Marcus Berkmann

Bookends: Wasp without a sting

Bookends: Wasp without a sting
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‘It may be hard to accept that a chaste teenage girl can end up in bed with the President of the United States on her fourth day in the White House.’

In 1962, 19-year-old Mimi Beardsley (pictured above) landed ‘the plummiest of summer jobs’, an internship in the White House press office. On day four, she was invited for a lunchtime swim in the presidential swimming pool. John F. Kennedy was, not surprisingly, ‘taller, thinner, more handsome in person than he looked in photographs’. The affair lasted 18 months and involved a lot of waiting around in hotel rooms, like most affairs.

Amazingly, no one found out until 2003, when a newspaper finally named her. With the astounding good sense of a well-bred Wasp woman, Mimi admitted it was a fair cop, but then refused all interviews and waited for the media to go away. Now, in her own time and without a ghost writer to deaden her sparky prose, the newly remarried Mimi Alford brings us Once Upon a Secret: My Hidden Affair With JFK (Hutchinson, £16.99).

With the benefit of hindsight and good old-fashioned maturity, she does not judge her young self, or indeed JFK, too harshly. She writes not just about the secret, but about the corrosive effect of keeping that secret. (Being outed, she says, was ‘liberating’.) In short, she’s a wise old bird, and you can’t help liking her, or her elegant and thoroughly good-natured book.