Christine Keeler votes Conservative. She would, wouldn’t she? Having seen off the Macmillan Government in the 1960s, exposed the squalid underbelly of upper-class public life and fired the starting pistol to begin the sexual revolution by revealing that ‘You’ve never had it so good’ was actually ‘You’ve never had it so often,’ she reckons she knows what’s what about the world of politics and power (though sex and men are not really her thing). She has nothing but contempt for Blair’s New Labour: ‘just a bunch of control freaks, just more ardent, more determined to bring in rules and take away our freedoms. What I have learned most is that those who would lead have agendas rather than feelings or emotions.’
Christine Keeler also has an agenda. You get to an age when the truth seems all-important, she says. In her case the age of truth would be around 59 because today ‘it makes me shudder when I understand the cumulative effect of the years of lies on which history has been created.’ As a result of this insight she has been moved to study: ‘now with that scholarship, hindsight and, of course, my day-to-day witnessing of events as they happened . . . I feel able, at last, to tell the whole truth.’ It must also be disturbing to have reached such a stage of maturity and have to confront the fact that for forty years you’ve been famous for being the tart who was accidentally instrumental in getting Labour into power after 13 years of Tory Government. (She didn’t think much of Wilson’s lot, especially that ‘ugly’ George Wigg, the one ‘with the ear of Harold Wilson’ who, in addition to being apparently genetically modified, she ‘always thought looked like a pervert’). She has a place in history, to be sure, but not one that’s likely to be welcome in her scholarly middle years as the mark she will have made on the world. As both a lover of truth, and a misunderstood victim of a cover-up by powerful men to protect each other, she aims to set the record straight with her recollection of the events of the Profumo Affair.
Christine Keeler bemoans the fact that she can never escape being Christine Keeler, but actually she is no longer Christine Keeler. She has changed her name through two marriages and deed poll, and also, like the rest of us have or will, she has grown into an older woman who looks back on her former self with a mixture of pride and embarrassment. From being ‘innocent and warm-hearted’ when she arrived in London in 1959, she became, she explained to her son Seymour, as he was growing up, ‘wild and naughty’. But she emphatically denies ever being ‘the common tart’ she was painted as. She was not, she insists, a prostitute ‘in the sense that most people understand the word’. The sense in which I understand the word is that it describes a person who offers sex in return for money or the equivalent in goods. ‘It’s true that I have had sex for money but only out of desperation,’ Keeler elaborates, distinguishing herself from those who do it because it’s such a laugh. In fact, she goes so far as to say that she thinks she ‘might have been one of the most moral women of that particular, frenzied decade’. Her friend Mandy Rice-Davies was the ‘true tart’: ‘There was always shock on her face whenever she thought she might have to do more than lie on her back to make a living.’
Visiting the Twenty-One Room, ‘a glorified knocking shop with overpriced drinks and rooms to rent upstairs’, Keeler met a Major Jim Eynan. He wanted to go to bed with her in the afternoons, she says, ‘and, for nearly two years, he often did. Ours was a commercial situation for Jim always advanced me some money for rent or helped out financially in other ways.’ Keeler may or may not have been the most moral woman of the 1960s (my vote would go to Elizabeth Taylor for her belief in the sacred bond of marriages), but the looseness of her definitions is problematical for someone claiming to offer the whole truth. Apart from the moral issue, her assertion that she was never a prostitute is important for her other big claim: she would have it known that she was, in fact, a spy. Not exactly a treacherous spy, not a willing betrayer of her country, but the innocent and warm-hearted victim of an evil spy-master, Stephen Ward, who passed himself off as a playboy but was in fact at the centre of an international espionage ring. In her salad days, Keeler was not a prostitute, not a popsie (a word whose absence from the world I’ve missed these past thirty-odd years), not a good-time girl (except in the sense that she just wanted a good time like any healthy young thing) but a pawn – no, that’s pawn – in the Cold War.
Stephen Ward, you may recall, was osteopath to the great and good. There was almost no one in society he didn’t massage. When he wasn’t manipulating them, he was sketching them, having discovered a talent for making likenesses. The Duke of Edinburgh, Princess Margaret, Lord Snowdon, Archbishop Makarios and Adolf Eichmann all sat for portraits. He was an invitee at all the fashionable parties, and a man who specialised in providing fun for his friends. Keeler met him when she was a showgirl and moved into his flat, though they never had sex, not with each other. He took her to dinner parties where lords and ladies hurried through their desserts so that they could undress and orgify before Keeler had to leave for her parading and hostessing duties at Murray’s, a classy strip club. She accompanied him, stopping sometimes on the way to pick up girls waiting for buses, to the cottage in the grounds of Cliveden, made available to Ward at weekends by Lord Astor, who with his friends, including John Profumo, the Minister for War, would chase a minutely towelled Keeler and others around the swimming pool. But all this, says Keeler, was a front for Ward’s real activity, which was spying for Russia on the British establishment during the months before and after the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Profumo was besotted with the stunning Keeler, but she was not all that interested in him. She has always, she says, been ‘cursed by sex I didn’t particularly want’. Ward insisted, demanding to know how anyone wouldn’t be interested in getting so close to power. She obeyed, and was taken in the official car for a tour of London, visiting the War Office, Downing Street and ‘I’ll show you the Army barracks, too, where I inspect the men.’ Who could resist? Keeler was also sleeping with a Russian attaché called Eugene Ivanov, a regular visitor to Ward’s flat, as were Roger Hollis, head of MI5 and mole extraordinaire, and Anthony Blunt. They spoke freely in front of Keeler, she claims, about nuclear warheads. They weren’t worried about her apparently. Ward knew she was safe. ‘The only gossip was about fashions, the new French and Italian underwear, ladders in stockings. There were no tights or La Perla and naughty knicker shops then . . . Clearly, I was not a candidate for spilling Stephen’s secrets and he didn’t see me as a threat.’
On the contrary. Once Profumo had become a regular visitor to the flat, Ward entered Keeler’s bedroom and paced about. ‘That night in the bedroom, between drags on his cigarette, Stephen just asked me straight out to ask Jack what date the Germans were going to get nuclear weapons.’ Keeler expresses surprise. ‘This seemed so bold. I had dropped off letters to the Russian Embassy’ – to Ivanov – ‘this was different. This was gathering information. Spying. Properly. Or rather, improperly.’ She refused: ‘I became afraid and begged him not to ask me to do such a thing, that I couldn’t betray my country.’
Myself, I regret her refusal, since the account of her undercover work would make for fascinating reading. Imagine, if you will, the Secretary of State for War and 20-year-old Christine Keeler in bed, relaxing perhaps after their exertions.
‘Jack darling, that was . . . just . . . mmm.’
‘It certainly was, my little lollipop.’
‘Umm, Jack . . . ?’
‘Mmm, what is it, Popsie?’
‘Jack . . . you know Germany?’
‘Well, you know – oh, what are they called? – uh, nuclear weapons?’
‘I was just wondering . . . you know . . . when do you think Germany will be getting some?’
I have gathered over the years that people in very high and very low places are a great deal more stupid than we expect them to be, and that sheer incompetence accounts for much in national and international politics, but I can’t help wondering how masterly a master spy Stephen Ward could have been if that was how he approached Cold War espionage.
Keeler is insistent, however, on Ward having been at the dead centre of political intrigue, rather than just a dilettante at that as well as everything else. Her wish to retrieve her past is understandable. Much better for the amour propre to have been Mata Hari than a party girl who bedded Tory peers and the slum landlord Peter Rachman (‘I never knew about the terror tactics with tenants who didn’t pay rent or were difficult . . . There was something deeply hurt in him from the beatings in the concentration camps and he would never ever get over it’). She is enraged that Stephen Ward was found guilty not of espionage but of living off immoral earnings. Where’s the justice in that, she cries. Certainly, Stephen Ward, Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies were punished for causing trouble for the toffs, while the toffs slunk away. She told Lord Denning, whom she trusted as a decent older man like the father she never had, that Ward was a spy, that she’d met Hollis and Blunt in his flat, that they’d discussed nuclear warheads and the like, and even that President Kennedy was in danger (immediately after the Missile Crisis, Ward had said: ‘A man like Kennedy will not be allowed to stay in such an important position of power in the world, I assure you of that’). Denning covered it all up, Keeler says, on behalf of his friends in high places. He smothered the spying with tales of sex and smut.
Life for Christine Keeler has been up and down. She got £23,000 from the News of the World (pushing half a million in current money) and another £13,000 from the Sunday Pictorial, but spent it, ending up living in a council flat with her youngest son. Her elder son and her mother no longer speak to her. She did time in Holloway, ostensibly for perjury, and she was banned from Vidal Sassoon’s salon when the respectable society women complained about having to share a backwash with her. In 1967 she became a ‘silicon pioneer’. Her breasts were checked ‘early in 2000 and I am glad to report everything is well and where it should be.’
We have much to thank Christine Keeler for. The rumours at the time were delightful, confirming everything we’d always suspected about the sanctimonious, repressive establishment. Profumo, of course, resigned for lying to Parliament (in effect for being found out), and for sleeping with a call girl who was sleeping with a Russian. He has spent the intervening years doing rather public good work in the East End of London, and being invited to the Queen Mother’s dos. Keeler’s done her bit for society, too, working for Release having become interested ‘in trying to prevent young people going to prison for smoking drugs which I thought were harmless’. Unlike Profumo, she wasn’t asked to join in the Queen Mother’s 100th birthday celebrations. It’s perfectly understandable that she felt aggrieved when in 1995 Margaret Thatcher invited Profumo to her 70th birthday party, saying: ‘He is one of our national heroes. His has been a very good life. It’s time to forget the Keeler business.’ Oh, let’s not. Let’s remember the foolishness and arrogance of the privileged. Let’s go on giggling at them as they hang onto their sagging trousers and mouth pious platitudes and fawn on vicious old ladies of the Far Right.