The wife of philanthropist Sir Ray Avery makes a great Greek shortbread with almonds, doesn’t mind that her husband was once a ‘tart’, and is a more-than-able ally in raising the cash needed for their good works.

Lady Avery and Sir Ray Avery need $2 million to start producing their Lifepod incubators for babies in the developing world, so if you have a spare bob or two, could you please send it to them?

If you have a spare $50,000, you can have dinner with Sir Ray. I knew this because I read it on their website:

This is where you can find out all about the Lifepod which saves me the trouble, because I'm not in the business of doing PR, even for good causes, now, am I? Oh. Well, you try to resist them.

This was the first his wife, Anna, had heard of such a dinner. She does know she won't be cooking it. He does all the cooking; she does the baking. She gave me one of her specialties, a Greek shortbread, with almonds. "They're great," she said. They are and they were also a vast improvement on what I had to eat the last time I went to their house, which was pumpkin-flavoured slop made from ground up chicken bits which Sir Ray turns into a cheap food for poor kids. It is apparently very nourishing. I preferred the biscuit.


Anyway, do send money. They (or Sir Ray has; in his lab in their garage) have been working on the incubators for years and years and I can't keep popping back to do what are supposed to be interviews with them but what really amount to having my socks charmed off so that I can then tell people to send them money.

I did him last time and he, as always, was funny and warm and cuddly and clever. This time I wanted to talk to her Ladyship (that will make her spit Greek shortbread crumbs over the paper) because I had an inkling that she is as funny and warm and clever (if slightly less cuddly but that is not saying a lot) as her husband.

We popped in to see him in his lab in the garage and he was in what his wife said was his summer outfit: white(ish) T-shirt, white (once) shorts, bare feet. In the winter, she said, he wears much the same, in black. At least he's cheap to dress, I said and she said: "Yes. Whatever we save on Ray's clothing we allocate to the Anna fund."

She is quite glamorous (she will be spluttering crumbs again, but she is) and stylish and has gorgeous clothes and is as long-limbed and toned as Sir Ray is round, and she has, according to her, "frizzy Greek afro hair" which she inherited from her mother. Her hair looked straight to me but she said she put a lot of work into making it straight.

She said, later, on the phone that she'd thought the photographer was coming the next day and she'd planned to get her hair done but she didn't want to make a fuss and have me say she was vain. "I'd rather look like gorillas in the mist." She's funny.

They'll both tell you almost anything. He has little choice because he got drunk with his biographer and told him all sorts of things about his previous life with the ladies which, in summary, was exhaustive and, said his wife, exhausting. And let us not mention the menage a trois. Oops.

She said: "You can't get over that, can you?" Can she? "I'd forgotten about it!" But, really, does she know anyone else who has had one? "No, but maybe that's because I've led a sheltered life! I just said to him: 'It must have been bloody exhausting. You know, who could be bothered? He was a tart and he's not a tart any more." But how did she know he was going to stop being a tart when she married him? "Oh, I just knew. He was an older man!"

Despite all of this, I am not supposed to put in the story she told me about Sir Ray, her parents and a giant cucumber. "It's too rude, Michele!" It's also too good to leave out so I'll compromise and leave the rudest bit out. I'd asked what her parents made of him and that I supposed he'd charmed them. She said he had, of course, because he charms everyone but that he'd also relaxed them to the point of the a giant cucumber joke. The punchline is that her father told her and her mother, in Greek, that he was going to take that cucumber and hit Sir Ray over the head with it - so you get the gist. When I was last here, interviewing him, she showed me a montage of photographs of some of his former conquests, which he had assembled for some unknown reason and which she had decided to show me for some equally unknown reason. As soon as we sat down she said: "We launched the Lifepod ... last year ..." And I thought, meanly, oh, no, I'm just going to get the PR spiel instead of an interview. But the point of the story was a woman at the launch told her she remembered the interview with Sir Ray and what she remembered about it was: "'Your comment about a tart and a tit.' And she said: 'Was he really a tart?' And I said: 'Absolutely he was.'" The rude bit was a reference to what the Americans would call a "wardrobe malfunction" which revealed rather more of his one of his ladies than she might have thought would one day end up on a montage her former lover's wife would be showing to visiting journalists.


Did she, by the way, show this montage to everyone who popped in, or just to visiting journalists and she said: "No. No. Just you Michele. And once to my mum. Which was very brave, actually." Why on earth did she show it to her mum, who is in her 70s and a fairly traditional sort of Greek mother? "I don't know. I just did."

What did her mother say? "She said: 'Oh. That's nice.' But I think they [her parents] love the idea of Ray having been out there, you know. And they know he's a good man." Her parents loved the idea of her marrying a tart? She once asked him how many ladies there had been and he said "lots" and she said "give me a number" and he said "over 80". Blimey, I said.

"That's the problem with being Greek. It's okay for men! And to be quite honest, that's how I felt because, you know, he was this nerdy sort of scientist when I met him."

But why are we talking about him? Most people know about his transformation from abandoned, abused child to knighted scientist and philanthropist. I had been determined to avoid talking about him but they both talk about each other all the time so there was no chance. Their lives are so entwined and began properly when they met, quite late in their lives (they married in 2007, in the Greek Orthodox church, in Sydney after an eight-year courtship during which he sent her thousands of love letters. She is now 47; he is 67.

She had been an aid worker and by the time they met at a Fred Hollows eye clinic in Nepal (where they got re-married in 2008 in a Hindu ceremony) she was disillusioned with the aid projects she was involved with. She says people don't want an old goat, or a cow, or a well, because the animals get diseases and die and the well dries up. She says they want jobs. She has her own charity, Barefoot Economy, which sets up sustainable development programmes.

She never really thought about marriage and she didn't think she wanted kids before meeting Ray. She didn't expect to become besotted with a nerdy scientist tart - because who would?


Now they live in their modernist house in Mt Eden which was presumably meant to provide sleek minimalist living and once had a manicured Japanese garden to match and is now taken over with kid's playthings and is, she said: "Just mad. It's a nightmare out there. It's a hazard." The front garden is so taken over with Ray's playthings (the debris from his experiments, presumably) that I thought they were renovating. "No," she said, "it's just the way we live!"

They seem to have enough money but it's hard to figure out what they live on. Ray's big personality is partly the answer. He is in much demand as a celebrity speaker and he has patented various medical gadgets and they have some property investments she made in Australia. They live comfortably but not extravagantly and she said they sometimes think. "What we would do if we had a lot of money?" Exactly what they do now is the answer.

They are both very good at PR but effortlessly so because they are, she said, "modern day evangelists" really, in the zeal for wanting to help poor and sick kids and so they were made for each other. They, or he, is shameless about PR. Now, I said, he's resorted to making his wife do it. "I know. I know. Sorry. Even the kids [they have two young daughters] are part of the firm. "We had the kids, during the holidays, distributing pamphlets in letterboxes. The pre-school's involved, and the school's involved. The kids love it. It's educational."

That "the firm" is a joke but it is also true, and a further demonstration of how entwined their family and work lives are. I was tryings to think of a way that wasn't rude to ask whether she ever felt that there was an assumption that she lived in his shadow, by which I meant his personality, which is large. She said: "No! No! He likes strong women. Strong but gentle women and he considers me his equal which is really nice of him because I think he's got a great brain. I think I'm clever in different ways." I asked in what ways and she said, "Oh, just sometimes in common sense."

She said that being a Lady doesn't "change anything" although it is sometimes handy for fundraising and "it was obviously a title given to me because of Ray's achievements. I mean, it would be lovely, if I go on to do significant things for the world, to get my entitlement in my own right."

You couldn't be Lady Lady Avery. "You can be a Dame!"


Her husband came rushing out as I was leaving, just to check up on what he already knew and also because he can't help himself. "Was she all right?" he said. "Of course," I said. "Much better than you. She has charisma."

"Shut up!" said Sir Somebody, or that guy who is lucky enough to be married to Lady Avery who would make a fabulous Dame.

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