Jenny Afia: the London lawyer defending the Duchess of Sussex

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 (BBC)
(BBC)

You’ll remember her powerful defence of the Duchess of Sussex, if you were one of the thousands of royal fans who tuned into Amol Rajan’s BBC Two documentary, The Princes and the Press, on Monday night.

The hour-long episode was the first in the two-part series and examined the relationship between the media and the Duke of Cambridge and the Duke of Sussex, covering the tensions between their households and the ups and downs of press intrusion over the years.

Part two will be shown on Monday, focusing on the royals’ dramatic three years from 2018 to 2021, and a trailer in this week’s episode suggested that there are plenty of bombshells and bold claims left to come.

Front and centre of one of those claims? Jenny Afia, a celebrity lawyer who represented the Duchess of Sussex against the Mail on Sunday in the High Court, who is quick to tell Rajan that allegations that the duchess was a “difficult or demanding boss” were “just not true”.

Meghan spoke about parenthood and life in the US (Michael Rozman/Warner Bros) (PA Media)
Meghan spoke about parenthood and life in the US (Michael Rozman/Warner Bros) (PA Media)

“This narrative that no-one could work for the Duchess of Sussex, that she was too difficult or demanding a boss, and that everyone had to leave, is just not true,” she says in a trailer for part-two of the documentary, adding that “the overall allegation is that the Duchess of Sussex is guilty of bullying” and claiming that she was “absolutely not”.

The duchess reportedly gave Afia permission to speak to Rajan for the documentary, which has been criticised by the Royal family for giving credibility to “overblown or unfounded claims from unnamed sources”. Staff at the palaces have gone as far as threatening to boycott the BBC as a result, claiming it refused to allow them to fully respond to claims in the show.

And those are just the claims we’ve seen: if the trailer for Afia’s interview is anything to go by, the London lawyer clearly has lots to say on the duchess’ behalf. This is everything we know about the woman in the hotseat of this month’s royal documentary.

A working mother with a funny side

Afia has worked for various high-profile celebrities over the years - Adele and Elton John are among her most starry clients so far. But it was when she started representing the Duchess of Sussex in her High Court battle against the Mail on Sunday that Afia really shot into the public eye.

The Cambridge graduate currently works as Head of Legal at law firm Schillings, which represented Brad Pitt in his divorce from Angelina Jolie. Afia has worked there for the last 15 years and now heads up its entertainment practice, having previously trained in the City.

Schillings law firm dealt with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie (AP)
Schillings law firm dealt with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie (AP)

According to Schillings’ website, she is an award-winning privacy and reputation lawyer who represents many of the world’s most successful people. “Jenny is ranked as a Tier 1 leader in her field by Chambers & Partners, the Spear’s Reputation Management index, and is recognised in Billboard’s 2021 Top Music Lawyers,” a description reads on the site, next to a headshot of the dark-haired lawyer smiling in a smart purple blazer and gold necklace.

“Jenny was a member of the Children’s Commissioner’s Digital Task Force, as part of which she re-wrote social media platform’s terms and conditions so children could understand them. She was also on the Steering Committee of children’s charity 5Rights and co-authored with Baroness Kidron the report: ‘Disrupted Childhood: the cost of persuasive design’. Jenny is also on the UK advisory board for Common Sense Media.”

Little is given away about Afia’s personal interests or private life but a closer look at her LinkedIn suggests she has a funny side. Alongside her legal career listings, she also lists two rather more surprising headteacher roles.

“Responsible for pupils’ rapid decline and hatred for all things educational. Skilled at turning ipads on and off,” she writes as a job description for one, a ‘Reluctant Head Teacher’ posting at what she calls ‘Afia Ferrer Home School’ between January and March this year - a clue that she has a family, and personality.

Afia’s Twitter also offers an insight into her personality. Her picture is a cartoon that paints her as a sharp, lipstick-wearing professional and her bio simply reads: “I’m a lawyer, not a cat.”

A scroll down her feed provides other interesting details: she feels passionately about protecting children’s online safety and digital wellbeing; she lives a glamorous lifestyle, appearing in Vogue and attending ceremonies including the BRIT Awards; and despite her privacy specialism, she’s not afraid to speak out publicly.

She’s appeared on several podcasts about her career, she’s written various pieces for Huffington Post, and this week’s royal documentary is far from her first TV appearance.

In July 2018 she appeared on the Victoria Derbyshire Show as Cliff Richard was awarded £210,000 in damages against the BBC, and in September 2017 she spoke on BBC News about Rebel Wilson’s libel win.

Peloton workouts and a passion for privacy

Afia hasn’t publicly disclosed how many children she has, but an interview with The Times in February gives more details about her marriage and personal life. Asked what the funniest thing that has ever happened to her is, she describes “sending a legal notice to my (future) husband after our second date. He was a journalist for a tabloid newspaper at the time and found himself on my wrong side early in our relationship.”

Afia’s Twitter suggests her husband still works as a journalist: specifically, Richard Ferrer, editor of Jewish News UK. “Great piece by my favourite eye-candy,” Afia wrote, tweeting his article on laser eye surgery in October 2019, and in September 2020 she called him “the one journalist I’ll never sue”.

Privacy might be his wife’s specialism but Ferrer, too, isn’t afraid to disclose titbits about their marriage, plugging his wife’s interviews and calling her “wifey” on Twitter.

“Celebrate #JennyAfia#Schillings#DuchessofSussex#Meghan‘s historic legal victory with this giant @JennyAfia poster from Amazon,” he tweeted in February after the duchess’ High Court success, joking: “Ours is in the downstairs loo”.

Other details in Afia’s interview with The Times suggest she’s a fitness fanatic with a girly side. She lists Peloton instructor, Robin Arzón, as one of her greatest career inspirations (”I finish her online workouts wanting to be a better lawyer and convinced I can take on the world”) and says she used to turn up to corporate litigation work reading Grazia, while colleagues were reading the Financial Times.

Afia’s love of magazines also offers a clue about the area of law she went on to specialise in: entertainment. Afia told The Times that leaving the City to specialise in privacy for public figures was the best decision she’s ever made in her career. How would she like to be remembered? “As someone who helped to stop arbitrary interference with people’s privacy and, by my kids, as a great mum.”

Defending a duchess

Afia acted for the duchess in the High Court earlier this year. Asked what the main issues in the case were at the time, she said “whether a newspaper has the right to publish the contents of a self-evidently private letter without the prior consent or knowledge of the writer.

“The question for summary judgment was whether the duchess’s case was so strong that it could be decided without a trial. This was important as trying to protect privacy shouldn’t lead to further intrusion.”

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s controversial Oprah interview took place in March this year (Chris Jackson/PA) (PA Wire)
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s controversial Oprah interview took place in March this year (Chris Jackson/PA) (PA Wire)

So how did she come to represent the Sussexes and what’s her relationship like with them? Clearly a positive one, if Afia’s recent TV interview paints an accurate picture.

“This narrative that no-one could work for the Duchess of Sussex, that she was too difficult or demanding a boss, and that everyone had to leave, is just not true,” she says in a trailer for part-two of the documentary.

Jenny Afia appears in The Princes and the Press (BBC)
Jenny Afia appears in The Princes and the Press (BBC)

Asked by Rajan how accurate the bullying stories were about the duchess in 2018, she looks calm and collected. “Those stories were false,” she tells him bluntly, sitting opposite the broadcaster in a cream blouse and royal blue blazer.

Rajan confirms that Afia was speaking with the duchess’ permission - his full interview with her will be aired on Monday night. The rest of her revelations about the duchess remain to be seen, but if her previous interviews are anything to go by, viewers are in for some strongly-worded statements and perhaps some funny moments, too. Watch this space.

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