Jimmy Wales Is Not an Internet Billionaire

Wales wore a too-tight black turtleneck under a black overcoat with a well-shorn beard, a look that could either read Steve Jobs superhero or Tekserve flasher. Almost any time you see Wales, 46, he looks like a well-groomed version of a person who has been slumped over a computer drinking Yoo-hoo for hours. After he composed himself, he explained that his office was too embarrassingly unkempt for public consumption. (“It’s a room with a couch, it’s a huge mess.”) So he joined me on a cracked sofa in a common lounge area downstairs. With its ratty Oriental carpets and mismatched folding chairs, the space exuded a bohemian chic look that Wales, a savvy purveyor of his own image, seemed to delight in showing off. The building, a condemned former BBC space, had been slated for demolition. Wales would soon be moving. “I’m not the Google guys,” he said.

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Jimmy Wales and Kate Garvey on their wedding day at Wesley’s Chapel in London last October.

Credit
Photograph by Fiona Hanson

London is often described as Britain’s New York, L.A. and Washington all in one — the center for finance, entertainment and politics. But there are conspicuously few traces of Silicon Valley. Wales gladly fills the void. Before he showed me his wedding photos, he talked about his new friend, the British model Lily Cole, who rented office space across the hall. Then he took a call from the Boston Consulting Group, the business-advisory firm, to discuss a speech he would be giving at the World Economic Forum. Wales uses a cheap smartphone made by the Chinese company Huawei that a friend bought him for $85 in Nairobi. The phone, which he often shows to reporters, is the perfect prop to segue to his current obsession of expanding Wikipedia onto mobile devices in the developing world. It is not, however, the perfect phone for participating in an international conference…

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