The secret shoot that sowed Ghislaine Maxwell’s downfall


Had she ever written the autobiography she teasingly promised, these are the pictures she might have chosen for the cover.

Beguiling, glossy, poised and confident, her eyes shining with intelligence, the young woman they show knows the power of her glamour. She is a woman on the threshold of a glitteringly assured life.

Taken almost 32 years ago, they were never destined for public viewing and, until today, have never been made public.

How different they would look now, if taking photographs were permitted inside the grim New York detention centre where Ghislaine Maxwell is being held on multiple charges relating to the sexual abuse of girls.

Taken almost 32 years ago, the snapshots of Ghislaine Maxwell were never destined for public viewing and, until today, have never been made public

This week, it was claimed that the coiffed hair she once maintained in Manhattan’s top salons is falling out, and that she has been forced to scrub the walls of a shower after complaining of her treatment by guards.

The alleged madam of the late paedophile financier Jeffrey Epstein said she had been ‘physically abused’ during a pat-down search out of sight of prison cameras. When she ‘recoiled in pain’ from this and said she would report the incident, the guards retaliated by ordering her to clean the shower.

In a letter to the judge in her case, her lawyer says her client is ‘withering to a shell of her former self, losing weight, losing hair and losing her ability to concentrate’. She is unable to get a ‘properly heated meal’ because her microwave oven either does not defrost the food or it melts the plastic containers.

The letter says that in the seven months since her arrest, Ms Maxwell has been searched 1,400 times — nothing was found — and has spent 225 days in solitary confinement.

The images were the result of an hour-long photoshoot, held at a professional studio in Holborn, when Ms Maxwell was 27 years old

The images were the result of an hour-long photoshoot, held at a professional studio in Holborn, when Ms Maxwell was 27 years old

Confident: This informal pose was the one Robert Maxwell chose to have framed and hung in the stateroom of his yacht

Confident: This informal pose was the one Robert Maxwell chose to have framed and hung in the stateroom of his yacht

Her lawyers have previously complained about her being subjected to a torchlight search every 15 minutes at night.

‘It is impossible to overstate the deleterious effect of the conditions under which Ms Maxwell is detained,’ the letter concludes.

Yet the seeds of the downfall of the favourite daughter of Robert Maxwell, the late press baron, can be traced to these pictures, which were secretly organised by Ghislaine as a present for the father she adored, who both pampered and tyrannised her.

The pictures meant everything to her — and to him. And the story of why they were commissioned offers a compelling insight into how, because of her father, the only men she was drawn to were rich, powerful and domineering. Men like Epstein.

With her father’s influence at its height in the late 1980s, Ghislaine’s emergence — after school at Marlborough and university at Balliol College, Oxford — provoked a buzz of excitement on the London social scene.

Long before her friendship with Prince Andrew, this was the era of Ghislaine the ingénue. There were pictures of her attending the Derby with permatanned actor George Hamilton (22 years her senior), who also took her skiing in the chi-chi Colorado resort of Aspen.

The alleged madam (pictured in a courtroom sketch after her arrest in the U.S.) of the late paedophile financier Jeffrey Epstein said she had been 'physically abused' during a pat-down search out of sight of prison camera

The alleged madam (pictured in a courtroom sketch after her arrest in the U.S.) of the late paedophile financier Jeffrey Epstein said she had been ‘physically abused’ during a pat-down search out of sight of prison camera

She turned up at society weddings in the U.S., outshining her American hosts, and flew on Concorde. When she took a ride in her daddy’s helicopter with a friend and told the pilot to put it into a dive to give her friend a scare, it filled the gossip columns, where she was christened ‘Good Time Ghislaine’.

It wasn’t all parties — she ran a corporate gifts business bankrolled by her father’s cash and helped to found the Kit Kat, a London club for women. And all the while, Maxwell, such a brute to his other seven surviving children, smiled benevolently on Ghislaine.

So when he bought a 180ft yacht, named Lady Ghislaine after his youngest child, the daughter who worshipped him came up with the perfect gift.

The yacht, which cost him £15 million in 1987, had a crew of 14 to attend to 12 guests. It was a floating palace that had a gym, disco, bedrooms fitted with the latest TV and hi-fi, and state-of-the-art satellite communications.

So deep and luxurious was the carpet, guests said their feet disappeared from view.

All it lacked was a photograph of the beautiful young woman whose name it carried.

Enter Mike Maloney, a veteran Fleet Street photographer who, in the years since Maxwell had acquired Mirror Group Newspapers, had become the roly-poly proprietor’s personal cameraman.

An unlikely friendship was forged between Maxwell — born Jan Hoch, one of six children born to impoverished Czech peasants — and Maloney, awarded an OBE for his services to photo-journalism. They called each other ‘Bob’ and ‘Mike’.

Maxwell, who liked to feature in his own newspapers greeting world leaders and other powerbrokers, took Maloney with him on his trips to the White House, the Kremlin, the Elysee Palace and Downing Street. And when he filled a Jumbo jet with food and supplies for the starving of Ethiopia — prompted by Live Aid — it was Mike Maloney who recorded his munificence.

One of Maloney’s special skills was to photograph Maxwell in such a way that he didn’t look like the obese figure he actually was.

Over the years he became a regular at Headington Hall, the Maxwell family’s Oxford mansion, and got to know the children well.

Ghislaine, with her slash of ruby-red lipstick and short skirts, was a particular favourite. 

‘She was very attractive and slim, with a great figure,’ Maloney recalled yesterday. But she was also in awe of her father. ‘I do recall her once saying to me, ‘Remember I am a daddy’s girl’.’

One day in March 1989, she contacted Maloney to ask if he would take some special studio portraits of her. She was 27 and in her prime. But she had also acquired some of her father’s worst characteristics, including arrogance and rudeness, even if they were leavened by a superficial charm.

A favourite story from those days was her habit of asking for a cigarette from one of Maxwell’s employees, then, when one was proferred, helping herself to the entire packet. Yet Maloney remembers her not as the spoiled tearaway of the gossip columns but as a thoughtful, rather quiet figure.

He recalls her request for a photoshoot because it was slightly unusual. Normally, family pictures were organised through Maxwell’s office.

‘She told me it was a private commission and said she wanted the pictures done away from the Mirror, which didn’t surprise me.’

From the resulting portraits, which she would give to her father, Maxwell could choose a favourite to be framed and hung in the yacht’s main stateroom.

So Maloney booked a professional studio he knew in Holborn: ‘I remember her being completely on top of things, I didn’t have to engage hairdressers or make-up artists.’

Nor did he have to tell her how to pose, or choose her outfits. She brought three: a business-like dark dress; blue jeans and a white T-shirt; and a colourful patterned mini-dress which showed off her long legs.

‘She was a natural in front of the camera. I don’t remember having to tell her to do anything,’ says Maloney.

During the photoshoot, which took an hour, Ghislaine explained that the pictures were a present for her father.

Later that year, Maloney learned which of his pictures had been selected. To his surprise, it was the most informal one he had shot, which showed Ghislaine sitting on the floor in jeans. It had a vulnerable quality and perhaps reminded Maxwell of her childhood.

When Maloney was next with Maxwell on the Lady Ghislaine, he saw the framed picture hanging on the lounge wall. Underneath it, a brass plaque carried his name as the photographer.

Not long afterwards, the yacht, Maxwell and his daughter were in Manhattan, where the Mirror owner had somehow taken over the New York Daily News. Ghislaine was appointed to the tabloid’s ‘special projects’ department, although it was never clear if this was a full-time occupation.

But Maxwell’s days of wealth, power and influence were about to come crashing down. No sooner was his daughter installed in a flat overlooking Central Park, than he fell overboard from the Lady Ghislaine off the Canary Islands, a death that became one of the great mysteries of the age.

A tearful Ghislaine flew to Tenerife, where the yacht had docked. Then came the devastating realisation that Maxwell’s whole business was built on fraud and money he had stolen from his newspapers’ pension fund.

If she was crushed, she never showed it. Six months after Maxwell’s death, she bought a house in New York and told her brothers she wanted a life out of the spotlight.

In the event, she did the opposite. For by then she had met Jeffrey Epstein, who could give her everything she wanted: money, celebrity, entrees to the smartest parties, all the comforts in the world. It meant she could glide serenely above her father’s disgrace, her lavish existence seamlessly unaffected.

In return, just as with Maxwell, she had to obey him.

This, then, was how the girl from Oxford who wanted nothing more than to please her domineering father became the alleged madam of the vile Epstein, his enabler and, it is claimed, procurer of underage girls.

With hindsight, her path from monstrous father to the beast of New York is easy to trace. Her trial, when it eventually happens later this year, is set to be as big as O.J. Simpson’s or Michael Jackson’s.

It will also coincide with a domestic anniversary. This November it will be 30 years since Robert Maxwell’s death. The questions of whether he fell, jumped or was pushed from his yacht will be asked all over again.

These days, the Lady Ghislaine has a new name — Dancing Hare — and a new owner, Anna Murdoch Mann dePeyster. With delicious irony, she is the ex-wife of Maxwell’s bitter rival, media tycoon Rupert Murdoch.

The picture that once hung in its stateroom has long gone. And the pretty girl it celebrated is now middle-aged and spends her daylight hours on a prison computer, trawling through the depositions of Epstein’s alleged victims, protesting her innocence of all charges against her.

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