Rachel Johnson

It’s hard not to pity Ghislaine Maxwell

We met briefly at Oxford

It's hard not to pity Ghislaine Maxwell
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This week, I’m having puppies! First litter! The Johnsons were not doggy as we always moved around too much (my late mother claims it was 32 times in 17 years), but once you have a dog, life seems boring without. I have a theory that children give couples something to talk about and, when they go, only a dog can fill the conversational void. The mother (or ‘dam’) is Ziggy, who entered our lives one week before lockdown after I had a sudden strong urge to get a dog. On 13 March last year I drove to a farm in Somerset and fell for a puff of white fur with three black dots for a face for which I shelled out a four-figure sum. I’m afraid she is a cockapoo, like every other dog in London, but that’s not her fault. Anyway, two months ago she married Baxter, the scrappy terrier belonging to Mr and Mrs James Mates of Bark Place. Every time Fiona Mates and I see each other we shriek: ‘We are a grandmother!’ I have also ordered the bible, The Book of the Bitch (great Jackie Collins energy), and have set my tail to permanent ‘wag’ as I am having puppies for Christmas and for life.

Since my beloved mother died I have become an executor. I have this top tip to pass on. When you register a death, the name on the death certificate has to be exactly the same as the one used on all important documents for probate to happen. If it isn’t, you are in a world of pain as well as grief. Well. I was pretty confident my twice-married mother’s name was Charlotte Maria Offlow Johnson Wahl. But it turns out ‘Maria’ was her invention (either when she became a Roman Catholic or after her second marriage to an American whose middle name was ‘Maria’) and she went by around eight variants of her names, both here and in the US, where she was Mrs Wahl. I am having to apply to the General Register Office in Southport for as many of these variants as possible to be added and start all over again. If this isn’t an argument for women sticking with their maiden names for life and for lunch, I don’t know what is.

It has been a source of mystery to me and no doubt many others that I manage to host a radio show without landing in the soup more often. I’m always saying things like, ‘But are we allowed to say Liverpool Women’s Hospital any more?’ and ‘I only want to see someone in a surgical face mask in an operating theatre’ and ‘If lockdowns work, why are we having another one and if lockdowns don’t work, why are we having another one?’ But then I realise I am a mere soggy centrist snowflake compared with some. How I long to have the tungsten nerves of Lionel Shriver of this parish, who stars in my Difficult Women podcast this week. After discussion with my producer and the execs we decided not to issue any trigger warnings before dropping the podcast that contains, ah, firmly uncompromising views on immigration, cancel culture, trans issues, cultural appropriation and having children (she is strongly against, as ‘You don’t know what you’re going to get’). You must listen and judge for yourselves.

It’s hard not to feel a batsqueak of pity for Ghislaine Maxwell — 500 days and counting in solitary confinement. I intersected briefly with her at Oxford. As a fresher I wandered into Balliol JCR one day in search of its subsidised breakfast granola-and-Nescafé offering and found a shiny glamazon with naughty eyes holding court astride a table, a high-heeled boot resting on my brother Boris’s thigh. She gave me a pitying glance but I did manage to snag an invite to her party in Headington Hill Hall — even though I wasn't in the same college as her and Boris. I have a memory of her father, Bob, coming out in a towelling robe and telling us all to go home. I’m sure fairweather friends would not reveal they went to a Ghislaine Maxwell party: as Barbara Amiel’s brilliant memoir Friends and Enemies proves, you only know who your real chums are when you’re in the gutter.

PS: Everyone wants to know if 1) We are going to keep one and 2) We are going to sell them. Well, Ziggy has cost me eight grand for various reasons so far. All I can say is, take a numbered ticket — having arranged a second mortgage — and get in line.