Beyond the Ghislaine Maxwell circus: my notebook from behind the scenes at the trial of the century

The thumbs up and wink from older brother Ian was designed to reassure Ghislaine: the Maxwell family is behind you.

Sitting on the front row of the public gallery of Thurgood Marshall federal court in New York for closing statements on Monday four members of the Maxwell brood were there to support its youngest member.

As families go, Ghislaine Maxwell couldn’t ask for a more loyal bunch. Older sister Isabel has been in court every day since her first appearance back in early November, Kevin had been in charge of her security in the years before her 2020 arrest. Ian has been the face of the PR campaign.

Ian Maxwell, brother of Ghislaine, has been front and centre with the media throughout the trial

Credit: Kirsty Wigglesworth
/AP

While it has no doubt been comforting to have them at her side, if Ms Maxwell has been nervous she hasn’t shown it. In the almost four weeks I’ve been watching her – either in the flesh in the courtroom or via a screen in an overflow room – I’ve only once seen her lose her composure.

That was on Thursday, at the end of an objectively disastrous day for the defence. It was the opening of their case and nothing seemed to be going right – one witness in the UK had Covid while the other couldn’t travel over to New York in time. A third had refused to respond to their subpoena.

The 59-year-old socialite usually sports something of a perma-smile, like a hostess greeting a house full of guests, but after the jury left the room she couldn’t hide her frustration.

She grabbed her attorney, Bobbi Sternheim, by the arm and almost looked as if she was going to shake her. Ms Sternheim threw her hands up in defeat. Facemasks deprive onlookers of the ability to lipread, but I can imagine her telling her to pull it together.

Maxwell understands the power of body language

Ms Maxwell is very tactile with her lawyers and she has a power in her stare. A court sketch artist told me last week that she has never drawn such an expressive subject.

She smiles each day at the assembled press and has even developed an unusual relationship with one of the court sketch artists, Jane Rosenberg. Ms Maxwell has begun to sketch Ms Rosenberg back.

Some have suggested it’s a power move by Ms Maxwell, allowing her to take back some control Ms Rosenberg has come to have over her image. Some psychologists have suggested it could be a clinical indicator of narcissism.

Others, including Ms Rosenberg, are more generous, believing she is simply looking for human connection after nearly so many months of isolation in prison.

Ian, Christine and Isabel Maxwell lean over a rail to chat with Ghislaine

Credit: JANE ROSENBERG/REUTERS

Ms Maxwell has spent the last 500 days or more in prison awaiting trial in a cell 6ft by 9ft, with guards checking in on her every 15 minutes through the night.

The family has claimed she was too fragile to testify in her own defence, weathered by her time in prison. Her hair was thinning, her lawyers claimed, she had lost weight.

To look at her in court you would never know the woman in front of you had spent 15 months in solitary confinement in a Brooklyn federal jail.

As one colleague put it: “She looks better for almost 60 than any 60-year-old I’ve ever met.”

I can’t help but think what an awkward experience this must have been for the Maxwell clan – holding front-row seats for the show from hell. Just feet away from them on Monday, the prosecutor told the jury about Ms Maxwell’s alleged molestation of young girls, her use of sex toys, and the help she says she needed to satisfy boyfriend Jeffrey Epstein.

Kevin, Christine, Isabel and Ian Maxwell arrive in court

Credit: Peter Foley/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Kevin has on occasion buried himself in his notebook, his head bowed low. Ian stares straight ahead. This was their little sister and their late father, media mogul Robert Maxwell’s, favoured child.

None of this has stopped them putting on a united front, however, arriving to court on Monday arm-in-arm, Maxwells against the world.

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