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Melinda French Gates on painful divorce, current relationship with Bill Gates and taking a "different path"

Melinda French Gates opens up about divorce
Melinda French Gates on having no regrets: "I gave every single piece of myself to this marriage" 09:55

When Melinda French Gates and Bill Gates were married in 1994, she really thought that they would be married "till death do us part." Instead, after 27 years together, the couple announced their split last May. In an exclusive interview with "CBS Mornings" co-host Gayle King, French Gates said that she never thought she would end up being divorced and did not expect their split to be a national conversation.  

"I needed to take a different path. And so I think, you know, we knew that when the divorce was gonna be announced that it would be a surprise to people," she said. "I felt bad about that, but I probably, I didn't have any sense of how big of news it would be. You never, you can't anticipate something like that."  

After the divorce came out, Bill Gates admitted to having an affair. French Gates said she had thought the couple was going to work through their issues but there came a point where she realized she couldn't trust what they had.   

There have been reports that Bill Gates had multiple affairs during their marriage. French Gates said, "those are questions Bill needs to answer."  

French Gates was asked about how she felt about her former husband's relationship with Jeffrey Epstein and whether that contributed to the decision to divorce. She said she made it clear that she did not like him meeting with Epstein. 

"As I said, it's not one thing, it was many things. But I did not like that he'd had meetings with Jeffrey Epstein, no," said French Gates.  

She, herself, met Epstein one time because she wanted to "see who this man was."  

"I regretted it from the second I stepped in the door. He was abhorrent. He was evil personified. I had nightmares about it afterwards. So, you know, my heart breaks for these young women, because that's how I felt, and here I'm an older woman. My god, I feel terrible for those young women. It was awful," French Gates said.  

She said any further questions about Epstein and Gates' relationship should be addressed with Gates.  

In a statement to CBS News, Bill Gates said: "Meeting with Epstein was a mistake that I regret deeply. It was a substantial error in judgement. I remain dedicated to my work at the Gates Foundation in partnership with Melinda, where our focus is to help reduce global inequities, giving every person the chance to live a healthy and productive life." 

French Gates said there were days that she was upset following the split.  

"Well, I think it's really important to say, look, I had a lot of tears for many days. I mean, days where I'm literally laying on the floor and the carpet, you know, this close to me, thinking, "How can this be? How can I get up? How am I gonna move forward?'" French Gates said.   

"And days I certainly was angry. I mean, this is painful stuff. And at the end of the day though, I started on this journey of healing, and I feel like I'm starting to get to the other side. And I do feel like I'm turning a page in the chapter now. I mean, it's 2022 and I'm actually really excited about what's to come and life ahead for me," she said.  

French Gates and Bill Gates continue to have a working relationship and she said they are "friendly at this point."  

"Friends is a different word for me. And, you know, that might come over time. But for me, there's still healing that needs to happen. Certainly, I wish him well. I don't wish him harm. And I think we have a productive working relationship, and I think that will continue," said French Gates.  

She said the two will keep working together at The Gates Foundation, which they co-founded more than 20 years ago. as she works to grow her own company, Pivotal Ventures, where French Gates is focused on funding projects that empower women.  

"I do believe that if you are lucky enough to be a billionaire, believe me, you can give away half of it and not change your life. And we should. We should have a society where if for whatever reason wealth is in your hands, you, you put it back in society so that you change and you lift up others," French Gates said.  

She said she doesn't just want to donate money but also wants to meet the people and see the work of her philanthropy. She plans to visit several African countries this summer.  

Today, French Gates says she's looking ahead in all areas of her life and looks forward to falling in love again.  

"Yeah, I hope that happens for me again. You know, I'm dipping my toe in that water a little bit," she said. "I feel like, I'm in a really good place. And I'm really, really excited about my life and about the world—the work ahead." 

In a statement, Gates said that he "will always be sorry for the pain that I caused Melinda and our family. I admire Melinda and everything she does to improve the lives of women and girls around the world, and I'm grateful for the work we continue to do together at our foundation."

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