Nicholas Coleridge

Nicholas Coleridge: The Ghislaine Maxwell I knew

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I have known Ghislaine Maxwell for more than 40 years, since she was a student at Balliol. I always liked her, everyone did, and I find it hard to reconcile the Ghislaine I knew with the heinous crimes of which she now stands accused. I visited her several times at Headington Hall, her family house on the edge of Oxford, when her father Robert Maxwell was at the height of his power. It was a peculiar house, rented from the council, like an enormous municipal town hall. The entrance hall and corridors were lined with at least a hundred framed cartoons by Jak and Mac of the great narcissist newspaper owner. The spare bedrooms had buzzing minibar fridges like in a hotel. There was a swimming pool and Ghislaine lent me a pair of her father’s trunks to wear — they were so large, I slipped my whole girth into one leg hole, leaving the other one flapping as I swam. After Robert Maxwell disappeared overboard from his yacht, Ghislaine decamped to New York and would seem to have swapped one manipulative billionaire for another. In one respect only has my youthful friendship with Ghislaine become a liability. About 20 years ago, when she first became Jeffrey Epstein’s gatekeeper, I received a fax from her Manhattan office. It stated that Miss Maxwell and Mr Epstein were updating their joint contacts book, and included a form to fill in. You were asked to confirm the addresses and landlines for your principal residences, your weekend homes and ski chalets, and then the questions became yet more surreal — the mobile numbers of your pilot on your private jet, your yacht captain, your butler. It was dispiriting to have to write ‘N/A’ against so many of them. The contacts form was sent to perhaps 300 of Ghislaine’s London and university friends, and we all complied.

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