I never even enjoyed the sex: Christine Keeler reflects on the scandal that defined the Sixties and how she now lives alone with a cat and 'doesn't bother' with men
'I'm beginning to wonder if I'll ever bother with a man again. They're so shallow,' said Christine Keeler
Christine Keeler insists on giving me a lift to the station after our interview.
‘You can’t walk!’ she cries as if the Tube station were a Himalayan trek away. But as I shoehorn myself into her little black car I recoil.
On the floor, spilling from a plastic bag, are a mass of mealworms. Alive or dead
‘Oh they’re dead. I buy them to feed the birds,’ she says blithely. There are bags of peanuts, too.
Christine turns 70 next week and, it seems, the twin objects of her affection in her old age are garden birds and her cat. There hasn’t been a man in her life for 22 years and it’s been almost four decades since she lived with anyone.
‘I’m beginning to wonder if I’ll ever bother with a man again,’ she says wearily.
‘They’re so shallow. I don’t want to think about them.
‘There’s too much involved. If I meet someone new I feel I have to explain everything: tell them I wasn’t this, I didn’t do that; that’s not true.
‘I don’t want to have to explain myself — but if I like someone I feel I have to.’
It’s ironic that a woman who in the 1960s was synonymous with sex and high society scandal should now live a life of such blameless and lonely abstinence.
Fifty years ago she possessed a blend of beauty and artlessness that mesmerised men, and her brief affair with Tory Minister for War John Profumo led to the downfall of Harold Macmillan’s government when it emerged that she had also slept with a Russian Naval attache and spy, Yevgeny Ivanov.
It is hard to imagine — after so many years of easy sex and kiss-and-tell revelations — the seismic scale of the international uproar created by the Profumo Affair.
When news of the scandal broke in 1963, the old sexual morality of the 1950s was only just giving way to a new permissiveness. The Cold War between Russia and the West was also at its height: Britain feared a Soviet nuclear attack as much as it deplored the emergent moral laxity.
And there was Christine Keeler, a naive 19-year-old raised in poverty, into what we would now call the underclass, at the epicentre of a crisis both political and sexual.
The Profumo Affair has defined her life ever since. She has never been able to shrug it off, but she doesn’t seem to want to.
On the one hand it irks her that she will never be known for anything else: on the other, she exploits it mercilessly.
Christine, a naive 19-year-old raised in poverty, into what we would now call the underclass, was at the epicentre of a crisis both political and sexual
We meet because she has just brought out an autobiography — her third — which purports to tell the full story for the first time.
‘Now Profumo is dead, I can finally reveal the truth about the most shocking scandal in British politics,’ runs the blurb for the ghost-written memoir, Secrets And Lies.
It’s certainly a racy and riveting read, but what of the new revelations
The big news seems to be that Stephen Ward, the high-society osteopath who was also a mentor and father figure to Christine — and who introduced her to Profumo — was not a pimp, as the world has been led to believe all these years, but a spy working with Ivanov to send the West’s military secrets to Russia.
Is the theory credible We’ll come to that later. Meanwhile, it is pertinent to contrast the lives of the two people at the centre of the scandal.
John Profumo (family motto: Virtue and Work) who was married to the actress Valerie Hobson when he and Christine had their affair, endured only a brief spell of ignominy. His wife stayed with him until her death in 1998.
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'All that Swinging Sixties. It didn't do anyone any good, did it says Christine
She has spent half a century denying that she was a prostitute — indeed it is a condition of our interview that we refer to her as a former ‘showgirl and model’ — although she concedes that she did accept gifts and money in return for sex.
Her two brief marriages, to ordinary men, ended in divorce. She has two sons, Jimmy and Seymour.
Jimmy, the elder, who was raised by Christine’s mother Julie, never speaks to her.
Neither does her mother: they’ve been estranged for years.
Seymour, meanwhile, is married and living abroad.
‘My children don’t want to be associated with that “bloody whore” Christine Keeler. It’s awful, but that’s the way it is,’ she says, with resignation rather than rancour.
‘I rang my mother a few months ago. When she answered I thought: “Bloody hell, she’s still alive”.
‘She’s always been very secretive about how old she was when she had me, but she must be about 86 now.
‘She wouldn’t speak to me; hasn’t for years. I asked to speak to my son Jim and she just said: “I don’t want nuisance calls”.’
Christine says her mother’s froideur became glacial when she stopped giving her money.
‘But my money dried up completely in the 1970s,’ she says.
Until then, she had shared her earnings — and there were substantial payments for her story from newspapers worldwide after the scandal broke; the News of the World paid her 21,000, a huge sum in the 1960s — with her mother and stepfather Ted.
‘I bought them a business in Yeovil, they sold it and moved to a bungalow in Wokingham. It was all thanks to me; not that they’d ever admit it.
‘It was written through me that “You must look after your mother”.’
Sadly similar care has not been accorded to Christine. Although her looks afforded her lucrative modelling contracts before Profumo, afterwards they dried up.
Since then, she has had a succession of ill-paid jobs — a stint as a school dinner lady was terminated abruptly when the head discovered her identity — but no real career.
Three years ago she moved to Wales — she thought the sea air would improve the emphysema that plagues her — but she failed to settle, returned to London and bought the ‘virtually derelict’ flat that is now her home.
Yet all might have turned out more auspiciously had Christine been more hard-headed. She says that she has never been ‘innocent’ and was raised, in poverty, in the Berkshire village of Wraysbury, in a home knocked together from two railway carriages.
When she reached puberty her stepfather, who had arrived in her life when she was four, took a disquieting sexual interest in her:
‘He tried to kiss me and rubbed Vicks on my chest when I had a cold’.
'She (Mandy Rice-Davies) was vindictive, a nasty piece of work. When Peter (Rachman) died, the first thing she said was: “Did he leave a will” She was a true tart,' said Christine
Christine lost her virginity at 15 to a Ghanaian student she met in London; then two years later a local boy made her pregnant. She tried to abort the pregnancy with a pen, then a knitting needle. Her baby was born, withered and premature, but died in hospital: she called him Peter.
She says she had no illusions left when she arrived in London and found a job as a topless showgirl in Murray’s Cabaret Club in Soho: it was her entree into a louche and monied high-society world.
It was here that she met Stephen Ward, the public-school-educated clergyman’s son who numbered Winston Churchill, Frank Sinatra and Elizabeth Taylor among his clients.
Ward possessed a seductive and dangerous mix of charm and depravity. He used prostitutes, yet although Christine moved in with him and he mentored her, even groomed her, their relationship was never sexual.
‘I was used to men liking me but there was always a subtext which involved me getting my clothes off.
‘The difference with Stephen was that he wanted me to sleep with other people.
‘Powerful people,’ she reflects.
Stephen’s Marylebone flat duly became Christine’s home — although she ‘ran away’ from him for a period, to become mistress to the notorious slum landlord Peter Rachman, who installed her in a flat, bought her ‘perfumes, nightgowns and jewels’ and undressed her every afternoon.
Stephen Ward possessed a seductive and dangerous mix of charm and depravity
Sex for Rachman was, she says, part of his daily life: ‘He would come round to the flat every afternoon and we would have sex. He could have been keeping a dental appointment. There was no romance, no foreplay.’
Christine abandoned Rachman for Serge, a virile young Pole who was one of his henchmen.
Mandy Rice-Davies, then one of Christine’s girlfriends and a fellow
Murray’s showgirl, stepped into the role she had vacated and became
Rachman’s kept woman.
Mandy and Christine had a ‘lark’ together as teenagers, racketing
around London with a group of Arab lads, Christine clearly now detests
vindictive, a nasty piece of work,’ she says. ‘When Peter (Rachman)
died, the first thing she said was: “Did he leave a will”
‘She was a true tart. She might as well have carried a placard saying: “I want to marry a millionaire”.’
ensues a torrent of vitriol, much of it libellous, and I wonder why
Christine — who seems otherwise mild and bereft of a desire for
vengeance — harbours such hatred for her one-time friend.
nub of it seems to be that Mandy cashed in on Christine’s notoriety,
assuming a pivotal role in the Profumo business she did not actually
have, and forged a lucrative career as a result of it.
went on to marry wealthy businessman Rafi Shauli and when I mention
that she appears to be very well set-up, Christine puts her hands over
her ears and says: ‘I don’t want to hear about her nightclubs and houses
in the Bahamas.’
It must be irksome to see others prospering while she sinks further into obscurity. As a teenager she was, it appears, less pragmatic and worldy-wise than her friend.
She says she trusted Ward because he was a father figure.
‘In many ways he brought me up,’ she says. But clearly he was a warped paternal substitute.
A relentless social climber, Ward rented a cottage on Lord Astor’s country estate, Cliveden in Buckinghamshire, where one balmy summer evening in July 1961, Christine was swimming naked in the pool when Astor and John Profumo strolled by.
The sight of her — a leggy 19-year-old with a mane of beautiful chestnut hair — ignited Profumo’s lust and their infamous affair began.
Once, he gave her 20 as a ‘gift’. She, in turn, gave it to her mother.
They had sex at Ward’s flat in Bayswater, London, and in the master bedroom of Profumo’s impressive house in Regent’s Park.
The venue was more memorable than the act: ‘I don’t remember the sex with Jack that much, other than it was furtive at first, increasingly pleasant, and all over before I knew it. It seems incredible, looking back, it could have resulted in so much tragedy and damage,’ she reflects.
‘All that Swinging Sixties. It didn’t do anyone any good, did it
Christine's brief affair with Tory Minister for War John Profumo led to the downfall of Harold Macmillan's government when it emerged that she had also slept with a Russian Naval attache and spy, Yevgeny Ivanov
‘Easy sex and the Pill. Marriages were ruined. I never did approve. I never really enjoyed the sex.’
I raise an eyebrow. ‘Never’
‘Well I didn’t like the one-night stands, because it takes a while to get used to a man, doesn’t it But I did enjoy the relationships.’
Coerced into unfulfilling couplings; yearning for a meaningful relationship. Love, it seems, always eluded her. But what of her claim that Ward was not a pimp providing her for the sexual gratification of his friends, but actually a spy, using her as the honey-trap
Christine spins a convoluted and unlikely yarn. She claims Ward asked her to find out, ‘through pillow talk’ with Profumo, when nuclear warheads were going to Germany.
Further, she contends that Profumo’s briefcase was stuffed with ‘sensitive’ information which Ward was able to filch while she distracted the War Minister in the bedroom. The idea — never substantiated — seems preposterous: Christine, as all who knew her at the time agreed, was far too naive and unsophisticated to be able to elicit State secrets from Profumo.
Ward, she further claims, set her up with Ivanov — she says she endured a single drunken coupling with the Russian — so that she could be blamed for transmitting the secrets if word got out.
Although Lord Denning, the judge who investigated the case, concluded Ward was a pimp rather than a spy, Christine concludes: ‘That was a cover-up. The Government didn’t want a scandal.’
Where it all began: Christine was swimming naked in the pool at Lord Astors country estate, Cliveden in Buckinghamshire, one balmy summer evening in July 1961 when Astor and John Profumo strolled by
Ward is not alive to verify Christine’s claims: he committed suicide on the last day of his trial after being charged with living off immoral earnings.
Many contend that he, like Christine, was a victim; that he was actually just pairing his influential friends with attractive young women.
Profumo, meanwhile, resigned; the Macmillan government subsequently crumbled.
The key players in this saga are, with the exception of Christine, all dead. She has a small coterie of loyal friends, including her lawyer Desmond Banks, who lets us use his home for our interview.
I wonder if she had any idea, as a teenager, of the extent or power of her beauty
‘I don’t think young girls know they’re beautiful,’ she says. ‘Although I must admit there wasn’t much I couldn’t get or do if I wanted to then.’
‘But I was a shy girl. I had rosy cheeks. I hated them. I blushed easily. It should never have happened to me, being in the spotlight.’
Through all the Profumo debacle, one man, old Etonian Michael Lambton — cousin of Lord Lambton — adored her; unconditionally it seems. They were briefly engaged and more than once she took advantage of his devotion to winkle money out of him.
Should she have married him
‘No, no,’ she says. ‘I didn’t love him.
‘There’s no point in saying you’ll grow to love them. You don’t.’
I ask if she has any regrets, expecting her, perhaps, to mention the alienation of her family; her failure to marry happily; the whole Profumo debacle.
Her answer is an odd one: ‘Well I regret having one of my cats put down,’ she says. (I don’t think she is being flippant). ‘I know now he could have been cured.’
Surely, I say, she must regret the fact that she hasn’t seen her son Jimmy for years
‘You can’t ’ she answers. ‘You have to get on with your life. Children in Africa are dying. How can one complain Life is cruel to everyone, isn’t it.
Secrets And Lies by Christine Keeler is published by John Blake at 17.99.
Christine Keeler, Douglas Thompson, 2012.