somehow leave some memory of us behind? That’s how Elon thinks. He’s really quite serious when he says, ‘If an asteroid hits us, that is it.’ But if we have two planets, some people will go on.’
No doubt they would include the 16 or 17 – or whatever the number is by then – of Errol Musk’s grandchildren.