We speak to Vicky Ward – a best-selling author, former senior reporter at CNN and contributing editor at Vanity Fair – who had the unique experience of getting to know Jeffrey Epstein, including being on the receiving end of his wrath.
The year was 2002. Ben Affleck was People’s Sexiest Man Alive and was hounded by paparazzi anytime he left the house with his girlfriend, J.Lo. Halle Berry had become the first black actress to win an Academy Award for Best Actress; Michael Jackson had just been slammed for dangling his baby off the balcony in Berlin and we were mourning the break-up of our favourite young Hollywood couple, Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears.
Meanwhile, British-born America-based writer Vicky Ward had begun working on a Vanity Fair profile piece on a suave, ultra-wealthy business-man who had become the man about New York, often seen out with former US Presidents (as well as one future president, who also loved to be in the company of supermodels), top CEOs, movie stars and members of the royal family.
For months, Vicky would speak to Jeffrey Epstein on a daily basis, sometimes for hours at a time. But the more she talked to him, the more she found herself feeling repulsed by him. And the more she dug up about him, the more confusing it became to pinpoint exactly where his money seemed to be pouring in from.
The straight-forward profile piece then really took on a life of its own when she unearthed allegations of sexual misconduct and found three women willing to go on the record. Two of them were sisters Maria and Annie Farmer – two of Epstein’s very first victims, who would eventually go on to play a vital role in bringing him down.
But as Jeffrey began to suspect the story was going down a different path to the glitzy piece he imagined, he became more and more hostile to Vicky, even openly making threats. Then, when it came to the final printing of her story in the March 2003 issue, it mysteriously contained nothing about the Farmer sisters or the allegations of sexual misconduct.
In the years since, Vicky has published the story of the Farmer sisters and continued to delve further into the case, finding other victims and clues as to what really was going on behind the scenes. For her, two worlds collided when she discovered that Jeffrey was actually dating a woman she knew – Ghislaine Maxwell – who had a friendship group that intersected with her own.
With her unique insights on Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell, she’s perfectly placed to tell their stories – and delve even deeper – which she’s done through the hugely popular podcast, Chasing Ghislaine. The podcast has now been made into a documentary, airing on THREE on December 1.
We were lucky enough to chat to Vicky about her conversations with the late Jeffrey Epstein, the sick threats he made against her, how she feels now about being silenced by the boys’ club in 2003 and what she hopes may happen next, as Ghislaine Maxwell awaits her trial and the pressure against the men involved continues to build…
Thanks for talking to us Vicky! We’ve been lucky to see the first episode in your three-part documentary and it was totally riveting – while also being incredible disturbing. Congratulations.
Oh thank you so much. I appreciate that.
A lot has been said and written about Jeffrey Epstein, but you have such a unique perspective on this case. Can you tell us a bit more about those many conversations you had with him? What were your first impressions and how did they change over time?
Sure. I mean, I have 450 pages of transcripts from our conversations. And the reason I have all those recordings is because, when he began to suspect that, well, I had things in my reporting that he wasn’t going to like, he became really nasty. And once he started to threaten me, my lawyer advised me to record him.
I actually never thought that 19 years later, I’d have to reread the transcripts, but thank goodness I kept them because I think they’re very, very illuminating.
This man was a brilliant con artist. He was incredibly manipulative. We now know – two years after his death – that he was able to draw in some of the most powerful, brilliant men in the world into his work. It wasn’t just 14-year-old girls. And I think it’s very hard to understand how manipulative he was, unless you hear it.
And so in this series, you see him really working me over – and not just threatening me, idly, but very cleverly threatening me, specifically around my pregnancy, which was of course my vulnerability. I was pregnant with twins at the time and it was a complicated, high risk pregnancy. That also meant there was a very real ticking clock going on. He knew I didn’t have endless amounts of time to report on him.
But the moment things got rough, you know, and he started to talk about my vaginal canal, I have to say that was when I really felt that he crossed a line that nobody I’ve reported on has ever crossed before. Or since.
He then made threats about having a witch doctor place a curse on my unborn children. He wanted to know the exact hospital that I was giving birth, and when, and it upsetting that he had a dossier compiled on my husband, and threatened that he could get my husband fired. These are not things that someone who’s pregnant really wants to hear.
And, and I think the problem was that he was trying to charm me, and I didn’t find him charming. I thought he was deeply misogynistic, and narcissistic. Him trying to charm me didn’t work – maybe because I was pregnant, but it just didn’t work for me.
So then he became threatening and when the threats didn’t work, he very cleverly, went around my back and one day suddenly appeared in the offices of Vanity Fair. And, you know, the rest of this is history, because the allegations of the Farmer sisters were cut from my piece.
Then I went into labor very, very prematurely. And I have to say, as my babies were there, fighting for their lives, all I could think of was that he had won.
“As my babies were there, fighting for their lives, all i could think of was that he had Won”
I’m so sorry. What a hideous man. Your 2003 article did take the shine off his crown back then, but it must have been beyond frustrating to not have completely blown up his cover – particularly as it potentially could have stopped the abuse from continuing. How do you feel now about that article?
Yeah, I always felt… well, when I left Vanity Fair in 2015 I did write their story. So we did eventually get it out there and that came at a time when Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell were riding high. So ultimately, I’m glad that we did that.
Obviously, at the time I really felt that I was witnessing, you know, the classic sort of boys’ club behaving like a boys club. And, you know, nobody had heard of the Farmer sisters then, they weren’t rich, but Jeffrey Epstein was very rich. And he made it very clear that he was going to sue me personally, and I’m sure that he threatened to sue the magazine.
His mentor at that point was Leslie Wexner, who controlled a lot of the advertising in the magazine. And, you know, I think that instead of exposing the patriarchy, I feel like, the magazine only emboldened this. It was a terrible moment. Really a terrible moment. And, really, really, for the Farmers who’d been so incredibly brave in telling their story. It was horrific.
But I also think that one of the reasons I wanted to do this documentary was because the story of the girls and the Farmers is now well known, as well as the story of Jeffrey Epstein’s money, and how he made it and all the sort of mysterious threads. But what that says about his global reach into this world of powerful men was not known, and that Ghislaine Maxwell, in all likelihood, has the key.
I felt that in that Vanity Fair piece I got 50% of the way to exposing him for what he wasn’t, financially. But I knew that I hadn’t exposed him fully. I still didn’t know how he made his money. I just knew that he was a liar. And so, you know, that’s why, when Ghislaine was arrested I thought, you know, it’s sort of like a jigsaw puzzle. Now the challenge is to go out and finish what I started in 2002.
After that 2003 article came out, did you ever see him, or Ghislaine, again?
Ah, there was one horrific moment when my babies were finally released from the hospital, where my ex-husband was kindly cooking me dinner and there was a book party or something literally next to our house. And he said, ‘Why don’t you go? You haven’t been out in months. Why don’t you go?’ We’d been living at the hospital basically, so he said why don’t you pop in and come back, so I walked into this room and a random person said, “Turn around, Vicky and leave. Jeffrey Epstein is coming this way sucking a lollipop.”
And it was it was sort of like… of all the visuals in the world that I least wanted.
I mean, I didn’t see it. But I went home shaking.
Years later he walked past me on the street and said, “Vicky, you look great.” And it just made me cringe. He thought women were so simple. And could be so simply bought.
And as for Ghislaine, I stayed clear of her. But then, you know, New York being a small place and she being a social animal, I did bump into her a few years later. And it was extraordinary, because she came over, but she wasn’t alone. She was with her new boyfriend, Ted Waitt and it was as if the Vanity Fair piece never happened. It was all about Ted – Ted this, Ted that. And Ted Waitt was this billionaire technology entrepreneur who lived on the West Coast, so now they lived on the West Coast and she was now doing a lot of work philanthropic work with Bill Clinton. There was a lot of name dropping. She seemed to be based on the West Coast, saving the planet. I mean, that was her narrative. But she did have this very nice boyfriend!
It seemed she was in living a different world from the one that she had been with Jeffrey Epstein, who meanwhile, was facing his own legal problems in Palm Beach and would end up going to jail, albeit for a cushy sentence.
But you know, meanwhile, she was riding very high. She was considered to be a very important person by the Clintons, going on holiday with Chelsea Clinton. And so it almost seemed as though she managed to escape. And you have to remember that I never heard the allegations of her involvement in 2002. I didn’t find any of the girls that I then found in 2019, like Jennifer Rose.
The stories of recruiting girls were not out there in 2002, or rather I didn’t find them. And so again, you know, with hindsight, you know, I think all journalists kick themselves and go, ‘How did I miss this?’ But I missed it.
What did you make of her when you knew her?
Well, I didn’t know her. I’d bump into her socially and, I have to tell you, you would never have thought that this… I mean, it’s just unthinkable that somebody like her would be facing these charges. In a social context, this woman was highly educated. She spoke numerous languages, she travelled the globe. People wondered if she was working in intelligence, if she was a spy. I mean, I did. I did wonder what she actually did all day. Because it all seems so sort of impossibly over the top. She knew an extraordinary assortment of world leaders. She was wildly sophisticated. And she told me stories of traveling to Asia with Bill Clinton and, you know, the idea that the same person would be allegedly securing young girls for Jeffrey Epstein is just, I mean, it was really not imaginable to be honest.
And now she is the one sitting behind bars. But I mean, really, there are so many more people out there still. There are so many men who were involved in this – many of them very high profile who have been speculated to be involved and named in the media.
And that list keeps growing. And it’s an astonishing list, given the amount of power that they that these men had. And, you know, I think that really is the question: Is she going to name names? Because this was a global enterprise. You know, Jeffrey didn’t do this by himself. And now Ghislaine is left, but that’s not the only person who is alleged to have helped him. If he hadn’t had the continuing support of these extremely powerful men, who were all quite happy to go to that island, to go to his homes, even after he was a known sex offender. None of this would have happened. So the reason I wanted to make this documentary series is because the men have not been held to account and, why not? They should be.
Do you ever think we’ll see a day when these men are held to account?
Well, I think that regardless of what happens in Ghislaine Maxwell’s trial, there is other litigation that is ongoing that I think may provide some insight into this. There’s the US Virgin Islands, the lawsuit against the Epstein estate, which does get to the men because they’re looking at the money trail. And that is – according to my sources and my reporting – really heating up. There is also there are various civil action around Leon Black, who was a financier, who we know paid Jeffrey Epstein $160 million in fees. He says for tax advice. He is now involved in various litigations that I think could end up shedding some daylight, certainly on his financial dealings. And thirdly, there is a lawsuit headed to trial next year, between two great legal titans: David Boies and Alan Dershowitz, and they are at the moment trying to get each other disbarred. And if they go to trial, I think that could mean somebody like Leslie Wexner may have to testify, and that’s going to be fascinating.
Here’s hoping. Well, thanks so much for your time today Vicky – congratulations again on your documentary, and I guess just as a final question, what are you hoping it may now achieve?
I hope it will help people see the complexity of this story. That Jeffrey Epstein was a sick, sick man who did unspeakable things to children – but he couldn’t have done it without this other side. What enabled him to be so powerful and put him into that position was his money. And so without the money, you don’t get the crimes. Getting an understanding of how this guy made his money – which was basically through criminality, but also through a global network of possible intelligence arms and all the rest of it – you can begin to understand what happened. I’m hoping that it will educate people in a way as to how power – dark power – really works.
Chasing Ghislaine screens December 1 on THREE