And now he is separating from his wife, Judith, after 21 years. Last week the marital split was confirmed by The Lawyer newspaper. Julius has moved out of his pounds 500,000 family home in Hampstead Garden Suburb. Divorce and separation are private upsets, personal life-negotiations. They are not things for the ill-disposed to celebrate or crow about. But in the case of Julius, there is a triple-seamed irony about such a sorry outcome: first, that the negotiator of the country's most high-profile divorce settlement should have to go through it all himself; second, that his legal firm, Mishcon de Reya, where he has worked since 1979, been a partner since 1984 and now earns pounds 300,000 annually should be one of the legal profession's top advisers on family law; and third, that last year, in the midst of the Royal split, Julius boasted that the secret of his success was the stability of his marriage. "If you want to do things in the world, an uncomplicated and wholly supportive family is the perfect base," he said.
Nice sentiments - and for those envious of the breadth and depth of Julius's influence, it will come as a relief to hear that his "perfect base" has crumbled. For a brief rehearsal of where Julius stands in the hierarchy of Nineties People reveals him to be a considerable figure on a dozen fronts.
The son of a draper, he went to City of London School, and got a first in English at Jesus College, Cambridge. Without a law degree, he joined Victor Mishcon & Co (later to merge with de Reya) as a trainee in 1979, becoming the protege of Lord Mishcon, the Labour peer and spokesman on legal affairs in the Lords. Mishcon de Reya's client list has featured high-rolling millionaires with fixations about keeping their private lives private: Lord Archer, Lord Palumbo, Robert Maxwell (until he was dropped from the client list). Princess Diana, however, was the client who threw a floodlight on the discreet, 30-strong Holborn firm of media fixers. Lord Palumbo introduced her to Julius, who first helped her with the photos- in-the gym scandal in 1993; she was awarded pounds 25,000, and the gym owner got 10 times that sum. Julius skilfully sold it to the press as a resounding Royal victory.
Julius's role in the divorce proceedings was rather more than that of skilful advocate and financial negotiator. He was the Princess's sidekick, her second, her "familiar" in the sense that the cat goes with the witch. His importance can be gauged from one scene - at the heart of the proceedings, Julius sat outside the door of the inner sanctum at St James's Palace, while Charles and Diana "discussed" their future, and the Prince elicited just what it would take for her to agree to a divorce. Having made her mind up, Diana telephoned the Queen, then told Julius, and later informed the world. His role could have been merely that of adviser; he turned it into that of courtier at the heart of Royal secrets, the fixer of a corner of history.
While the Royal briefs were horse-trading, the TS Eliot affair broke out. Julius's book, TS Eliot, anti-Semitism and literary form was published in September 1995. He had written it for a PhD degree while studying at Mishcon; it was, for him, just a hobby, like golf. On publication, it was mostly ignored by literary editors. Had not Christopher Ricks already done it in TS Eliot and Prejudice? Both books examined the unsavoury moments in the great Anglo-American modernist's poetry where he makes casually slighting references to Jews and the spectacle of "free-thinking", rootless, transcontinental Jewry as a European blight. Part of Ricks's defence was that Eliot has apologised elsewhere for his racist opinions (and had withdrawn from sale his egregiously Jew-baiting essay collection, After Strange Gods). Others like Orwell asked "Who didn't say such things at the time?" and pleaded the context of the time. Julius would have none of this. He does not allow for back-sliding, pusillanimity or apologetics. He wrote, he said, as an admirer of the poetry but demanded that academics should henceforth accept that Eliot "put his poetry at the service of anti-Semitism". After Tom Paulin reviewed the book admiringly (and condemned Eliot in withering tones) in The London Review of Books, James Fenton, Oxford Professor of Poetry, gave a lecture entitled "Eliot v Julius", going further than the Royal litigant and calling Eliot "a scoundrel". "Whatever assessment is made of Eliot in the future," he concluded, "the Julius book will have to come into it." Here was another scene - the hot-shot London lawyer sharing a table in an Oxford pub with the literary elite (Fenton, Paulin, Ian McEwan), while outside the lecture theatre, Sir Isaiah Berlin, the very soul of All Souls College, muttered his approval of Julius's ideas ("Every word he said seems to me to be true"). The Jewish Chronicle, incidentally, did not approve of the book, suggesting that it was "vindictive". Julius responded with fury, but he had already anticipated the "don't-complain" response in his book. "There is a small history to be written," he said, "of Jewish critics' insensibility to the anti-Semitism of anti-Semitic works..."
To be a hero in three quite different branches of the Establishment - Royalty, literary academe and Jewish studies - while remaining oneself an outsider (Charles, Eliot and the Chronicle being, respectively, the iconic figures) is no mean feat. To have Stephen Fry, who does not defer to many people when it comes to mental agility, call him "Probably the most intelligent man I've ever met" ... To be listed in Chambers' and Partners' Directory of the Legal Profession as one of the country's top two media litigators ... It is only a matter of time before you start looking for a political angle, just to round things off.
You do not have to look far. There is, of course, the strong Labour connection of Lord Mishcon himself. Julius's now-estranged wife works in the Lord Chancellor's Department, where she trains judges to be judicious. Julius's Mishcon colleague Maggie Rae is a close friend of Tony and Cherie Blair, who often stay en vacances at her south of France retreat. It is all too easy to imagine Julius and Cherie, the yin and yang of the modern British judiciary, determining the future of the Bar together.
But (the voices say) he is still separating from his wife. His marriage is no more a fairy-tale thing than Princess Diana's. Whatever his achievements, whatever the "things in the world" he has done, he has lost his "perfect base" of a stable home. If the secret of his success has been a stable marriage, then can his success be assured for much longer? Hah! What the world-conquering Mr Julius has done, to the delight of begrudgers everywhere, is reveal, for a blissful moment, that he might be just like the rest of us
Further reading from Virgin Net
People magazine: Choosing Sides
Who's on Diana's team (and who's
against them), compiled by the popular US magazine People.
Legal Resources Pages
Anybody interested in law from a UK perspective should start with this
magnificently comprehensive site maintained by Delia Venables.
Top 100 UK law firms.
Listed in order of profits-per-partner.
(Mishcon de Reya is 14th, with pounds 254,167.)
E! Online Celeb Courthouse
Celebrity legal tussles from across the Atlantic. (Most from Los Angeles
County Superior Court, to be exact.) Including John Travolta, Elle
Macpherson and Jean-Claude Van Damme, m'lud.
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