Former journalist wins at Costa's Book Awards for Robert Maxwell bio
Former newspaper journalist John Preston wins prize at Costa’s Book Awards for his biography of Ghislaine Maxwell’s media mogul father Robert
- John Preston triumphed in the biography category at the Costa Book Awards
- His non-fiction book is now eligible for the final prize of book of the year
- Win for The Sunday Telegraph journalist came for biography of Robert Maxwell
- Comes after Ghislaine was found guilty in late December of sex trafficking young women for Jeffrey Epstein
A former newspaper journalist who wrote a biography of media mogul Robert Maxwell has been named as in the running for Costa Book of the Year.
Fall: The Mystery of Robert Maxwell, by John Preston, triumphed in the biography category at the Costa Book Awards and is now eligible for the final prize – book of the year.
The overall winner of the 2021 Costa Book of the Year will receive £30,000 and will be announced at a ceremony on February 1.
Previous non-fiction books by Mr Preston, the former arts editor of The Sunday Telegraph, include A Very English Scandal and The Dig, both of which have been adapted for the screen.
Fall: The Mystery of Robert Maxwell by John Preston triumphed in the biography category at the Costa Book Awards and is now eligible for the final prize – book of the year
The book follows the ‘jaw-dropping life story’ of the notorious business tycoon Robert Maxwell.
According to it’s online description, the biography asks: ‘What went so wrong? How did a war hero and model of society become reduced to a bloated, amoral wreck?’
It documents how he was the ’embodiment of Britain’s post-war boom’ but on his death, ‘his empire fell apart, as long-hidden debts and unscrupulous dealings came to light.’
A TV version of the book on Robert Maxwell is also in the works.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Costa Book Awards, which are the only major prize open solely to authors living in the UK and Ireland and celebrate books in five categories – first novel, novel, biography, poetry and children’s book.
The authors, each of whom will receive £5,000, were selected from 934 entries.
Short story writer and photographer Caleb Azumah Nelson won the first novel award for Open Water, which has been praised by fellow writers as ‘a love song to black art and thought’.
Author Claire Fuller took home the novel award for her fourth book, Unsettled Ground, about middle-aged twins Jeanie and Julius, who live with their mother in rural isolation and poverty.
Short story writer and photographer Caleb Azumah Nelson won the first novel award for Open Water, which has been praised by fellow writers as ‘a love song to black art and thought’ (left). Meanwhile author Claire Fuller took home the novel award for her fourth book, Unsettled Ground, about middle-aged twins Jeanie and Julius, who live with their mother in rural isolation and poverty (right)
Poet and university lecturer Hannah Lowe claimed the poetry prize for her third collection, The Kids, a book of sonnets drawing on her decade teaching at an inner-city London sixth form.
Finally, the children’s book award was given to actor, writer and director Manjeet Mann for The Crossing, a verse novel about two teenagers from opposite worlds inspired by hope, grief and the tragedies of the refugee crisis.
Jill McDonald, chief executive of Costa Coffee, said: ‘We’re celebrating a milestone 50th anniversary year for the Costa Book Awards, and the range and breadth of this year’s category winners illustrates the awards’ longstanding appeal, as the home of enjoyable reads to suit all tastes.
‘Congratulations to all this year’s category award-winning authors.’
The Mermaid Of Black Conch by Trinidadian-born British writer Monique Roffey was named Book of the Year in 2020.
Poet and university lecturer Hannah Lowe claims the poetry prize for her third collection, The Kids, a book of sonnets drawing on her decade teaching at an inner-city London sixth form (left) while Children’s book award goes to actor, writer and director Manjeet Mann for The Crossing, a verse novel about two teenagers from opposite worlds inspired by hope, grief and the tragedies of the refugee crisis (right)
Daddy’s depraved darling: Born into a life of unimaginable privilege and power, Ghislaine Maxwell never escaped from the shadow of the monstrous father who doted on her with the same passion as he bullied and beat her
The party should have been one of the social events of a gilded undergraduate year.
The lawns of Headington Hill Hall, the 53-room Italianate mansion home of media tycoon Robert Maxwell and his large family, had been floodlit and covered with marquees. The catering was ‘beyond lavish’.
Magnums of champagne and a powerful sound system would further fuel the party spirit as Ghislaine Maxwell, Balliol undergraduate, ‘social queen of Oxford’ and Daddy’s favourite child, celebrated her coming of age in the company of a couple of hundred other Bright Young Things.
‘There was a lot of drinking and some surreptitious drug-taking,’ recalls one of the guests, who had known Maxwell from her time at Marlborough public school. ‘Someone, inevitably, fell fully clothed into the swimming pool.
All par for the course at such an event. No cause for alarm. But then, well before midnight, the music suddenly stopped. The lights came up and we were all ordered to leave.
‘I remember her father being there, watching the festivities. He didn’t look very happy and, obviously, he didn’t like what he saw. So he pulled the plug, as if it were Ghislaine’s 11th birthday rather than her 21st.’
The fun ceased unexpectedly that evening in 1982. But it would be another four tumultuous decades before the party was truly over for the ‘vivacious’ and ‘bulletproof’ socialite known as ‘Good Time Ghislaine’.
She spent her latest red-letter birthday – her 60th, which fell on Christmas Day – behind bars. And now she is a newly convicted sex criminal; a confirmed paedophile and child-trafficker, deserted by the rich and famous ‘friends’ whose contact details appeared in Jeffrey Epstein’s notorious little black address book.
Once a well-heeled member of London and New York’s social scene and daughter of a newspaper tycoon, Ghislaine Maxwell now faces life in prison after being convicted of sex trafficking charges on Wednesday. Pictured: Maxwell holding a photo of her late father Robert Maxwell in 1991
Robert Maxwel loved Ghislaine (pictured) more than his other three Maxwell daughters or, indeed, his wife Betty
Robert Maxwell at home in Oxford with his children. Robert Maxwell (left), Kevin Maxwell (middle), Ghislaine Maxwell (first right), Anne Maxwell (second right)
Maxwell has maintained her innocence on all charges of procuring young women for Epstein and engaging in sexual assault against them herself. Her youngest alleged victim was just 14
None was prepared to risk their own position in what passes for high society by giving evidence in her defence. The most connected woman in London and Manhattan is today a toxic pariah.
The story of Ghislaine Maxwell is a tragedy in two acts. The first was not of her making: she was the youngest and most spoilt child of a monstrous father who was also a megalomaniac, fantasist and financial criminal on a vast scale.
You cannot choose your family, and life chez Maxwell was a tyranny dressed up as a romantic fairy tale.
The second act, though, was almost entirely her own work. When Robert Maxwell fell to his death from a superyacht he had named after her, Ghislaine could have chosen a fresh path.
Instead, she almost immediately took up with a man of similar mien; a financier, smoke-and-mirrors crook and substitute ‘Daddy’ figure who would provide the extreme wealth she was used to.
In return, Maxwell groomed and pimped the underage girls who were Epstein’s means of sexual gratification. Often, she abused them with him.
And she was rewarded with the kind of ultra-sybaritic lifestyle that tempted US presidents, a British prince, Silicon Valley titans and Hollywood stars to join her on the passenger manifest of Epstein’s ‘Lolita Express’ private jet.
Robert Maxwell (back row, center) pictured with his wife Betty (sat with youngest daughter Ghislaine on her knee) and seven of their eight children at home in Headington Hill Hall, Oxford. When this photo was taken Ian (5) was 11 years old and attending preparatory school, while Isabel, then 17 (4) was at grammar school with their sister Christine (3), and youngest son Kevin, 8, (6) was at preparatory school. Second oldest son Philip, (1), had entered his second undergraduate year at Balliol College, Oxford, while Anne (2) was also studying at the university, but at St Hugh’s College. Michael, the eldest, was terminally ill after a car crash
To understand something of what drove the daughter to the moral abyss, one must consider the hard-scrabble background and ruthless ambition of her father.
Robert Maxwell was born Jan Hoch in 1923, in Solotvyno, a border town in anti-Semitic Czechoslovakia. His parents were poor Orthodox Jews who spoke Yiddish, and Maxwell would later say that he did not possess his own pair of shoes until the age of four. Home was a two-room wooden shack in which the Hochs and their nine children lived in some squalor.
Jan was the tall, clever firstborn, doted on by his mother. He was expected to become a rabbi but had other plans.
At 16, as Czechoslovakia was being carved up by its neighbours and Europe was within weeks of war, he gave up his Talmudic studies. After many adventures – real or imagined – he joined the Czech army in exile in France.
Ghislaine was Robert Maxwell’s youngest child, born on Christmas Day 1961 She’s pictured with her father in 1984
Ghislaine Maxwell is seen sifting through the mountain’s of ‘Draw Coupon’ entries at Maxwell House in 1984 – before getting involved with Jeffrey Epstein
When France fell, he joined the British Army, became an NCO and began using the name Ivan du Maurier. By the time he had received a commission and won a Military Cross for a frontal assault on prepared German positions, Jan Hoch had become Robert Maxwell. Cap’n Bob was born. Or, rather, self-created.
The making of a RUTHLESS tyrant
Along the way, he had also acquired a French wife – Betty – and a rather strange, quasi-upper-crust British accent. And when peace came, there was nothing to go back to. His parents and many other members of his family perished in the Holocaust.
Instead, he set about creating a business empire, based on his acquisition of a scientific book publisher which he renamed Pergamon Press. According to Betty, he also wanted to recreate the family he lost in the war — and so there would be nine Maxwell children. Ghislaine was the last.
The youngest in any family is prone to be the most overlooked or, alternatively, mollycoddled.
Ian Maxwell said his sister’s relationship with Epstein developed after the family advised her to remain in the U.S. because the Maxwell name was ‘in the dirt’ at home
Ghislaine spent the first half of her life with her father, a rags-to-riches billionaire who looted his companies’ pension funds before dying a mysterious death when he fell off his superyacht – named The Lady Ghislaine (pictured)
Ghislaine experienced both extremes, thanks to her arrival in this world being overshadowed by family tragedy. Three days after she was born in Paris, the eldest Maxwell son, 15-year-old Michael, suffered critical head injuries in a car crash. He fell into a coma from which he never awoke, dying almost seven years later.
His parents and siblings were devastated by the accident. Betty, who rushed home from the French maternity hospital, was to keep a daily vigil beside Michael’s bed. Baby Ghislaine – her exotic first name a belated acknowledgement of her mother’s nationality – was all but forgotten.
‘She was hardly given a glance and became anorexic while still a toddler,’ Betty later admitted. Robert Maxwell’s attitude toward his children changed because of the crash, John Preston writes in Fall, his acclaimed biography of the tycoon.
‘The most obvious thing was we were effectively confined to barracks,’ Ghislaine’s brother Ian recalled. ‘ He had this horror of something happening to another of us . I think it was especially hard for my sister Ghislaine because she was basically ignored.’
Robert Maxwell (middle) at a party on his yacht with daughter Ghislaine (left) and wife Elisabeth (right)
At meal times Robert, a sometime Labour MP, demanded that the children prove their erudition. If a child’s discourse failed to meet his approval, the meal would be interrupted while he beat the miscreant – boy or girl – with a belt
And then, everything in the family changed again. One day, aged three, the neglected child stood in front of her still-grieving mother and said: ‘Mummy, I exist.’ Betty was ‘devastated’ by Ghislaine’s precocious plea for affection. ‘In an attempt to compensate for the fact that she had been neglected, her parents began showering Ghislaine with attention,’ Preston writes.
Ignored child to father’s favourite
‘Pretty, coquettish and indulged, she soon became her father’s favourite. Perhaps her father saw something of his younger self in Ghislaine’s wilfulness, her refusal to compromise and her apparently cast-iron belief in her own allure.’ Betty would later note the predictable result. Ghislaine ‘became spoilt,’ she recalled. ‘The only one of my children I can truly say that about.’ Ghislaine attended Oxford High School for Girls, then boarded at a prep school in Somerset before returning to Oxford and Headington School.
She and her siblings were objects of fascination to her classmates, living as they did in a mini-palace with domestic staff and limousines. But life at home was always challenging, and often brutal.
At meal times the father, a sometime Labour MP, demanded that the children prove their erudition.
They would have to expound across the table on topics chosen at random by him. If a child’s discourse failed to meet his approval, the meal would be interrupted while he beat the miscreant – boy or girl – with a belt.
Beatings would also be administered for failures at school, or untruths. ‘Bob would shout and threaten and rant at the children until they were reduced to pulp,’ Betty admitted in her memoir.
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
His youngest completed her secondary education at Marlborough public school in Wiltshire.
It was there that ‘Good Time Ghislaine’ began to emerge, like a butterfly from the stifling Headington cocoon. ‘I liked her, very much,’ one contemporary told the Mail. ‘She was a vivacious, flirty, very pretty girl. Good fun and naughty.’
But Ghislaine’s education, both intellectual and social, had to be completed. And that meant going to Oxford University.
Therein lay a problem. For all her charisma and daredevil energy, Ghislaine was not academic. ‘She was never considered one of the brainy ones at school,’ a Marlborough contemporary confirms.
How, then, did she get into Balliol, one of the most prestigious Oxford colleges? There is one explanation. In 1965, Ghislaine’s father – then MP for Buckingham – instituted the Robert Maxwell Fellowship in Politics. It would be endowed upon Balliol.
Balliol is the former college of several prime ministers, including Boris Johnson. And Kevin, Ian and Ghislaine Maxwell.
It is even said she failed her first entrance exam but was allowed a second go. The power of money?
The jury in Maxwell ‘s trial was shown these photos on Tuesday and speak to the close relationship between the pair, which prosecutors have characterize as ‘partners in crime’
While an undergraduate reading modern history and modern languages, Maxwell’s reputation as a party animal, social tornado and networking queen grew.
Queen of the Oxford scene
She liked the company of men and hung out with the hard-drinking, restaurant-trashing toffs of the Bullingdon Club. Why would she be fazed by them? She was Robert Maxwell’s daughter.
It was around this time she first met Prince Andrew, who was not at the university. Maxwell shared digs with an English aristocrat, a jewellery heiress and the daughter of an Old Etonian Liberal peer.
Their student house parties were not typical. Before one of them, two limousines arrived from Headington Hill Hall, to disgorge Filipino domestic staff and all the food and drink.
These images were obtained during a 2019 FBI raid of Epstein’s Manhattan mansion and offer graphic insight into their high-flying lifestyle
Cap’n Bob, who bought Mirror Group Newspapers in 1984, was simply investing in his youngest and most loved. While her brothers Kevin and Ian were toiling in the boardrooms of the family empire, Ghislaine was front of house.
When she was 22 and still an undergraduate, her father made her a director of Oxford United Football Club, which he had bought two years previously. She was ‘the youngest and best-looking director in the league’, it was reported.
Ghislaine gamely professed her love of football and was often photographed next to her father in the directors’ box. It is perhaps not surprising that she did not shine in her finals. In the summer of 1985, Ghislaine Maxwell graduated with a third-class degree. She came bottom of her course.
Boat named after her
But did it really matter? She had other advantages. Daddy loved her more than his other three Maxwell daughters or, indeed, his wife Betty. To further demonstrate that pecking order of affection, in 1986 the tycoon invited his youngest to accompany him to a shipyard in the Netherlands.
The couple appeared to vacation to a cold destination. Seen together with warm coats and large fur hats in an undated photo
The Arab businessman Emad Khashoggi had commissioned a 55-metre, state-of-the-art superyacht. But before delivery, Khashoggi changed his mind. Robert Maxwell made an offer for the four-storey boat.
At the Dutch shipyard, his unsuspecting daughter was invited to smash a bottle of champagne against the hull. And so the vessel was renamed the Lady Ghislaine.
Ghislaine was set up with her own company — Maxwell Corporate Gifts. When her father launched The European newspaper in May 1990, she was given a paid consultant role.
She was then dispatched to New York as ‘emissary’ for her father as he bought the city’s ailing Daily News. Daddy gave her a flat overlooking Central Park. But she needed a thick skin. While she remained Daddy’s girl, he often crushed her.
In his book Maxwell: The Final Verdict, Tom Bower described how Ghislaine, then 29, was reduced to tears and had to write her father a pitiful note of apology for failing to – in his eyes – adequately report a dinner in New York she had attended on his behalf. ‘I am very sorry my description of the dinner … made you angry,’ she wrote. ‘Please forgive me.’
The pair are seen sitting in the grass with a dog in this undated photo submitted into evidence by the government
Her own ability to cultivate people was beyond question. Years later, after the Epstein scandal had first broken and he went briefly to jail, the writer Vicky Ward would declare: ‘I like her. Most people in New York do. It’s almost impossible not to.
‘She is always the most interesting, the most vivacious, the most unusual person in any room. Her Rolodex would blow away almost anyone else’s I can think of.’
There is one photograph in particular, taken at a London party in June 1991, that seems to capture the essence of the public Ghislaine Maxwell as she was about to enter her 30s while the family empire seemingly conquered the world. She has just turned away from talking to Rolling Stone Mick Jagger and fellow socialite Susannah Constantine. Her expression suggests rapture. But unknown to her — and the world — Daddy’s empire was billions of dollars in debt and about to fall apart. Cap’n Bob was desperately laundering money and pension funds to stave off bankruptcy.
Disaster – and Recovery
When Robert Maxwell went overboard from the Lady Ghislaine off the Canary Islands in November 1991, the extent of his theft became clear, not least the £426 million hole in the Mirror pension fund.
But she stood by her father, who, it transpired, had provided her with a substantial trust fund linked to a Lichtenstein bank, the payments from which continued after the Maxwell business empire disintegrated. In an interview with Vanity Fair the following year Ghislaine said: ‘He wasn’t a crook – a thief, to me, is someone who steals money. Do I think my father did that? No.’
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
By then she had relocated to New York. She told Vanity Fair: ‘We’ll be back. Watch this space.’ And by late 1992 she had met her father’s replacement: Epstein. By 1996, ‘broke’ Ghislaine was the queen bee of Manhattan again, rubbing shoulders with the great and good and spending a reported £20,000 a month on her Visa card alone.
A ‘friend’ reportedly said her dependence on Epstein was ‘pretty total’ but that ‘he can treat her very well or very badly. He bullies and pampers her. He can be impatient, demanding and extremely critical’.
That sounded terribly familiar.
Now Epstein is dead. Maxwell has had to face the music for their years of paedophile abuse alone. No one from her past whom the Mail approached wanted to speak on the record about her. Save one.
Jonathan Aitken has known the Maxwells since the 1960s, when he was close to Ghislaine’s sister Anne. He suffered his own fall from grace when he was jailed for perjury and perverting the course of justice. Ghislaine’s niece wrote to him every week when he was behind barsHe said: ‘Ghislaine was the daughter of a dictator, tyrant, king. Yet I believe there is good in her, whatever else we have heard in court. She trusted her father rather more than she should have done. And I think she did the same with Epstein.’
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