Of those caught up in the 1963 Profumo affair, the only winner seems to have been that blithe spirit Mandy Rice-Davies.
Everyone else lost. Profumo’s family bore the brunt, of course, especially his son David, archetype of the boy sent crying home from school, who wrote a brilliant book about it, Bringing the House Down (2006). Harold Macmillan and the Conservative party were driven from office.
Yevgeny Ivanov was recalled to Russia. Stephen Ward was hounded to death. And poor Christine Keeler…
In that mesmerising scene in the film Scandal (1989), where Mandy (played by Bridget Fonda) and Christine (Joanne Whalley-Kilmer, as she then was) are getting dressed, to the driving sputnik tease of The Shadows’ ‘Apache’, tarting themselves up for a night on the game — a threesome, as it turns out, with Douglas Fairbanks Jr (Trevor Eve) — they play complementary opposites, Mandy in white lingerie, Christine in black. And half a century on, so it remains: Mandy with her nightclubs in Israel and houses in Barbados, and Christine, that tormented spirit, subsisting in bedsits, fired from her job as a school-dinner lady because the headmaster found out she was Christine Keeler.
When the film came out she was glad to promote it, to attend the première and cash the cheques, but now, weirdly, she denounces it as government propaganda. She still remembers that night with Fairbanks, though: ‘Mandy and I got into this big bed with him and we had a threesome. He loved it — and he paid us.’ Not that she was a tart, you understand — unlike Mandy, who was ‘a true tart’. But not Christine, not really. ‘I have always been free with my love,’ she reveals, but on ‘all but a few occasions I have never slept with a man I didn’t fancy’. It is ‘true that I have had sex for money but only out of desperation’.
When, for example, Profumo gave her money, ‘I didn’t like taking £20 from him but I did.’ In the same way, ‘I never wanted to cash in on Jack’s disgrace.’ The fact remains, though, that Secrets and Lies, with its tasteful cover line (‘Now Profumo is dead, I can finally reveal the truth about the most shocking scandal in British politics’), is her fifth book on the subject.
The truth, naturally, revolves around Ward (pictured above with Christine in the summer of 1963), professional osteopath, amateur artist, orgiast, pimp, MI5 informant and, as Keeler puts it in her best Eliza Doolittle voice, ‘never any sort of Professor Higgins to me’. It seems he was only pretending to be an MI5 informant. Actually he was a Soviet ‘spymaster’, who ‘ran’ Roger Hollis, the head of MI5, and Anthony Blunt. The two of them would visit his house in Wimpole Mews for chats about nuclear warheads, in front of Keeler, who was thus implicated and found herself ‘at the centre of world political intrigue’, involving the Berlin Wall, the Cuban missile crisis and the assassination of President Kennedy.
She told Lord Denning everything, she says (well, she would, wouldn’t she?), but he excluded it from his report because he was in on the plot. It is possible, though, that he simply did not believe her, and it is likely that her saner readers will not believe her either, not least because she has been so badly ghosted that she often contradicts herself from one sentence to the next.
The saddest line in this desperately sad book is ‘I want to get on with my life properly for the first time.’ One can only hope she succeeds in this ambition, and has finally laid her past to rest.
More Spectator for less. Stay informed leading up to the EU referendum and in the aftermath. Subscribe and receive 15 issues delivered for just £15, with full web and app access. Join us.