During his marathon seven-week libel trial in Fairfax, Virginia, this spring, Johnny Depp was a creature of habit. He would arrive every morning in a large grey SUV with loud reggae music pumping, and exit waving to fans while carrying a notebook and briefcase.
In his wake would follow three bodyguards who had been in the car with him — plus a petite and elegant brunette, Joelle Rich.
Rich, a 37-year-old married, privately educated London lawyer and mother of two, stayed a few careful paces away from the client at all times.
She would then typically join his packed benches of supporters — sitting across from Amber Heard’s team, as the sordid and prurient details of the libel trial, brought by Depp against his ex wife, were spilled out.
In the evenings, with Johnny, 59, ensconced in the presidential suite at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in McLean, Rich would be among those joining him for nightly dinners at the nearby Palm steakhouse. The Depp party would spend thousands every night on meals which always featured chicken parmigiana and plenty of the best red wine which could be ordered (Depp is a red wine enthusiast).
Lawyer, Joelle Rich, is reported to be in a ‘serious’ relationship with Johnny Depp. She was pictured alongside him following the end of his libel trial at the High Court in London in 2020
They would be placed behind a curtain in a private room, seating eight. Was the Pirates Of The Caribbean star — divorced and with a reputation for alcoholic and narcotic excess — already romancing his oh-so-proper married British lawyer by this point?
One source, who had dealings with Mrs Rich believes so. A closer look at footage of him arriving at court reveals her shooting soupy, admiring glances at Depp as he disappears into court.
Rich happens to be a partner at the prestigious UK law firm Schillings, which has represented Depp in his legal battles both in the UK and the U.S. The British trial centred over a 2018 article in The Sun newspaper which accused Depp of being a wife beater, while in the U.S. trial Depp sued Heard over a 2018 article she wrote for The Washington Post where she claimed to be a victim of domestic violence.
Alison Boshoff: Rich happens to be a partner at the prestigious UK law firm Schillings, which has represented Depp in his legal battles both in the UK and the U.S.
One acquaintance tells me of Mrs Rich’s role at the Virginia trial: ‘She was not there in a professional capacity as she wasn’t on the U.S. team who were dealing with the case. There was a big U.S. legal team and she was not a part of it. Let’s say that it was obvious that something was in the air between them. Everyone kind of intuited it during the court case because of the behaviour on both sides.’
Friends of Joelle report her ‘dropping off the radar’ in June, when suddenly she wasn’t in London any more.
This is despite her moving into a £ 1million-plus detached house in North London around a year ago with her financier husband Jonathan. They were married in 2011 and have two children.
Her disappearance was all the more baffling because everything in the couple’s world appeared so solid, the friends say. The couple had even embarked on a slew of home improvements.
Joelle Rich, 37, who was representing the Pirates of the Caribbean star, was repeatedly seen only inches away from him as they emerged together from the court
Now, though, they are separated and one presumes, given the circumstances, that they will divorce. Jonathan Rich is still in evidence — but Joelle is nowhere to be seen.
One neighbour said: ‘I have seen the husband coming and going recently but not her. Perhaps she is busy at work or on holiday?’
And a shocked pal said: ‘She is lovely, super-clever, beautiful, nice and really sensible — which is why everyone is so shocked by the latest claims.
‘Her and Johnny Depp are poles apart in everything in terms of age and background. She is married to a very successful, handsome husband and has two great kids.
‘So it is quite a shock. It’s an extraordinary move for someone like Joelle — a highly accomplished, sensible, North London lawyer — to do something like this.’
It is indeed hard to imagine Joelle Rich finding her place in Depp’s bohemian circus of misrule. Those who have spent time with him return with stories of nights of never-ending booze and marijuana and tell the story of a man so indulged and enabled that he blew a fortune on quixotic posturing, such as firing cult writer Hunter S. Thompson’s ashes ‘into space’.
Images taken at the time showed them smiling, chatting and looking relaxed in each other’s company during the actor’s ill-fated court battle in July 2020
During the UK trial, in which Depp unsuccessfully sued The Sun over the article, it was revealed that he had wasted up to $650 million — and only realised that all the money had gone when he was alerted by his management team.
Post-disgrace, his bohemian persona — he presents himself as a high-living, carefree wastrel — remained unchanged.
Depp continues to hero worship Thompson, who made an art form out of his narcotic adventures.
It is not known when their relationship started, but the pictures show they appeared to be on friendly as well as professional terms when Depp, 59, was trying to sue The Sun newspaper for describing him as a ‘wife beater’ in an article
British actor Paul Bettany is one of those who hero-worships Depp in return. His family call the actor ‘Uncle Fun’ and he explains: ‘He comes around and it’s like having a hobo magician from the 1930s turn up at your house. The kids love him because he falls over a lot.’
There are, though, darker undercurrents to the fun. The court heard how it was Bettany who received a text confession about ‘powders… a thousand Red Bull and vodkas’ from a rattled sounding Depp in 2014 after a fight with Heard on a plane, and Bettany who suggested drowning Amber to check whether she was a witch, after Depp had suggested burning her.
Depp explained that this had just been a joke, but it remains hard to work out where a libel lawyer, with a laser focus on reputation, will fit into any of the above.
So who is she? Born Joelle Rashti, Depp’s new girlfriend went to North London Collegiate school, a leading independent girls’ day school, with fees of £22,308 per year.
She then went to Birmingham University, where she studied law, and where she is thought to have met husband Jonathan.
They were married in Tuscany in 2011 at a no-expense-spared day of dreams. The bride wore a £10,000 Phillipa Lepley dress and wept while thanking their 290 guests for their attendance.
Before joining Schillings in 2011, she worked at DLA Piper in London where she focused on intellectual property, media and sport litigation.
She is now a partner at Schillings and is thought to earn around £250,000 a year.
The reports about Rich and Depp’s alleged romance come after he faced months of furious speculation that he was dating another attorney – Camille Vasquez (pictured), who was part of the legal team who represented him in his recent defamation trial against ex-wife Amber Heard
Her biography on the Schillings website says she ‘works to defend [clients’] reputations against false and defamatory allegations in print, online and on social media.’
Her focus is said to be on guarding her clients’ ‘privacy from unwarranted intrusion and media attention’.
Sources explain that Joelle was one of three main Schillings lawyers dealing with Depp during the UK trial.
Because of Covid, and limits as to who could go in to court, Mrs Rich ended up liaising with Depp directly throughout. A legal source said: ‘He trusted her a lot.
‘She was absolutely key and she spent a lot of time with him in the run-up to the trial and throughout.’
He added that while the evidence heard against Depp was obviously deeply unpleasant, during the trial the Hollywood star ‘utterly charmed’ everyone around him.
Mrs Rich wore a succession of smart skirt suits, some of them rather thigh-skimming, and took to affecting dark glasses for her journeys into work. Further proof of their closeness came after the trial ended. Depp was denied leave to appeal in March last year and it was Joelle Rich who offered a briefing to the news website Deadline.
Ms Rich, who was born Joelle Rashti, is the daughter of wealthy property magnates and grew up in the leafy north London suburb of Mill Hill
In it, she said that she ‘seriously questioned’ the UK judge’s decision, adding that Depp was looking forward to ‘presenting the complete, irrefutable evidence of the truth in the U.S. libel case against Ms Heard where she will have to provide full disclosure’.
When the U.S. trial ended with a sensational win for Depp and humiliation for Heard — she was ordered to pay him $10.35 million in damages — Schillings made an expansive statement. Drafted in the days before the verdict came in, and in a world where a loss looked a distinct possibility, it speaks of Depp’s personal fight and the cost to him.
It ran: ‘We are delighted that Johnny got his chance to explain what he went through, as painful as that must have been. In the aftermath of the UK judgment, Johnny said that it would not change his fight to tell the truth, that his resolve remained strong and that he intended to prove that the allegations against him were false. We believe he has now finally managed to achieve that and we could not be happier for him.’
Ms Rich, who was an Associate for Schillings at the time, was described as being part of Team Cupcake, providing advice and support to Nigella who gave evidence during the three week trial
In legal circles everyone is talking about how this turn of events might affect Joelle’s career. Despite the fact that Schillings gets a lot of attention because of the high-profile clients it represents, insiders say that it ‘never wants to be the news story’. One added: ‘Having a relationship with a client draws attention to that client and to Schillings it will be regarded as a really bad thing.’
Law Society guidelines state that a relationship between a solicitor and client is acceptable as long as there is no conflict of interest. There is no suggestion that such a conflict exists in this case or that either Rich or Schillings have acted unprofessionally. On Thursday, a source told U.S. Weekly: ‘Their chemistry is off the charts.’ The insider added: ‘It’s serious between them. They are the real deal.’
Previously, rumours had swirled that Depp was in a relationship with another lawyer — 38-year-old Camille Vasquez — who was a part of his team during his defamation trial in Virginia.
Vasquez denied all speculation about a romance with the star and it was later revealed that she was in fact in a relationship with Edward Owen, a British executive for the firm WeWork, which rents out office space.
Depp’s rehabilitation is still a work in progress: his concerts with guitar legend Jeff Beck were a sell-out and his art exhibition with Castle galleries so popular that their website crashed.
He’s back filming again for the first time in three years, playing Louis XV in Jeanne DuBarry. Filming has been going on for six weeks, with another month or so to go.
With a clever, adoring, new girlfriend at his side, will his triumphant return finally be complete?