Who is Ghislaine Maxwell? The mishap of a favorite daughter
Ghislaine Maxwell was born on Christmas Day 1961. After three days, a car carrying her 15-year-old sibling Michael collided with a truck along a foggy Oxfordshire street. Michael Maxwell would go through the leftover seven years of his life in a coma.
Despite the fact that she had been born into material abundance – her dad was the distributing tycoon Robert Maxwell – by each record, Ghislaine Maxwell’s earliest years were disfigured by passionate neglect. Betty, her mom, later conceded in her diary that later Michael’s mishap the child “was hardly given a glance” by her devastated guardians. Though she was never spared the abuse and the rages her father would inflict on every one of his offspring, she would soon emerge as his favourite.
And, Betty would later write in her 1994 memoir, that favourite daughter “became spoiled, the only one of my children I can truly say that about”. One day in 1965, according to Betty, three-year-old Ghislaine Maxwell stood in front of her and declared: “Mummy, I exist.” Betty also believed the toddler developed anorexia. To compensate, from this point both parents went to the opposite extreme and began lavishing affection on their youngest child.
Now a New York court has convicted Ghislaine Maxwell of charges so shocking – grooming and sex trafficking girls for abuse by the paedophile financier Jeffrey Epstein – it’s tempting to look for an explanation in her dysfunctional childhood. Maxwell was raised in Headington Hill Hall, a vast Italianate mansion overlooking Oxford in the UK. Rather than buying it himself, her plutocrat father had somehow persuaded its owner, Oxford City Council, to rent it to him for a minimal sum in return for renovating the property.
It was, he said, “the best council house in the country”. But just as her crimes are impossible to excuse, Maxwell is a difficult woman to comprehend. For a life lived in public, the fine details of her biography have always been unusually elusive.
Throughout Ghislaine Maxwell’s childhood, lavish parties were thrown at Headington Hill Hall, with politicians, celebrities and media grandees in attendance. But after the VIPs had left the building it was a deeply emotionally austere place to grow up. Robert Maxwell had risen from extreme poverty in a Czechoslovak Jewish settlement – most of his family were murdered in the Holocaust – to become a British Army war hero, then an academic publishing magnate, a Labour MP and eventually owner of the Daily Mirror, one of the UK’s biggest-selling newspapers.
As a businessman, he was reviled as a bully. At home, meanwhile, he is depicted in Fall, John Preston’s biography, as a “draconian father” who abused his children both physically and verbally. They would be interrogated at the dinner table about geopolitics or their plans for the future and reduced to tears if he considered their answers unsatisfactory. “He would beat us with a belt – girls as well as boys,” another of Robert’s offspring, Ian, told Preston.
Although his favourite, Ghislaine Maxwell wasn’t immune from any of this. But while some of her siblings withdrew or rebelled, she was always anxious to please her father – she told Tatler in 2000 he was an “inspiring” parent – and dedicated herself to keeping him happy. It must have worked, after a fashion – Maxwell Snr later named his private yacht the Lady Ghislaine, rather than after Betty or his three older daughters.
And evidently, he had grand hopes for his youngest daughter – he apparently harboured ambitions of marrying her off to the late John F Kennedy Jnr. She was educated at Marlborough College and Oxford University, where she studied modern history and languages. “It was very clear to me even as an undergraduate that she was interested in power and money,” says the writer Anna Pasternak, who was a contemporary at Oxford and moved in the same social circles. “She was one of those people at parties who always looked over your shoulder to see if there was somebody more powerful or more interesting while she was air-kissing you.” Rachel Johnson, the UK prime minister’s sister and another Oxford contemporary, recently raised eyebrows when she recalled spotting Ghislaine Maxwell across the Balliol junior common room – “a shiny glamazon with naughty eyes holding court astride a table, a high-heeled boot resting on my brother Boris’s thigh.” After graduating, Maxwell’s father appointed her as a director at Oxford United, the football club he owned and chaired, and also set her up with her own company supplying corporate gifts.
But in the pages of Tatler or Nigel Dempster’s Daily Mail gossip column, where she was now a regular fixture, she was usually described as a “socialite” rather than a businesswoman. She began dating Count Gianfranco Cicogna, an Italian aristocrat. She also founded a kind of private member’s club exclusively for women.
Pasternak attended on a few occasions and, while the idea seemed innovative at the time, she considered Maxwell an unlikely feminist champion.
- Who is Ghislaine Maxwell?
The mishap of a favorite daughter
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