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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 October, 2003, 16:16 GMT 17:16 UK
From convent girl to vice queen
As Margaret MacDonald is found guilty of running an international prostitution ring by a Paris court, BBC News Online looks at how she went from Windsor convent girl to wealthy high-class madam of possibly the largest vice-ring in Europe.

MacDonald was arrested in May 2002 by French authorities who suspected her escort agency was offering more than just companionship.

Margaret MacDonald arrives at court
MacDonald's privileged upbringing is a world away from the Paris court
She was convicted, on her 44th birthday, of "aggravated procuring for the purpose of prostitution" and now faces a four-year jail term and hefty fine.

She had already admitted running an escort agency but had denied the pimping charge.

Her trial in September attracted intense media attention as details emerged of her business employing hundreds of call girls and a handful of young men operating out of up to 20 countries.

At her court appearance, she said she would match a client with one of her girls, but what happened later on, after the two had met, had a good meal and a few drinks, was entirely up to the two consenting adults.

"Men and women in that situation, in a hotel room, do sometimes have sex," she told the court sitting in the Palais de Justice, prompting sniggers from some.

She recalled her own experience as an escort in Germany when she feigned a headache after the client wanted to have sex.

Business empire

French police claimed she operated a multi-million-pound prostitution empire running her affairs from multiple mobile phones and a laptop.

Though MacDonald is believed to have homes in London, Athens and Milan, it was alleged she worked on her business from luxury hotels in France, the US, the UK, Austria and Italy.

Investigators claimed she hired her staff out to her wealthy clientele, most of them American and Arab businessmen on trips to Europe, for more than 600 an hour.

The revelations were a world away from her strict but privileged childhood in the Home Counties.

Strict upbringing

She was educated at St Edward's School in Windsor, Berkshire, and nearby St Bernard's RC Convent in Slough.

Later MacDonald continued her studies at Windsor High, now Windsor Girls' School.
Her mother and I believed Margaret had a business in France manufacturing brochures
Family friend

Fluent in French, MacDonald moved to France in the 1980s where she studied at the Reims Management School, one of France's top business academies.

She also speaks Italian, Spanish and Greek fluently and is proficient in Arabic and Japanese.

She has been studying Russian during her 17 months in Fleury-Merogis prison for women, south of Paris.

Prostitution is not illegal in France but procuring or managing call girls is.

MacDonald denied the allegation, claiming she was running a legitimate escort agency, and was oblivious to the fact her employees may have been selling sex.

Her client list was said to contain names of celebrities.

'Shock'

At that time of MacDonald's arrest, her mother, widow Tilly MacDonald, still lived in the family home on a private estate in Illingworth, in Windsor.

A family friend told the Daily Mail: "We were utterly shocked when we heard about Margaret's arrest.

"I was with her mother at the time and we were both completely stunned.

"Both her mother and I believed Margaret had a business in France manufacturing brochures."

Family ties

Born in Bedford in October 1959 and one of three children, MacDonald was the oldest daughter of RAF serviceman John McDonald.

After he left the forces he went to work in the technology industry, eventually becoming a company chief executive.

MacDonald's younger sister Eileen Le Rossignol told the Daily Mail in May last year that she had not seen her sister more than three times in 20 years.

She said: "The last time she returned, to our father's funeral last year, she certainly never mentioned anything of her life to us then."




SEE ALSO:
Briton 'ran prostitution empire'
15 May 02  |  UK News


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