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How Nene King's life with two 'lovely' men ended in bitter court battle

Having lost her husband to a shark attack, former magazine queen Nene King — who used to sleep with the latest copy of Woman's Day under her pillow — turned her back on the glamorous world of publishing and became a drug addict.

Nene King in 1999 when she was the editor of Woman's Day magazine.
Nene King in 1999 when she was the editor of Woman's Day magazine. Photo: Brendan Esposito

The doyenne of women's magazines could see nothing more to live for after losing the love of her life, third husband Pat Bowring.

Suffering from depression and post traumatic stress disorder, the former editor of Woman's Day and The Australian Women's Weekly and close friend of her boss Kerry Packer, lost her way and went off the rails.

King told a Victorian County Court jury how she just didn't care any more and ignored her own advice she had given to thousands of women who read her magazines.

Vulnerable and alone, King became a virtual recluse in the Caulfield South home she'd bought in January 2003, refusing to return calls or reply to emails from worried family and friends.

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She would spend days in bed doped up on the anti-depressant Prozac trying to avoid any contact with the outside world.

It was a far cry from her heyday where she had been poached by Packer from the popular New Idea magazine to revamp Woman's Day in the late 1980s.

Nene King says her life 'went off the rails' after her third husband's death.
Nene King says her life 'went off the rails' after her third husband's death. Photo: Vince Caligiuri

Packer agreed to King's request to open his chequebook to pay for exclusive stories and paparazzi photographs of celebrities and royals, especially Princess Di, aimed at boosting circulation and readers couldn't get enough.

Nene King at Woman's Day with journalist Bunty Avierson.

Nene King at Woman's Day with journalist Bunty Avierson. Photo: Robert Pearce

The magazine's circulation soared above one million a week, even setting an Australian magazine record of 1.4 million copies sold for one notorious edition featuring pictures of the Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson having her toes sucked poolside by her Texan lover.

Dubbed the "trash and cash queen" of magazines, the always volatile and unpredictable King was either loved or hated by staff but impressed Packer with the amount of money she was making for him.

She became independently wealthy and was the first female board member of Packer's Publishing and Broadcasting Limited before her world was turned upside down in 1996 when her father, Lionel, died and - five weeks later - she lost Bowring after he was taken by a shark when diving off Bondi.

The couple had married in 1993 but had been together for more than 20 years.

Nene King in 1996 after her husband, keen diver Bowring, went missing.

Nene King in 1996 after her husband, keen diver Pat Bowring, went missing. Photo: Barry Newberry

By 2003 King was at her lowest ebb, having quit her job three years before. She was living alone in her Caulfield South house and smoking cannabis on a daily basis.

But her life changed seemingly for the better when she was introduced to Larry Sutcliffe by her niece.

Sutcliffe, a therapeutic masseur on cruise ships, was a lot of fun and King enjoyed his company.

She remembered how he made her laugh and they would smoke cannabis together to help her get through the day.

Asked by Crown prosecutor Damien Hannan if they had been in a relationship, King replied: "Who? Larry? No, Larry's gay."

Colin Hahne outside the County Court in 2013.

Colin Hahne outside the County Court in 2013. Photo: Angela Wylie

King had been called to give evidence during the trial of her former friend, Colin Hahne, who was accused of siphoning off more than $40,000 from her bank accounts through her credit cards.

Sutcliffe had met Hahne via the internet and would ride his bicycle to his new boyfriend's apartment at the Eureka Towers in Southbank.

King said Sutcliffe seemed to be very happy with Hahne and she eventually met him in about April 2007 in her back garden and tried some "ice" she claimed he had brought with him.

Hahne, she claimed, told her a tale of woe about his finances and how he had had 13 companies which went bust. He was, he said, broke.

King agreed to let Hahne move in soon after and their relationship initially was great fun.

By 2008 Nene King was living in South Caulfield with Colin Hahne and Larry Sutcliffe.

By 2008 Nene King was living in South Caulfield with Colin Hahne and Larry Sutcliffe. Photo: Craig Sillitoe

"Things to begin with were lovely," she said.

"I had these two people that really cared for me and looked after me."

King even had both men's names tattooed on the inside of her arm.

She was 66 at the time, Sutcliffe was 44 and Hahne 37.

Of her time living with Hahne and Sutcliffe, King told the County Court, 'I guess I was sick'.

Of her time living with Hahne and Sutcliffe, King told the County Court, 'I guess I was sick'. Photo: Craig Sillitoe

But things soon soured and King was forced to take out a mortgage on her home by 2009 after running out of money from paying all the bills and lavishing gifts on the two men.

Remembering how she at one stage had given Hahne a $6000 watch and Sutcliffe a car, King said: "I guess I was sick."

She had been in and out of the Melbourne Clinic, a psychiatric hospital, being treated for depression and substance abuse at the time.

When her credit cards bounced during a trip to America with a girlfriend in May 2009, King told how she called Hahne and screamed at him down the phone, asking him what had he done?

Nene King's life featured in the ABC series 'Paper Giants: Magazine Wars', about her rivalry with 'New Idea' editor Dulcie Boling.

Nene King's life featured in the ABC series 'Paper Giants: Magazine Wars', about her rivalry with 'New Idea' editor Dulcie Boling.

King said she was extremely distressed and eventually went to the police believing she had lost more than $500,000.

King said she went through her bank statements and found thousands of dollars in credit card transactions she knew nothing about.

Hahne, who claimed King's spending was out of control and he had had an arrangement with her to use her credit cards and always did so with her authority, was found not guilty on Friday of 37 deception-related charges. 

Nene King outside the County Court in Melbourne.

Nene King outside the County Court in Melbourne. Photo: Vince Caligiuri

Sutcliffe had earlier pleaded guilty to one count of obtaining property from King by deception and was placed on a community corrections order.

King, whose life was featured in the ABC's two-part series Paper Giants: Magazine Wars, about her rivalry with New Idea editor Dulcie Boling, now lives in Ballarat where she still works as a journalist.

She was not in court for Friday's verdict.