When she walked into court on Monday morning for the penultimate pre-trial conference before she faces what will amount to the fight of her life, Ghislaine Maxwell looked just like she did 10 years ago. In fact, she looked better.
Thick black glossy hair. A black turtleneck sweater. Grey slacks. A bottle of Poland Spring in her hand. No cuffs anywhere. A smile, even, as she talked and shared a laugh with her lawyers, who were clearly fond of her. One brushed back her hair, another rubbed her back and shoulder, a gesture of sympathy.
It was a moment that caught me off guard and took me back in time. It reminded me of precisely why Maxwell had once had so many friends. Her vast number of acquaintances may not have all been people she was close with, because her lifestyle was so peripatetic — she was always traveling somewhere or other. Nonetheless, she drew people to her because she was funny, she was witty, she was extraordinarily charming… and, as I was reminded in that courtroom, also supremely confident.
Ghislaine Maxwell, as just about everyone knows, currently stands charged of helping the late sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein traffic and sexually abuse four women, three of whom were underage, as well as lying in a civil suit. (One of the more chilling sentences in the indictment reads: “Maxwell’s presence during minor victims’ interactions with Epstein, including interactions where the minor victim was undressed or that involved sex acts with Epstein, helped put the victims at ease because an adult woman was present.”) Opening arguments are scheduled for Nov. 29. She has denied all charges.
Given the horrific nature of the allegations, it’s not surprising that on Monday — unlike 10 years ago, when she was hosting dinners at her New York townhouse, proselytizing about her efforts to preserve the oceans through her philanthropy — I didn’t see a single “friend” of hers in court. (The only supporter I saw in attendance was her sister, Isabel.)
I knew Maxwell slightly because I am part of the ex-pat British community in New York, so I ran into her from time to time over the years. And I know a good number of her friends. Or former friends, I should say. So, what are they saying amongst each other as she heads to trial?