What Ghislaine Maxwell's Childhood Was Really Like

Ghislaine Maxwell is currently serving 20 years behind bars for her role in the Jeffrey Epstein child sex trafficking scandal. During Ghislaine's criminal trial, her attorneys did their best to change the narrative and present their client in a sympathetic light, digging into her childhood and painting a picture of abuse and neglect.

It's a far cry from the public's image of a pampered and privileged socialite who attended the finest schools, had a bottomless allowance, jetted away on exotic vacays with her billionaire dad, Robert Maxwell, lounged around on his luxurious mega-yacht and ran with the world's elite. Ghislaine's famous acquaintances included former presidents, supermodels, Hollywood A-listers, and everybody's favorite scandal-plagued shady royal, Prince Andrew, Duke of York.

Ghislaine's legal eagles had some serious work on their hands if they wanted to tug at the heartstrings. Before she became famous for being one of the world's most notorious criminals, Ghislaine was infamous for her ridiculously lavish lifestyle. She was a constant fixture on Manhattan's glitzy and London's upper-crust 1980s social scenes. The Scotsman notes that Robert "tailor-made a New York company for her" and named his blinged-out boat "The Lady Ghislaine" after his ninth and youngest child. Still, as the old adage goes, money doesn't necessarily buy you happiness, and growing up, Ghislaine was reportedly both spoiled and neglected. We're taking a look at what her childhood was like.

Ghislaine grew up in the lap of luxury

Ghislaine Maxwell was born in France on Christmas Day 1961. She was the youngest of Robert and Elisabeth Maxwell's nine children, and by all accounts, she was the apple of her father's eye. "Ghislaine is the baby of the family and the one who was closest to her father," Elisabeth told Vanity Fair in 1992. She went a step further in her memoir, "A Mind of My Own," claiming that Ghislaine "became spoiled, the only one of my children I can truly say that about."

Ghislaine's childhood home was Headington Hall, an Italianate mansion located in Oxford. The sprawling residence, set in perfectly manicured lawns and gardens, had a whopping 51 rooms. There were tennis courts, an outdoor pool, and a helipad on the grounds, perfectly situated to whisk the family off on luxurious tropical getaways. "In the summer, we'd hire a yacht and cruise the Mediterranean, and Robert taught the children how to water-ski and lots of other things," Elisabeth told The Times.

Ghislaine's parents regularly threw extravagant parties and lavish feasts, hosting the global elite and mega-rich. "All kinds of rich and powerful and famous people were in the house, and little Ghislaine was right there," social photographer Davis Jones shared in ABC's "Notorious: Ghislaine Maxwell" documentary. "Parties, they had a private jet, helicopter, and they were kind of royalty without the letters in front of their name."

Ghislaine had the very best start in life

Ghislaine Maxwell was afforded the best start in life, attending some of Britain's most elite schools. Ghislaine went to the all-girls Oxford High Prep before transferring to Edgarley Hall boarding school in Somerset at age 9. She returned to her hometown of Oxford when she was 13. Ghislaine enrolled in the Evangelical Christian Headington Girls' School, where she reportedly excelled in sports. Next up was Marlborough College in Wiltshire, a feeder school for Cambridge and Oxford. Ghislaine headed off to the latter.

"Ghislaine would sit there on the corner of the desk — there was me; I was 21, and she was 17. And she knew she was good-looking and was very self-assured," President of the Oxford Union, Michael Crick, shared in the documentary "Ghislaine Maxwell: The Making of a Monster" (via LAD Bible). "She was incredibly bright; she'd pick things up very, very quickly, but the problem was she just didn't do enough work. "

Despite her scholarly reticence, Ghislaine excelled in socializing. "Three of my own friends knew her at Oxford and early on after she left Oxford, and they all said that she seemed to be a perfectly nice person," the documentary's director, Dorothy Byrne, told Times Radio. "Liked partying and liked to be the center of attention. Maybe not the deepest woman they'd ever met, but certainly not somebody where you could have predicted that they would be involved in the trafficking of hundreds of girls for sex."

Ghislaine had a challenging relationship with her parents by some accounts

Despite Ghislaine Maxwell's privilege and wealth, her childhood was allegedly far from harmonious. Ghislaine's attorneys painted a grim picture in their 2022 pre-sentencing report. They claimed she struggled with anorexia as a toddler and was desperate for her parents' attention. "At age three, she stood in front of her mother and said simply, 'Mummy, I exist,'" they alleged. Her father, Robert Maxwell, was claimed to be an overbearing and controlling figure. Despite the newspaper tycoon ditching his family after becoming an MP in 1964, he continued to wreak havoc in his children's lives with abusive tirades during Sunday visits home, according to the report.

Attorneys claimed the billionaire pitted the kids against each other in mock trials. If any fell short of his expectations, he would verbally eviscerate them. "Mr Maxwell, a man of large physical stature with a booming voice, would explode, threaten and rant at the children until they were reduced to pulp," lawyers alleged. "Mr Maxwell was relentless, with children ending up in tears, punishments being doled out, and the whole family in utter distress." Robert's abuse continued into the physical realm as he "employed corporal punishment on his children." It's claimed he once attacked Ghislaine's hand with a hammer.

Ghislaine's attorneys also asserted there was a link between her upbringing and later crimes. "She had a difficult, traumatic childhood with an overbearing, narcissistic, and demanding father," they alleged. "It made her vulnerable to Epstein, whom she met right after her father's death."