‘She sold her soul to Jeffrey Epstein – and worshipped him like he was Zeus. She knew he was perverted… but it didn’t stop her’: Lover? Sugar Daddy? Partner in evil? Those who know Ghislaine Maxwell best reveal true nature of twisted relationship
But it is so clouded by their lies and obfuscation that even those closest to them remain unsure of the exact nature of their co-dependency.
Epstein, found dead in his prison cell in 2019 while facing child sex-trafficking charges, was stupendously wealthy and undoubtedly handsome.
He was also socially inept, awkward, taciturn and, of course, amoral.
Maxwell, by contrast, was gregarious, Oxford-educated and formidably well-connected. Socially supremely confident, by turns charming and eccentric, she was also ruthlessly self-serving.
She became first his lover then his constant companion and lady of the house; his confidante and co-conspirator.
The enigmatic, unsettling — and depraved — relationship between Ghislaine Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein exerts a terrible fascination
Epstein, in return, kept Maxwell in the lavish lifestyle of the super-rich, to which her childhood — growing up in a 53-room mansion in Oxfordshire with private yachts and jets at her disposal — had accustomed her
The fashionable elite of New York — where Epstein infamously abused underage girls in his £60 million townhouse, one of a number of luxury properties he owned throughout the world — now, of course, spurn Ghislaine like rotting detritus
She offered him the entrée he craved into a world of high-society movers and shakers, of presidents and royalty. How else would the man from working-class Brooklyn ever have met Prince Andrew without her introduction?
Epstein, in return, kept Maxwell in the lavish lifestyle of the super-rich, to which her childhood — growing up in a 53-room mansion in Oxfordshire with private yachts and jets at her disposal — had accustomed her.
It is difficult to pinpoint when she lost her moral compass — or, indeed, whether she ever possessed one — but the roles she assumed became darker.
She became Epstein’s madam, procuring an endless supply of young girls, the innocent victims who fed Epstein’s paedophile appetites.
The fashionable elite of New York — where Epstein infamously abused underage girls in his £60 million townhouse, one of a number of luxury properties he owned throughout the world — now, of course, spurn Ghislaine like rotting detritus.
But was the Maxwell/Epstein relationship romantic or merely pragmatic? The views of former associates are divided.
Manhattan society columnist and publicist R. Couri Hay is certain that it was entirely founded on what each could do for the other.
‘I want to make it clear that I’m not a friend of either of them and when I first met them on the social circuit, no one had a whiff of what was going on. There was no hint of any scandal,’ he insists.
‘Ghislaine was a classic social climber, only interested in people who were rich and entitled and powerful. She’d be talking to you and constantly looking over your shoulder to see if there was someone higher up the social scale.’
Of her relationship with Epstein, Hay says: ‘I don’t think there is any secret to it — it was entirely transactional.
‘When she first came to New York, she had $100,000 (£75,000) a year and rented a one-bedroom apartment, and then suddenly she had money and houses and helicopters and planes and boats.
‘She wanted someone like her father, who was rich and powerful — and that was Jeffrey.’
A sleazy haul of never-before-seen photos unearthed in an FBI raid and introduced as evidence showed Ghislaine Maxwell giving Jeffrey Epstein foot rubs on his private jet dubbed Lolita Express
The prosecution brought in pictures found in Epstein’s mansion in a bid to show that Maxwell and Epstein had been in a relationship
This photo of Jeffrey Epstein in front of one of his private planes was submitted into evidence during the trial of his alleged madam Ghislaine Maxwell
Hay adds: ‘She was socially adept and had a Rolodex of interesting contacts, and Jeffrey liked to “collect” people. The fact she could produce someone such as Prince Andrew made her a star in his eyes.
‘I saw them at a very grand party once, and she might as well have been leading him around on a leash. He was horribly shy and awkward. She was his crutch.
‘She’d hold his arm and parade him around, but it was clear Jeffrey didn’t like going out — he preferred to be in a controlled environment at his various homes.
‘She had $20 million or $30 million in the bank — where did that come from? It was Jeffrey’s money.
‘She sold her soul to Jeffrey and she’s too smart to claim she was hoodwinked. She knew what she was doing.
‘She looked up to Jeffrey like he was Zeus — she worshipped him. She clearly knew how perverted he was, but it didn’t stop her becoming his accomplice.
‘I never got the feeling he was in love with her, but they gave off the aura of being a couple. But it was Ghislaine worshipping Jeffrey and making sure he was the centre of attention in a room.’
A picture of Ghislaine Maxwell relaxing on a yacht in a black bikini was brought into evidence during her trial
One of the pictures showed Epstein and Maxwell in a vacation picture in Europe. The prosecution established the close relationship between the pair – that went far beyond business
Maxwell declined to give evidence at her trial, saying: ‘The government has not proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt so there is no reason to testify’
Hay says he was put in touch with Jeffrey by a mutual real-estate mogul friend ‘when he was trying to rehabilitate his reputation. He said: “I’m tired of every story about me starting with the words, ‘Billionaire paedophile. . .’” So we talked about how he could flip the switch, signing up to Bill Gates’s Giving Pledge, giving money to charities, having a meeting with the Pope . . .
‘He said to me: “There’s one thing you can’t ask me to do and that’s to get married.” I said: “Do you mean to Ghislaine?” And he smiled and said: “To anybody.”
‘They are toxic waste in New York. Everyone is ashamed they had anything to do with them, but no one knew about the depths of their depravity.’
Photographs that emerged during Maxwell’s trial expose a relationship more complex than the symbiotic one Hay has depicted.
They show Maxwell fawning over Epstein on his private jet, massaging his feet. In another, she cosies up to him outside a log cabin on the Queen’s estate at Balmoral. Others, from a cache unearthed by police, show them embracing and she looks at him adoringly.
A much younger Maxwell and Epstein are seen on a motorcycle together. The undated photo was submitted into evidence by the prosecution in the sex trafficking case against Maxwell
These images were obtained during a 2019 FBI raid of Epstein’s Manhattan mansion and offer graphic insight into their high-flying lifestyle
The couple appeared to vacation to a cold destination. Seen together with warm coats and large fur hats in an undated photo
Among those who regard the relationship as merely mutually self-serving is author and fashion designer Christina Oxenberg, daughter of Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia and a distant cousin of Prince Andrew.
She recalls a bizarre first meeting with Ghislaine in 1990. ‘I didn’t warm to her. She was absurdly overconfident and had a total lack of self-awareness.’
Ms Oxenberg had been invited to Maxwell’s New York apartment for tea with three female friends.
‘It was a hot day and Ghislaine was wearing only a bra and panties, white and frilly,’ she recalls.
‘It was tolerated because it was Ghislaine. She had a reputation for being shocking, for saying outrageous things.
‘People called her “witty”, though I’ll never know why because I never heard or saw anything like wit from her. She was a non-stop spectacle, a performer,’ says Ms Oxenberg, who wrote Trash: Encounters With Ghislaine Maxwell.
‘Despite having top-notch connections and the best education, including a degree from Oxford, I think Ghislaine’s upbringing with an overbearing father gave her a lot of psychological baggage and left her seeking another father figure.
The pair are seen sitting in the grass with a dog in this undated photo submitted into evidence by the government
Epstein appears with his arm around Ghislaine as he takes a phone call in this evidence photo
Prosecutors have characterized Epstein and Maxwell as being ‘partners in crime’. Maxwell is seen in this evidence photo cuddling up to Epstein
‘She also told me her father had warned her to stay away from people who are poor. “Don’t make friends with poor people,” she’d say. “Only make friends with rich people — important people. And then that’s who you will be.” ’
Other associates are absolutely certain she adored Epstein. Author and investigative journalist Conchita Sarnoff — who, despite being offered bribes to stay silent, exposed the truth about Epstein’s paedophilia — views their relationship as more nuanced.
Ms Sarnoff moved in the same circles as Epstein and Maxwell in the 1990s. She first met him, and later encountered Ghislaine, at a London dinner party hosted by a mutual friend.
‘She wasn’t dating Epstein at the time and I found her charming, very funny and witty with a wicked sense of humour,’ says Ms Sarnoff. ‘She was an eccentric English woman. She was also very affected by what had happened to her father.’
Ghislaine, it seems, was drawn to powerful, abusive men. Her father, the newspaper tycoon Robert Maxwell, was a monstrous, controlling bully. But he could also be charming and mesmeric.
He kept a photo of Ghislaine on his desk. But so volatile were his moods, he was as likely to tell her to ‘f*** off’ as to embrace her when she sought his attention.
Significantly, the yacht from which he fell to his death in 1991 was named Lady Ghislaine after the favourite of his nine children. And like Epstein, Robert Maxwell was a crook: after his death, it emerged he had plundered hundreds of millions of pounds from his companies’ pension funds.
Maxwell is seen aboard a private plane. It’s unclear if it is Epstein’s infamous Lolita Express jet
Ms Sarnoff was surprised when she learned Ghislaine and Epstein — who apparently met in 1992 at a New York party — were dating, so ill-matched were they socially.
‘I first saw them together at a party at Palm Beach,’ she says. ‘I spoke to Ghislaine and she said: “I’m living with Jeffrey.” I never imagined them together. From what she told me, her father had raised her to marry a prince.
‘They met right after her father had died. And she felt protected and powerful with Epstein.’ But it is also pertinent that Epstein came into Ghislaine’s life soon after her break-up from dashing Italian businessman and stunt pilot Count Gianfranco Cicogna.
The aristocrat — who was the grandson of Mussolini’s finance minister and a member of the wealthy Ciga Hotels clan — began a romance with her in 1986.
Like nearly all her beaux, he was significantly older than her and is credited with moulding her into the woman she became. He told her where to have her hair cut and what to wear, said friends.
They split up in 1990, leaving her all the more vulnerable and
lonely: the stage was set for Epstein’s entrance into her life in 1992.
‘At first he respected her. Eventually, I believe, he grew to love her,’ says Ms Sarnoff of Epstein’s feelings.
‘The problem as I saw it was that Ghislaine continued to cave in to his demands and he began to disrespect her. The relationship spiralled in a negative direction.’
The spectre of Robert Maxwell, it seems, remained pervasive: Ghislaine was accustomed to appeasing monsters. ‘She grew up in a very difficult household,’ says Ms Sarnoff. ‘As a very bright child with sensitive antennae, she witnessed the manifestation of very negative attributes in her parents’ marriage.
‘But whatever her father was, Ghislaine was bright enough to understand right from wrong.’
Ghislaine Maxwell has been found guilty of sex trafficking charges. Maxwell denies sex trafficking and other charges and had been awaiting trial for over a year in ‘hell-hole’ federal prison in Brooklyn
Yet when Ms Sarnoff confronted Maxwell about the allegations against her, she says: ‘She did not sound guilty, ashamed or alarmed, but merely dismissive. Her attitude was that I shouldn’t pay any attention because it was sheer nonsense. She was simply a girlfriend hiring his masseuses, and they had all been legitimate and weren’t under age.’
The exact nature of Epstein and Maxwell’s relationship during the period of the criminal charges filed against her — 1994 to 2004 — was blurred.
Epstein, a sex addict, needed constant gratification from the string of under-age girls Maxwell procured.
She, meanwhile, had other lovers. Ted Waitt, 58, billionaire founder of the Gateway computer company became her boyfriend around 2005 — the year in which Florida police started to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct against Epstein, prompting Maxwell to begin distancing herself from him.
Their relationship ended in 2010 when, two years after Epstein had pleaded guilty to procuring a minor for prostitution, the strain was proving intolerable for Waitt.
When, precisely, Maxwell stopped sharing Epstein’s bed has been a matter of intense speculation. One British writer now living in New York — who did not want to be identified — observes: ‘The photographs of Ghislaine rubbing his feet on the plane [the date on which the pictures were taken remains obscure] indicate how physically intimate and connected they were, and that he had tremendous sexual appeal for her.
‘Was she in love with him? Yes. She wanted him to marry her and, as it was pointed out during the trial, they shared a bedroom at the Palm Beach estate for years. When Epstein was entertaining other ladies, his butler would remove any signs that she had been there.
‘Did he love her? I don’t know. He always told people that she was his best friend. He was odd and creepy, but she was besotted with him.
‘I saw them together at an art opening and they were joined at the hip. She was the confident person in that scenario. He was certainly handsome, but his demeanour was awkward. He looked insecure.
‘He also had this permanent sneer on his face, as if he was privy to knowledge that any normal person could only dream of.
‘They were almost never seen together at parties because he was a social klutz. He had no small talk. On the other hand, Ghislaine was supremely social, charming, funny and very engaging.
‘Epstein offered her financial security and was also a replacement for her — frankly repugnant — father, so he had a good deal to offer her.
‘There’s no doubt Ghislaine facilitated amazing things for him, such as the trip to Balmoral. It was an astonishing leap for a boy brought up in Brooklyn. It would never have happened without Ghislaine.’
Today, as she confronts the cost of her collusion with Epstein, one man has been notably absent from the courtroom — her husband Scott Borgerson, 45, the wealthy boss of a shipping technology firm whom she married covertly in 2015.
‘He is personable, very bright and intelligent, but he is an extreme narcissist, totally in love with himself, money and power,’ says a neighbour who claims Mr Borgerson harbours ambitions of one day becoming U.S. President.
If this assessment is correct, one thing is clear: Ghislaine Maxwell, for all her intelligence and social accomplishments, is unerringly adept at choosing the wrong kind of men.