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Clouds of Scandal
Vanityfair July 2001
It was not John Profumo, Britain's secretary of state for war, who was the victim of a setup at Cliveden on the weekend of Saturday, July 8, 1961. It was me.
Stephen Ward and his spies wanted to know all about America's intentions, especially in regard to nuclear weapons. Stephen, 30 my senior, was a society doctor I had met when I was just 17 and working as a performer and hostess at Murray's, a club in London. I lived on and off with him in a nonsexual relationship for a year and a half, and in that time I discovered he was a spy for the Russians.
In the early 60s, the balance of nuclear firepower, as we know, was of utmost importance. The secretary of state for war could, Stephen and his friends very reasonably anticipated, be of great help. "Jack" Profumo (family motto: Virtue and Work) was under pressure because British military resources were overstretched. Moscow and Washington were at the brink, playing chess with nuclear missiles. Prime Minister Harold "Super Mac" Macmillan had his own pressures, as his consumerist conservatism wasn't making times as good as he had promised. That filtered down as he shared the burden with his ministers.
j But the Jack Profumo I knew was an easygoing man. He had a way about him, and he clearly liked women. He saw himself as a ladies' man and that may have come from his Italian background. When he met me he had been married for seven years, but I don't think he was scratching any seven-year itch.
He was comfortable having another woman. There had clearly been illicit affairs, dalliances, before he ever met me. He knew the technique, what to say and when to brush his hand on your arm or accidentally touch your breast. Later, when he was in I purgatory, a friend of mine, an entertainer, told me how Jack I had propositioned her, come on to her. The public thought he had learned all the lessons of the events which brought about I his downfall, but clearly not. John Profumo, the onetime Tory I M.P. for Kettering, and later for Stratford-on-Avon, was a man I with wandering eyes—and hands to match. I But he entered my life at the right time. Over the years much I has been said and written about our first and subsequent meetings. Some have tried to make more of it, produced theories | and witnesses where there were none. I am the only one now who knows exactly what happened. I was there. People ask me if I've read such-and-such book about the events, and I have, but I never needed to. I lived it. Living through it is the miracle. I do not need spy buffs' fantasies or the polluted memories of those on the make to tell me what happened.
I was a mixed-up young girl that long, hot summer when the temperatures soared. It was perfect weather for the cottage at Cliveden and for Stephen to do his gardening. Cliveden was the ancestral estate of Lord Astor, one of Stephen's patients, who allowed him to use the cottage there. It was humid during those weeks in London, and I looked forward to taking off with Stephen for the weekends at Cliveden. Stephen seemed to live for them. It was where he could get to work. Lady Astor, Bronwen Pugh, had her attention focused on her future child. Stephen had his spy games to play. It was a busy place, a furtive time.
The weekend that all the world thinks it knows about began for me with a casual drink with a Persian friend, Leo Norell. Stephen had been nagging me about getting a girl for him for the weekend, saying that he could use more relaxation than ever because of the heat. But the right girl never materialized in London, and we took off for the cottage, just the two of us: Leo and me.
After passing Heathrow airport, we saw a girl waiting at a bus stop and pulled over. I thought it might be fun to have another girl along, someone to make it a crowd, a party. I knew Stephen wouldn't mind. I chatted with her, she got in the car with us, and we were on our way to Cliveden. We joined Stephen that evening. There were four of us at the cottage that night.
At the big house Lord and Lady Astor were entertaining nearly 30 people, including Ayub Khan, the president of Pakistan, Lord and Lady Dalkeith, a group of Conservative M.E's, and Profumo and his wife, the former leading actress Valerie Hobson. Before the war and his marriage, Jack, who had had a reputation as a man-about-town, ran Bill Astor's Conservative Association in East Fulham, so they were longtime, good friends. And they both liked girls.
The marvelously appointed house and its guests were glittering in their finery. I was happy at the cottage with a drink and the cool evening air. It was a perfect summer's night. Bill Astor allowed Stephen and his guests to use the swimming pool, a grand, walled pool. Stupidly, I had forgotten my swimsuit, but it didn't matter, as there were always spare clean suits in the pool house. I put on a black one-piece, but it was a bit old-fashioned and was tight around my bottom. I liked to swim with lots of energy and I just couldn't get going in that suit. I must have complained about it, for Stephen told me to take it off, as it was only us.
Nude, I felt a lot better. It was cool and free in the pool and I happily swam about. I had left the bathing suit by the deep end of the pool. Stephen was lighting a cigarette when Bill Astor strolled in with Jack Profumo. I had water in my eyes and couldn't make them out at first, but then I recognized Bill. I had no idea who Profumo was. The two men were smiling and laughing. Stephen got up to greet them and at the same time threw my swimsuit into the hedge. I was stuck naked in the pool. There was a small towel at the deep end, and I quickly splashed over there and grabbed it. The men were all watching my mermaid act.
It was impossible to be dignified. I could cover either my breasts or my backside but not both. I tried for somewhere in the middle and attempted to walk out at the shallow end without giving them the full monty.
They had obviously had a few drinks and with Stephen's encouragement started trying to whip the tiny towel away from me. I ran around the pool with Lord Astor, head of a distinguished family, and John Profumo, one of Super Mac's most important government ministers, chasing me.
I had been drinking, too, and accepted this as great fun. I was giggling and enjoying the game. The towel would slip or I would let it slip a bit and there were schoolboy shrieks from the two of them. Bill Astor turned on the pool's floodlights and I didn't feel so brave in the spotlight.
Just then more of Bill's guests arrived, including Jack's wife. In their evening gowns and jewelry, the women were in stark contrast to me. All I had on was this sad square of toweling. With dripping-wet hair down my back and not much of me covered up I smiled and smiled and hoped the ground would swallow me up, but everybody was nice, so I said I was frightened of getting a chill and must change.
Before I went, Bill Astor glanced at his wife and then invited us to join the party up at the house for a drink. Jack nodded his approval of that idea. I was rather taken with him, impressed with him.
I had never been to the main house before and I was impressed; there were rooms galore, one after another after another. I wondered how much it cost to heat—especially with shillings in a gas meter. I felt like Cinderella, finally getting to the ball. Jack Profumo pointed out some of the paintings and photographs and invited me to look around with him. He said he would be my "tourist guide." As room led on to room, I would rush on to the next door.
It became a little game for the two of us: what was behind the next door? Jack suggested, "A kiss?" It got a little naughtier, with him stroking my back as we walked, and then he was chasing me around the furniture. I said I needed protection from him. There was a suit of armor in one room, and I put it on. It was a struggle, but Jack obviously enjoyed watching me pull it over my head. The others heard the noise as I clanked about, and, thankfully, Bill thought it was all great fun, a super party.
I hadn't noticed Stephen earlier, but he was suddenly there and he was watching Jack and Jack's eyes on me. He knew what had happened and what could happen—it was part of his tradecraft. Stephen started to make plans.
Leo and the girl we'd picked up at the bus stop—Joy was the name she gave us—had clearly become friendly. I don't think she ever realized what she had seen or how important it would be to the world, for she never surfaced again. She vanished into the night after returning to London with Leo in the early hours of July 9, 1961. We stayed at the cottage that night, but only after Stephen had gone to the village to use the phone, as the cottage, his beloved sanctuary, did not have one. After all the swimming and excitement, I slept well, but a couple of times in the night I thought I heard Stephen pacing around. I was too tired to get up and look for him. I slept on quite happily.
Stephen made coffee early the next morning, and on the way back to London we stopped at the main house; Stephen had arranged to give Bill a massage. I talked to Bronwen about the hot weather and how cooling the pool was. She didn't say anything about my running around half naked.
Stephen wanted to try and find out information from Bill about the delivery of nuclear weapons to Germany. It had been hinted at in previous conversations, and there was some paper-work at the house. While Bill was changing, Stephen stole some letters which he later handed over to Eugene Ivanov, his contact at the Soviet Embassy. The letters had useful information about the Skybolt missiles, which were, with the help of the Americans, to be Britain's nuclear weaponry. Jack Profumo was involved in the negotiations with the Kennedy administration, talks that would eventually see Polaris weapons in the U.K. and then campaign for Nuclear Disarmament on the march. Later, that plan would all go wrong and cause a great fuss between Washington and 10 Downing Street, but then, in the summer of 1961, was as a tremendous triumph for Stephen to get any information about the missile program. It was even more important that he w: ot found out, not betrayed.
Poor Bill never suspected Stephen, in all the years he had known him, of being a traitor, and over time had confided many things to him. They say spying is the second-oldest profession, and it seems to me that it is the least honorable because it can work only through treachery, deceit, and hurt.
But Stephen was a happy and busy man when we got back to his flat at Wimpole Mews. He phoned Roger Hollis, director-general of M.I.5, who was later investigated as a Russian spy, while I started to make some lunch, but he asked me to go into the bedroom while he was on a "private" call. Their plan was simple. I was to find out from Jack Profumo, through pillow talk, when nuclear warheads were to be moved to Germany.
Jack telephoned me on July 12, 1961. It was hot and he suggested a drive to anywhere I wanted to go. You have to remember I was only 19 years old, and this was a government minister. I wanted to show some respect, although I knew what he was after. I had no idea what to say and I blurted out, "We could drive by where you work."
I have no idea why I said that. I didn't care. I was just trying to be polite. It was like asking, "Do you think it will rain today?" But the secretary of state for war was not concerned. He just wanted to impress me. "I'll show you the army barracks too, where I inspect the men."
That day we went for a drive around London. Jack had collected me from Wimpole Mews and casually greeted Stephen, who, incredibly, was leaving for a meeting with Eugene, his Russian contact. Jack asked about Stephen, and I assured him that Stephen and I were just good friends. He was most polite. My 19-year-old self was impressed, flattered by the attention. We drove to the War Office and down Downing Street, which you could still do in those days. Jack was 46 then, more than twice my age, but he had a natural style about him, something you get with pedigree: confidence and an aura of being totally in control. I had climbed into Jack's polished, glistening black car without much thought other than keeping everybody happy. And so I began the Profumo Affair.
Darling, In great haste and because I can get no reply from your phone— Alas something's blown up tomorrow night and I can't therefore make it. I'm terribly sorry especially as I leave the next day for various trips and then on a holiday so won't be able to see you again until sometime in September. Blast it. Please take great care of yourself, and don't run away.
P.S. I'm writing this 'cos I know you're off for the day tomorrow and I want you to know before you go if I still can't reach you by phone.
—One of John Profumo's letters to Christine Keeler, August 8, 1961, quoted in the "Denning Report," September 1963.
I don't remember the sex with Jack that much, other than it was furtive at first and increasingly pleasant. It seems incredible looking back that our liaison could have resulted in so much tragedy and damage. It was no grand romance. I've felt sad for Jack over the years, but never sorry for him. He was a grownup, much older man, and I was clearly not the first girl he had chased. Or the last.
To me, it was Jack's wife, who died in 1998, who was the strong one. She stayed with him for more than 40 years and never said a bad word. About anyone. The Profumos had a lot of family money, and Jack had a taste for luxury. He used to pick me up in a big black chauffeur-driven car with a flag on the front. The government car he took me around London in had soft leather seats you sank into and that smell of polish on the walnut finishings and the leather. It was like being in a Bond Street store.
When the car pulled up back at Wimpole Mews the only thing bothering Jack was running into Stephen. He was desperate to see me again, the next day if possible. But he wanted to know about Stephen, and we arranged for him to call me to make sure the coast was clear, as it were, before he arrived: It was "our plot," as he put it with a big smile. He didn't seem to think he was doing anything wrong or taking any risks. He was just looking for a good time.
Of course, Stephen wanted to know exactly what had happened with Jack, and I told him about driving along Downing Street and past the War Office, which Jack had been running since 1960, and how Jack had delighted in showing me around Regent's Park. Stephen wanted to know if we'd had sex, so I told him we hadn't, and accused him of having a "dirty mind," which, in the circumstances, was a bad joke. Stephen didn't care: he relished all of it. He called it dramatic, and I thought he just wanted to know all about the habits—sexual or otherwise—of a future prime minister.
Stephen subsequently spent more time than usual at his consulting rooms, and Jack and I became lovers. The first time was in the front room of Wimpole Mews. We had been talking, and he was being charming and flirtatious, and the next thing we were kissing, and then he was leaping on top of me. Jack never gave me a chance to think about rejecting him. He was anxious to move on, and we were on the sofa. I enjoyed it, for he was kind and loving afterward. I never thought about the implications; it was all very agreeable and I began to look forward to his visits.
Stephen bumped into Jack a few nights after I had met the minister at Cliveden. Russia's first man in space, Major Yuri Gagarin, was in Britain. He had lunch with the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh and then attended a mobbed press conference in Earl's Court. It was like a Hollywood welcome for him.
The Russian Embassy went to town. They held a lavish reception for Gagarin, and Stephen was invited. He took another woman, not me, to the function. Jack was there with Valerie, and, naturally enough, Eugene was there. Stephen told me that he had met them all, and he and his date had had drinks—vodka—with Jack and Valerie, and also with Gagarin. Nothing was said about me, but Jack must have been thinking of me because I received word from him.
It was insane of him to write me notes, but he did. There would be a couple of lines like "Looking forward to getting to know you better ... "—a little innuendo about our lovemaking. And there were a couple of notes changing arrangements, always signed "Love J.," and with a message for me to take care of myself for him. I did not keep the letters, as I never wanted to hurt Jack, and I never considered blackmailing him over them. The only letter that was ever published in full was the "Darling" letter, and that got its widest circulation through the "Denning Report."
That summer I was happy having our illicit love affair. It was exciting. I had the upper hand, for I could always get rid of Jack by saying that Stephen was scheduled to be home. That kept him away, for he was very wary of Stephen, but he never seemed concerned that others would find out about us. I later told Lord Denning, the man whom Harold Macmillan appointed to lead the inquiry into my involvement with Jack, that Jack was concerned about his wife's finding out, but if he was, he never showed it to me. He even borrowed his friend John Hare's Bentley to take me for a drive. And Viscount Hare was the minister of labor, whose car had a unique hood ornament, a silver hare. I don't know if Jack was being reckless or was just too arrogant and thought he could do what he wanted with impunity.
Also, it was not the sign of a worried man to take me to his marital bed and make love to me. He had turned up in his red Mini and was cheerful. We took a drive through Regent's Park, but this time we stopped at his home, an impressive Nash house. We rushed up the steps and into an oblong-shaped hall. At the bottom of a huge staircase were two big ornamental dogs, which Jack said Valerie had bought. He didn't sound too fond of them. Stephen had known Valerie before she married Jack, and he contacted her a couple of times during that summer of 1961. I believe he went to see her at their house in Regent's Park, but he never told me what had occurred between them. That surprised me, for he knew Jack had taken me to the house, and we would, in our "normal" circumstances, have gossiped about the size of the rooms and the interior decoration. It was fine and rich and tasteful, and Stephen would have adored it.
Jack, as he had done at Cliveden, offered me a tour of the house. He showed me the dining room. "We often have the Queen for dinner here." I stared at the table. He rolled his eyes: "She's my favorite girlfriend." "The Queen?"
He laughed as he led me up the great staircase to where his office and the master bedroom were situated. We entered his office: "And this is where I work." He tried to kiss me. His desk looked like a telephone exchange, and one phone looked unusual. "Oh, that's a scrambler. I use that if I want to phone the prime minister. It scrambles our voices. No one except us can understand what we're saying." Then he took me into the next room, which was a grand en suite bedroom. Jack went into the bathroom as I looked around. When he came out he seemed to me a most powerful figure. Soon we were making love in his own bedroom. It was a great turn-on for both of us. I enjoyed being with him. Jack would try to buy me presents or give me money, but I always refused. I didn't want his money. I felt that what was happening between us was above that. Once, he gave me £20 for my mother, and I got perfume and a cigarette lighter from him. He said he wanted to be generous to me, as I was generous with my gifts to him. I didn't like taking the £20, but I did. Jack seemed oblivious to the danger of people finding out about us. The next time we went out, he headed to a club in St. James's to collect a package, and I waited in the car for him. But then we went to Chelsea to visit Georgie Ward, who was the former secretary of state for air. Jack told him about meeting me at Bill Astor's pool and they laughed about it. Georgie was a jolly sort of man and thought nothing of our being together. The following day Stephen took me for a drive, and I pointed out Georgie Ward's house to him.
Late one night Stephen came into my bedroom. I was half asleep, and he paced the room, puffing on a cigarette. It was his usual routine when he couldn't sleep, when he wanted to talk. But this time the talk was of world importance—and would affect the rest of our lives. It's extraordinary how a small moment in time, a half-awake moment, can transform your world. For you can never change what happened, take back the words, reverse the deeds. It's said, it's done. No matter how much you want it, things can never be unsaid, undone. That night in the bedroom, between drags on his cigarette, Stephen asked me straight out to ask Jack on what date the Germans were going to get nuclear weapons. I knew Stephen was a spy, but had not allowed myself to think how great his scope was or what his actions could mean. This seemed so bold. I had dropped off letters at the Russian Embassy, but that was just like posting a letter. This was different. This was gathering information. Spying. Properly. Or, rather, improperly.
I leaned over and put on the night-light, and I could see that Stephen looked worried. He lit another cigarette and went on: "We know they are going to have them, but we don't know when—you could find out, as Jack would have been invited to the ceremony."
Months later "Super Mac" Macmillan would suggest that Jack could not have known such details, but Jack was in negotiations with the Americans all the time over weapons and their placement. The Russians—and Stephen—knew Jack would have some inside information, if not every detail. And so did I—having heard Stephen and Eugene talking about it, and their heated discussions on the East-West battle of power.
I became afraid and begged him not to ask me to do such a thing, saying that I couldn't betray my country. He then told me not to worry, and abruptly left my room. I lay awake wondering what to do. I loved and I feared Stephen, for I knew what he was capable of. I knew that if I did not do what he asked my life would be in danger.
The next day I received the "Darling" letter from Jack, changing our plans, but not canceling out future meetings. The next meeting we did have was complicated: we sat outside Wimpole Mews in his distinctive red Mini, and we argued. He said he could no longer see me if I stayed with Stephen. I had no option: I had to either leave Stephen or never see Jack again. I got confused and angry, and he said, "Why don't you get a flat on your own somewhere, Christine? I could find one for you."
I thought of the movie The Apartment, where the girl, Shirley MacLaine, is used by some big-time business executive. It's Jack Lemmon's apartment and is always available for the executive and his girlfriends to come round. I thought my Jack wanted me to be available for all the Tory government, and I was livid. I shouted at him that he didn't own me. I said I didn't love him and I enjoyed living with Stephen, with our arrangement. I said he was being jealous and possessive, and it wasn't as if I loved him, although I did enjoy being with him, and I liked going to bed with him.
Jack again said he couldn't see me anymore if I stayed at Wimpole Mews. I jumped out of the Mini, saying, "Don't then," and slammed the car door. Without looking back, I also slammed the front door. I thought all was over with Jack Profumo.
In his last note Jack said to call. When I finally did he seemed pleased to hear from me. It was late October 1961, and the weather had turned very cold. We were more discreet, for he did not want Stephen to know, and neither did I.
We talked about lots of things, including where I might go to live away from Stephen. We drove around and stopped somewhere. I don't remember where—I wasn't paying attention to anything but Jack. We made love in his car, and that is where and when I became pregnant.
I didn't tell Jack about the baby, but I never heard from him again. About the flat. About anything. Maybe it had been one last fling with me, one last great risk, that excited him. I don't know, and I don't suppose I care that much now. At the time I was lost and didn't know where to turn.
One November weekend at the cottage I met a well-known show-business personality, a marvelous character. She had a great fan club of young men—not surprising, because she was very attractive, with a fabulous figure. She still looks wonderful today. But she was in trouble: she was pregnant.
Now she was going to have an abortion and asked if I would be with her. I went to her flat, where the baby was aborted. It was difficult and painful for her, and she kept thanking me for being with her. She also told me that a senior member of the royal family was the father.
For my own abortion I found a woman who would carry it out for £25, but I don't remember that much about it. It was a horrific experience. I was thankful to live through it. I was half asleep, almost in a coma, when my longtime friend Peter Lewin came around to see how I was. The abortionist woman had just left. Peter was shocked but took control. He knew I was in a terrible state—dying. Peter saved my life by getting me to the Chelsea Hospital for Women on Dovehouse Street, just in time.
In December of 1962 real trouble began when Johnnie Edgecombe, a West Indian man I'd been seeing, got into a jealous rage and came around to the Wimpole Mews apartment. By then, I had moved out and Mandy Rice-Davies, who had befriended me at Murray's, was living there. I went to visit Mandy, and Johnnie found out where I was. I had gotten together with Johnnie partly because he offered to protect me from Lucky Gordon, another West Indian, who had been violent with me and was stalking me. Unfortunately, Johnnie proved to be just as crazy as Lucky. When Mandy and I wouldn't let him in he tried to shoot the door down. Wimpole Mews became a sea of press and police. Johnnie was soon apprehended and charged with the shooting, and for cutting up Lucky with a knife.
I found myself desperate for a shoulder to lean on. I needed advice, guidance. I needed someone to turn to. Stephen did not want to know. The press was pestering Mandy and me all the time, but she knew nothing and thought it was all a giggle, a bit of fun. Her ignorance did not help my feelings.
The fears to me were immediate ones and surrounded the trial of Johnnie Edge-combe, which was set to be heard a couple of months into the new year. The prospect of the trial at the Central Criminal Court, the Old Bailey, dominated my thoughts. Everyone else seemed to be preparing for Christmas, and the lights were on in the West End. I had a stack of invites to parties and to drinks get-togethers, but I was thinking about being asked in court if I had had sex with a black man, which in the early 1960s was a great stigma. It was like being an unmarried mother, a dreadful thing.
I did go out to a Christmas party, a sort of Murray's Club reunion with people like me who had worked there and with favored customers. It was a mistake, for there I met one of the most evil men of the whole affair, the vindictive John Lewis. Later, I was told, someone chewed off his nose as a reprisal for "putting your nose in my affairs"; I was not surprised. Lewis, who died in 1969, had been a Labour M.P. from 1945 to 1951, but was a rogue in business. Stephen had played a part in his bitter divorce from his wife, Joy, and Lewis was, even years later, after him. He believed revenge was best served cold.
On the surface, the man I met on Christmas Eve 1962 could not have been more helpful. I didn't know he was using me as a conduit to get to Stephen. He bragged about having gotten hundreds of thousands of pounds in legal actions against newspapers. My legal troubles involving Johnnie and Lucky were nothing.
I was so grateful when he said he would get his lawyers to help, and even more pleased that he actually rang, as promised, the next day. He invited me to his house and bamboozled me with his confidence and connections: Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner had stayed in his flat. He pointed out the fat dossiers he kept on people. He was the same as Stephen but more deadly: he became more familiar with me and made a pass.
1 told him about Stephen's asking me to get details about the bombs. I told him about Jack. He told George Wigg, the powerful Labour M.P. with the ear of Harold Wilson, the Labour Party leader. Wigg, who was Jack's opposite number in the Commons, started a Lewis-style dossier; it was the official beginning of the investigations and questions which would pull away the foundation of the Macmillan government.
I thought John Lewis was helping me, but he was trying to destroy Stephen. Over two or three weeks, Lewis, unknown to me, had been recording our conversations. I had a row with him and locked him out of his office while I searched for his files on me, Jack, and Stephen. He made such a fuss, I got nowhere. But neither did he when he offered me £500 to sleep with him. Did he want to tape that as well, as evidence of my easy virtue? I don't think so, not by his reaction. When I turned him down he called me all sorts of horrid names and shouted, "You're not going until I fuck you." I walked to the door, but he pushed me back and shouted what he wanted again and again. Then he locked me in his office and disappeared. When he came back he had a gun in his hand.
Astonishingly, he handed me the revolver, saying, "If you won't make love to me, you'll have to shoot me if you want to leave. It's loaded. Go ahead."
I would happily have shot him, and told him so. He wouldn't move, so I pointed
Keeler's friend and roommate Mandy Rice-Davies in a London hotel suite during Stephen Ward's trial, July 1963.
the gun at him and pulled the trigger. The gun wasn't loaded. I will never forget the look on his face when he heard the click of the hammer. 1 left. One game appeared to be over. But it wouldn't be long before I had the urge to kill again. The circus was about to start.
The press had kept a vigil outside my new flat at Great Cumberland Place since Johnnie Edgecombe had played his version of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral at Wimpole Mews. About six weeks had gone by and the press was getting impatient. My friend Nina Gadd was, like Mandy, going into and out of the flat, but I had turned protectively reclusive and kept out of the way. The reporters and photographers seemed to be working in shifts, and it would not have surprised me if they had arrived squeezed into double-decker buses. They turned up in all different sizes and attitudes, some gruff and pushy, others relaxed and amiable; it was good guy, bad guy. What they all had in common was they were desperate for an exclusive interview with me.
Nina Gadd thought she was going to make a killing. She had been feeding the gossip columns and called herself a freelance journalist. I now suspect that Nina was the source of a snippet in the glossy magazine Queen in the late summer of 1962 which began the Profumo Affair rumors. It was so vague in linking Jack, Eugene, and me that it was understood only by cognoscenti who were working on equally vague, circumstantial evidence. Now that the hunt was on, Nina could be more provocative. She arrived at the flat as usual on January 22, 1963, but with a man she said was her fiance. Of course, I allowed the guy in—he was engaged to my friend.
Mandy and my friend Paul Mann were present. It was a setup, the first of many. Nina started talking about Jack and the problems with Lucky. In front of her fiance, whom I was meeting for the first time? But I was so wrapped up in my world that I did not see how ridiculous this was. When you are in a comer and the people facing you are, you believe, your close friends, you are blinded sometimes; it is sleight of mind because you can't think for thinking. They all suggested I sell my story to the newspapers. What had I to lose? There was only profit in it—and my modeling prospects were nil.
Nina's man was very clued up, asking if I had evidence. I had the "Darling" letter from Jack, but I did not want to hurt him. That was not a problem, because the newspapers could not print his name. He would be an anonymous government minister. To Miss Naive 1963, it all sounded so simple. The money certainly appealed to me, for it could bankroll an escape from all the problems. But how much would I get?
Nina's friend took out his business card and identified himself as from the Sunday Pictorial, which was a heavy-hitting competitor of the News of the World, the People and the Sunday Mirror of the time. He suggested I could make as much as £1,000, maybe more—a tantalizing figure at the time. I justified it to myself. Lucky had been seen near the flat, and what harm could it bring to Jack? I went to the Sunday Pictorial office the next day. Mandy went with me. We talked through my story and I showed them Jack's letter. The deal was done as long as I left the letter, the hard evidence. We haggled. I got £200, and the newspaper kept the letter. The agreement was that when I signed the story the rest of the money would be paid. They were going to write everything, I just had to put my name to the proofs.
Then the police arrived and more traps were set.
I had been having a good run with my modeling, but the publicity over Johnnie Edgecombe's shoot-out stopped all that. A photographic shoot for Knight's Castile soap was canceled, and so was a whisky promotion in Scotland. I was 20 years old, and it seemed my life was over, finished. And Stephen was to blame. I was determined to bring him down with me and I only knew one way to do that. I betrayed him to the police—I told them that Stephen had asked me to get the date of the bomb delivery from Jack. Detective Sergeant John Burrows from the Marylebone station came to interview Mandy and me about the shooting. He told us the magistrates would take evidence in early February 1963. He asked how I had met Jack, and I told him that I'd met him at Bill Astor's home, and I let him know that I had given Jack's letter to the Sunday Pictorial. I also told him that through Stephen I had met Eugene, the Russian, on a few occasions, and that was that, I thought. I had done my duty. However, Mandy blurted out, "He uses young girls—he's a sexual pervert."
Burrows went away and wrote a report using both my words and Mandy's. In a statement which he wrote, and which I never saw or signed, he said, She [Christine] said that Doctor Ward was a procurer of women for gentlemen in high places and was sexually perverted: that he had a country cottage at Cliveden to which some of these women were taken to meet important men—the cottage was on the estate of Lord Astor; that he had introduced her to Mr John Profumo and that she had an association with him; that Mr Profumo had written a number of letters to her on War Office notepaper and that she was still in possession of one of these letters which was being considered for publication in the Sunday Pictorial to whom she had sold her life story for £1,000. She also said that on one occasion when she was going to meet Mr Profumo, Ward had asked her to discover from him the date on which certain atomic secrets were to be handed to West Germany by the Americans, and that this was at the time of the Cuba crisis. She also said she had been introduced by Ward to the Naval Attache of the Soviet Embassy and had met him on a number of occasions.
It was this initial report which became the key to the conspiracy to cover up. All my information about Stephen passing on documents and information to the Russians was ignored. As was my witnessing his meetings with Russian spies Anthony Blunt and Roger Hollis. It was all part of the plot to which Lord Denning gave official approval by deflecting questions about Stephen's espionage machinations and manipulations. The attitude that originated with that report was: Let's blame Christine Keeler for everything. Stephen Ward a spy? Never. The man was a pimp. That was a much better solution. Ward the pimp was much more acceptable than Ward the spy, another one missed by the Brits. How would the Atlantic "cousins" like that? They did not want another name to add to the famous Cambridge spy ring of Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean, and Kim Philby. Certainly not Stephen Ward and—God forbid—Roger Hollis. Anthony Blunt's treason was discovered but remained secret for years. Stephen Ward as the pimp was best. That is what charges filed later in the year at the Old Bailey said. Stephen pleaded not guilty to five charges:
• That between June 1, 1961, and August 31, 1962, he knowingly lived wholly or in part on the earnings of prostitution.
• That between September 1, 1962, and December 1962, he knowingly lived wholly or in part on the earnings of prostitution.
• That between January 1, 1963, and June 8, 1963, he lived wholly or in part on the earnings of prostitution.
• That between May 1, 1961, and June 30, 1961, he incited Christine Keeler to procure a girl under 21 years to have unlawful sexual intercourse with a third person.
• That on January 3, 1963, he attempted to procure a girl under 21 years to have unlawful sexual intercourse with a third person.
That such charges were even brought was one of the great miscarriages of British justice, something that many legal experts as well as scholars of the time now recognize. Stephen never lived off women like a pimp. The charges were just a weapon.
The story came out, most significantly for the authorities, that Stephen had introduced me to Jack and Eugene and Bill Astor. He was the one getting girls for the boys. Many of Stephen's former girlfriends had met their husbands through Stephen, but that didn't concern Burrows.
I was down as a witness at Johnnie Edge-combe's trial, which had been postponed until March 14, 1963, because a witness, the cabdriver who had taken him to and from Wimpole Mews, was ill. I was legally bound to attend, but with everything that was going on around me, that was not a great concern.
Stephen knew I would run. I had told him how terrified I was of going to court. Plus I was terrified of Lucky Gordon, who was still stalking me. Paul Mann and I drove down to Dover. It was Friday, March 8, 1963. After crossing the Channel, we stopped in Paris for a couple of days. Then we drove and drove until we were in southeastern Spain. We stopped at a fishing village called Altea, and for 30 shillings a week—we didn't have much money between us—we got ourselves a "villa," which was freezing. It had cold stone floors, bars on the windows, and little furniture. We sat in the sun and played cards. Alicante was the nearest place of any consequence. There was a phone at the cafe, but it was difficult to get through to London, to anywhere. I wanted to see the newspapers—what had happened to Johnnie Edgecombe?
On March 14, at the Old Bailey, Johnnie was charged with the slashing of Lucky and with shooting at and trying to kill me. I was the no-show witness and became in the next day's headlines the missing model. Later that day, Johnnie was cleared of these charges but convicted of possessing a firearm with intent to endanger life. He got seven years from Mr. Justice Thesiger and protested that it was all an Establishment fit-up. It certainly looks that way to me. Especially now, with hindsight, when you see how everyone was being taken, however harshly, out of the picture.
Except me. Despite all the efforts. On the second day of Johnnie's trial the Daily Express had a clever front page with a banner headline reading, war minister shock. There was a confusing story about Jack's resigning but not resigning. The paper couldn't put directly into print the rumors that were all over Whitehall and along Fleet Street. It was a journalistic device to link me and Jack. Across to the right on that front page was a photograph of me with the headline vanished: old bailey witness.
So, as I sat winning pennies playing whist in Spain, Jack Profumo was the architect of his own downfall.
George Wigg brought up the rumors about Jack and me in the House of Commons without specifying Jack's name. Barbara Castle called me a tart under the protection of parliamentary privilege. There were stories that Jack had paid for me to vanish. Everyone was speculating about who had paid for the "missing model" to go missing. The inside gossip rattled on about Jack and Bill Astor and Stephen. Who had paid the bill? Harold Macmillan's government was under siege from the Labour Party and the press. But it was all rumor because few knew for certain that Jack and I had had sex. Or that I had also slept with Eugene. And nobody knew about Stephen's spy ring with Roger Hollis and Anthony Blunt. That would have been a story. But the whiff of scandal was now strong enough to encourage anyone who felt like it to join in a great banshee cry about morality and security.
Finally, Jack made his now legendary "personal statement" to the House of Commons just after 11 a.m. on Friday, March 22, 1963. Here it is, paragraph by paragraph:
I understand that in the debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill last night, under protection of parliamentary privilege, the Hon. Gentlemen the Members for Dudley (George Wigg) and for Coventry, East (Richard Grossman), and the Hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Barbara Castle), opposite, spoke of rumours connecting a Minister with a Miss Keeler and a recent trial at the Central Criminal Court. It was alleged that people in high places might have been responsible for concealing information concerning the disappearance of a witness and the perversion of justice.
I understand that my name has been connected with the rumours about the disappearance of Miss Keeler.
I would like to take this opportunity of making a personal statement about these matters.
I last saw Miss Keeler in December 1961, and I have not seen her since. I have no idea where she is now. Any suggestion that I was in any way connected with or responsible for her absence from the trial at the Old Bailey is wholly and completely untrue.
My wife and I first met Miss Keeler at a house party in July, 1961, at Cliveden. Among a number of people there was Dr. Stephen Ward, whom we already knew slightly, and a Mr. Ivanov, who was an attache at the Russian Embassy.
The only other occasion that my wife or I met Mr. Ivanov was for a moment at the official reception for Major Gagarin at the Soviet Embassy.
My wife and I had a standing invitation to visit Dr. Ward.
Between July and December, 1961, I met Miss Keeler on about half a dozen occasions at Dr. Ward's flat, when I called to see him and his friends. Miss Keeler and I were on friendly terms. There was no impropriety whatsoever in my acquaintanceship with Miss Keeler.
Ironically, the pressure on Jack had been stirred up by my story for the Sunday Pictorial, which was never printed, because the newspaper had gotten nervous.
Ignorant of what had gone on in the Commons, Paul and I got a lift from two matadors and arrived in Madrid on March 23. When we went out dancing at a disco, an American looked at me and said, ""tou're the missing model, Christine Keeler. I've been reading all about you and Parliament." He produced the paper. I read the report of Jack's speech and my first question was "What's impropriety?"
Soon the international press discovered I was in Madrid, and I was pursued back to London by every means imaginable.
An investigation by the lord chancellor was scheduled to begin on May 30, and Jack was told he would be questioned the following week. It could not go on; there could be no more brinkmanship.
The game was up. Jack and his wife went to his beloved Italy, to the calming waters of
Stephen Ward at a gallery showing of his drawings in 1963, a few months before he died of a sleeping-pill overdose. Keeler believes he committed suicide.
Venice: it was the last act of bravado. After he confessed all to Valerie, he returned and confessed to Macmillan's private secretary: "I have to tell you that I did sleep with Miss Keeler and my statement in that respect was untrue." He then wrote to Macmillan on June 4, 1963, with his resignation:
In my statement I said that there had been no impropriety in this association. To my very deep regret I have to admit that this was not true, and that I misled you, and my colleagues, and the House. I ask you to understand that I did this to protect, as I thought, my wife and family, who were equally misled, as were my professional advisers. I have come to realise that, by this deception, I have been guilty of a grave misdemeanour.
He got a "Dear Profumo" letter back accepting his resignation with alacrity. The news broke the next day. To sum up the madness of it, the leopardskin-wearing rock star Screaming Lord Sutch, who died in 1999, announced he was standing for Jack's constituency as a candidate from the Monster Raving Loony Party, It seemed appropriate. At the same time, all hell broke loose around me.
One of the characters I met at this time was Robin Drury, a friend of Stephen's who had been the personal manager to Lionel Bart, the composer of Oliver! Times were not so good for him and he borrowed money from me. Now he approached me about writing a book. He said he Wanted to be my manager. He seemed O.K. It would be strictly business and I liked the idea of that. A lawyer named Walter Lyons was part of the deal with Robin. Even before Jack resigned they had been quietly talking to the News of the World about selling the paper my story. It was the heyday of checkbook journalism, with newspapers, especially the Sunday papers, fighting over the stories of those involved in big court cases and paying handsomely for their versions of events. It was a terrific deal—they were going to pay £23,000, a fortune in those days, maybe a quarter of a million pounds today. Robin produced a tape recorder and we set about doing the book. He kept me talking, feeding me coffee, for hours. I talked and talked. 1 wouldn't shut up. The day after Jack's resignation, Robin came around to clinch the deal with the News of the World. Reporters were constantly asking more questions, then writing the answers in the first person, as though I had written the story. And the madness was set to continue, for now there was even talk about making a movie of my life.
I was a victim of lies from the beginning, and they have just become more colossal over the years; the cumulative effect is that everyone has a blurred view of what really happened. It is why I have always wanted to tell the truth about Stephen and his spying and all the other horrors. It's just that I have not had the strength before, I was too frightened; but now that my sons are grown I want the world to know my real story. The plight of Monica Lewinsky brought it home to me again when in 1998 she became a dirty joke with all those smarmy remarks about cigars and President Clinton and racy sexual happenings in the Oval Office.
Knowing all of this and what I personally survived, I am one of only a few people in the world who could hope to understand something of the architecture of the shaky, nightmarish life that Monica Lewinsky endured at the height of that scandal. And will suffer forever. 1 only had to watch her being manipulated and turned into a scapegoat to think of Denning.
And Clinton's confidants and sharp-suited aides appearing on television with one story and then another and then a new version—it made me shudder. Sincerity? The truth? Sorry, I'd heard and seen it all before. I could empathize with what really happens to a young "scarlet" woman when the world is watching every moment: the constant whisperings, sniggering, finger-pointing, head turning, the simple surface signs that you are disturbingly different. Also, with the insecurities and fears, the paranoia of living around the clock with the certain knowledge that someone, somewhere, is always after you. There is no escape from such high-profile political scandal after the threshold between nonentity and notoriety has been crossed.
You can never be you again.
Stephen Ward took a fatal overdose of sleeping pills the night before he was convicted in 1963 of living off immoral earnings. Many believe it was suicide, though rumors of foul play persist. Documents from his trial have been sealed by the British government until 2046. Mandy Rice-Davies, now 57, is married to Ken
Foreman, a retired businessman 9 years her senior. It is her third marriage. They live in Surrey, Miami, and the Bahamas. Eugene Ivanov escaped to Moscow in 1963. Partly as a result of the Profumo scandal, Harold Macmillan resigned in October 1963; Sir Alec Douglas-Home served as interim prime minister until Harold Wilson's Labour government took power in 1964. Lord Denning died in March 1999 at the age of 100.
John Profumo's wife, Valerie, died in 1998, at the age of 81. Profumo has led a quiet life, working for charity, since resigning in 1963. Last July, he was a guest at St. Paul's Cathedral for a tribute honoring the Queen Mother on her upcoming 100th birthday.
Christine Keeler, 59, lives in London. Twice married and twice divorced, she has two sons. She has lived alone since 1978. Quoting Oscar Wilde, she says, "The truth is rarely pure and never simple."
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