‘A daddy’s girl with a difference’
Ghislaine Maxwell sits in prison, accused of sex trafficking young girls for Jeffrey Epstein – but why exactly might she have committed such appalling crimes?
Nowadays everyone has heard of Ghislaine Maxwell – and not for the right reasons. The 59-yearold Oxford graduate who once socialised with presidents, prime ministers and Royalty has now been languishing in prison for nearly a year.
The charges against her are, if true, heinous – sex trafficking young girls for her former lover, Jeffrey Epstein, to abuse between 1994 and 2004. If the accusations are to be believed, it was Ghislaine who lured in girls as young as 14 by hovering around school gates, offering them shopping trips to gain their trust. These are charges Maxwell pleads not guilty to but that’s not deterring her accusers.
‘ Without Ghislaine, I don’t think any of us would have been there,’ claims Maria Farmer, a survivor of Epstein. ‘Or
very few of us...’
When Jeffrey wanted me, Ghislaine would call me to his bedroom,’ alleges Sarah Ransome, another survivor. ‘Ghislaine knew, every time she called me, I was going to be raped. Every time.’
In 2019, wealthy financier Epstein was facing trial for sex trafficking when he died prison. It was said to be suicide. With him gone, the quest for justice focused on Ghislaine. Yet why might she have gone to such horrific lengths for him? What might have compelled her to satisfy his sick, sexual needs?
Sky’s new series, Epstein’s Shadow: Ghislaine Maxwell, attempts to answer just these questions. What almost everyone agrees on is that, when it comes to understanding Ghislaine Maxwell, you have to start with the other influential man in her life: Robert Maxwell.
‘The root of where Ghislaine has ended up today is all to do with her relationship with her father,’ states Anna Pasternak, writer and Oxford contemporary of Ghislaine. ‘I think everything about her relationship with her father led her into her relationship with Epstein and, from what is alleged, becoming the ultimate Daddy’s girl, socialite and networker, who became the ultimate madam.’
To the outside world, Ghislaine’s home life looked idyllic. ‘Ghislaine grew up in a very, very wealthy, comfortable existence. There was plenty of cash and anything they wanted, they could have,’ explains Rosie Kinchen, senior writer at The Sunday Times. ‘The family lived at this grand country estate, they had private jets, they had huge parties. It was the high life.’
Yet all was not quite what it seemed. Robert Maxwell was a bully, both at work and at home. He himself had been born into extreme poverty in Czechoslovakia and lost many of his family in World War II. A ‘survivor’ and ‘fighter’, he was determined to do whatever it took to succeed financially.
In post-war Berlin, while working for British intelligence, he became a Russian spy. His first business, Pergamon Press, was shut down due to fraud.
‘He used to slam his hand down on this glass desk like you thought it was going to break and really stare at you and you kept thinking, “He is going to hit me”,’ describes journalist Roy Greenslade, who worked with Robert Maxwell for a year.
He was equally aggressive with his children, who he’d grill in public, picking them up on any errors, and he wasn’t afraid of corporal punishment either.
His persona was well-known. ‘My sister remembers going to birthday parties at the Maxwell house and the visceral fear of the figure of Robert Maxwell in the background,’ recalls Anna. ‘He was a very difficult, unpleasant and terrifying man.’
Where was their mother, Betty, in all of this? ‘ When Robert Maxwell was shouting at all of the children and making them feel awful around the dinner table, their mother was allowing it to happen. She was being the “good wife”, she was the enabler,’ says Rosie. ‘It’s very easy to imagine that this experience could influence
‘She learnt how to read a powerful man’s moods’
Ghislaine – that this is what the perfect relationship is, that there is powerful, demanding person and a woman who helps them.’
Ghislaine got off more lightly than her other siblings. Just two days after she was born, her brother, 15, was involved in a car accident that put him in a coma for seven years. Rather than cooing over their new baby, Robert and Betty concentrated on their son.
Aged three, she said heartbreakingly: ‘Mummy, I exist.’ Suddenly aware their daughter had been neglected – the programme claims she had anorexia by then, brought on by a lack of attention – she was then showered with love. ‘Ghislaine was Rober Maxwell’s youngest child and she was a Daddy’s girl – with a difference,’ explains Anna. ‘She learnt to navigate a man with a terrible temper. She learnt early how to read a powerful man’s moods.
‘I think if you’re that close to someone who is so devious and corrupt, and you saw what was going on, that behaviour becomes normalised. In her world, powerful men doing despicable things, you are able to see it and equally remove yourself from it.’
Robert’s favouritism towards Ghislaine continued into adulthood. While she was studying French and History at Oxford University, he bought the local football club and gave it to her to manage. Similarly, when he acquired the Mirror Group in 1984 and employed her there, people found it hard to pinpoint what she actually did.
When Robert was found dead at sea in mysterious circumstances in 1991, it was Ghislaine who gave the press statement and started taking care of business. It is rumoured that she shredded documents before the police arrived. She denies this, but what she couldn’t deny was her father’s theft from the Mirror Group’s pension fund, totalling millions of pounds, ruining the family name.
‘Ghislaine’s story is essentially the story of Daddy little’s girl and it all went horribly wrong, when Daddy turned out to be a crook,’ Anna says.
So with her father gone and without his support and financial protection, is it unthinkable that Ghislaine would attach herself to Jeffrey Epstein, who she’d met through her father and showed a similar ruthlessness? To later ‘enable’ him, the way she’d watched her mum enable her dad? Ghislaine might deny it but Anna doesn’t think so.
She believes it’s easy to see why Ghislaine, who had a father fixation, might move on to this equally satanic father figure and do his bidding at whatever cost.
The world will have to wait for her trial to find out exactly what she did – or didn’t – do for him.