Fiona Shackleton: ‘Divorce is either quick torture or slow torture’

John Gapper
November 6, 2020, Financial Times

The lawyer for royals and the ultra-rich on the pandemic boom in break-ups — and why she still believes in marriage

The coronavirus pandemic has been hard on many businesses, and for the cities where they operate. But for one activity in which London specialises — negotiating divorces for the rich and powerful — it has benefits. Demand is brisk for elite divorce lawyers, led by Fiona Shackleton, who has guided a long list of royalty, celebrities and the wealthy through marital break-ups.

“People have been bottled up with someone they cannot get away from, trying to homeschool their children, both trying to work. It is absolutely combustible, so yes, I’ve had a number of calls,” she says. “One man called me [on Zoom] from the back of his car with his seatbelt on, saying ‘I just can’t take it any more . . . This is the only place I can talk without being overheard.’ ”

The defining moment in Baroness Shackleton’s career came when she represented Prince Charles in his 1996 divorce from Diana, Princess of Wales, which projected her to the top of a small circle of divorce solicitors who cater to the wealthy, and charge between £700 and £1,200 an hour. She is personal solicitor to Prince William and Prince Harry (she is not involved in Meghan Markle’s breach of privacy lawsuit against the Mail on Sunday).

Shackleton has been photographed alongside many celebrity clients in the past three decades. The best-known tabloid incident came when Heather Mills, former wife of her client Sir Paul McCartney, angrily tipped a pitcher of water over Shackleton’s head in 2008, and she emerged from the court with wet hair. But she has rarely been interviewed during her pioneering career, preferring to retain her mystique.

Today, with a stern warning that she will not breach any client confidences, she has relented. She arrives in a scarlet raincoat at Estiatorio Milos, a Greek fish restaurant at the foot of Regent Street that until recently thronged with the city’s political and financial elite. The flash of colour is typical of one whose wardrobe was once dissected in the Daily Mail under the headline “Dressed to kill: how divorce lawyer to the stars . . . uses eccentric (and pricey) outfits as weapons.”

Despite her tenacity in winning multimillion divorce settlements (or limiting them for wealthier partners), she has been married for 35 years and is an evangelist for the benefits of matrimony. She often tells clients to remain together, she says later. “People can get quite cross when I say, ‘Have you been to therapy, have you thought of fixing this marriage? What’s the price of being able to read your children a bedtime story when you want?’ ”

It is clear on arrival that Shackleton is adept at getting her way. I had mentioned the need for quiet and I am shown to a corner table around which a ring of tables has been left empty. Shackleton soon joins me. She is a plain talker with a brisk manner, softened by blue-green eyes. A large heart-shaped brooch is pinned to her houndstooth dress.

Shackleton picked Milos, the UK outpost