Behind the scenes

Elon Musk: the real-life Iron Man

Musk combines messianic business aims with a taste for showmanship

“How strange,” tweeted Elon Musk when news broke on 7 January that he had overtaken Amazon’s Jeff Bezos to become the world’s richest person, worth some $185bn (£136bn). 

Born in Pretoria, South Africa, 49-year-old Musk was an introverted, bookish child who was bullied at school (once so badly that he was hospitalised for a fortnight), before emigrating to Canada and the US to study physics and economics. 

In his 20s, he founded two digital businesses, Zip2 and X.com, which became PayPal: he was ousted as chief executive of the latter, but made $165m. In 2002, he founded SpaceX, the space transport outfit which he hopes will enable people to live on other planets, and now divides his time between SpaceX, Tesla and projects like Hyperloop, a proposed ultra-high-speed train line.

Musk combines messianic business aims with a taste for showmanship: Robert Downey Jr spent time with him to prepare to play the tech genius Tony Stark in Marvel’s Iron Man. In 2018, Musk smoked marijuana during a live webcast, and claimed that he had secured funding to take Tesla private. He didn’t, and so was fined £20m by regulators. The same year he began a relationship with the pop star Grimes; last year, the couple gave their baby son the name X Æ A-Xii.

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