Christine Keeler achieved iconic status in 1963 for two things: her affair with married Tory cabinet minister, John Profumo came to light, and the photograph of her astride a copy of an Arne Jacobsen chair (pictured at the top of page).
Thereafter she disappeared almost without a trace. She popped up every now and then, what with the 1989 release of Scandal, the film about that affair, her autobiography of a couple of years ago, and, recently, after the death of Profumo. 40-plus years have passed since the going on at Clivedon, and still she is frozen in 1963,unable to escape that year for many of us.
Keeler was born in Uxbridge, Middlesex, England, on February 22, 1942. Raised by her mother and stepfather in two converted railway carriages in the Berkshire village of Wraysbury, at 15, she found work as a model at a dress shop in London's Soho quarter. Two years later, she gave birth to a son after an affair with 'Jim' an African American sergeant from Laleham Air Force base.
She had discovered she was pregnant only after he had returned to the United States, and she tried to abort the baby herself with a knitting needle but failed. The child was born prematurely on 17 April 1959 and survived just six days.
That summer Keeler left Wraysbury, staying briefly in Slough with a friend before heading for London. She initially worked as a waitress at a restaurant in Baker Street and there met Maureen O’Connor, a girl who worked at
Murray’s Cabaret Club in Soho. She introduced Keeler
to the owner, Percy Murray, who hired her almost immediately as a topless showgirl. While at Murray's she met Dr. Stephen Ward. Soon the two were living together with the outward appearance of being a couple, but, according to her, it was a platonic "brother and sister" relationship.
Keeler and Ward often spent weekends
at a cottage belonging to one of Ward's friends, Lord Astor.
It was at a party at Lord Astor's Cliveden country residence in Berkshire in 1961 that
Keeler and Profumo first met.
According to Keeler, they flirted around
the swimming pool and jokingly tried on suits
of armour in the rooms of the mansion.
The War minister, married to actress Valerie Hobson was smitten and the couple subsequently had a passionate affair.
Keeler often visited Profumo's
home and his offices, but their affair was only brief.
It would probably never have come to light
were it not for a few complications in Keeler's
love life - namely, that she had also
slept with Ivanov, a solemn and patriotic Muscovite who was a spy.
According to Keeler, Ivanov
received information and documents stolen by Ward
and passed them onto his spy chiefs in Moscow.
When the story broke in 1962, Profumo initially tried to deny the affair, but his efforts were futile. Once the whiff of sex, spies and scandal was out, the media hounded him.
In March 1963, he made the crucial mistake of lying in the House of Commons about it, telling the chamber: "Miss Keeler and I were on friendly terms. There was no impropriety whatsoever in my acquaintanceship with Miss Keeler." However, ten weeks later he appeared before MPs again to say "with deep remorse" that he had misled the House because he wanted to protect his wife and family, and that he would resign.
Meanwhile Keeler, who was also the
victim of a vicious stalker called Lucky Gordon, had fled to Spain.
A ludicrous car chase ensued, with Keeler
at the head of an entourage of reporters pursuing her
through Europe. She was on her way back to Britain,
after agreeing to sell her story to the Express newspaper.
When the Profumo Affair
became public, Ward was charged
with living on the immoral earnings of Keeler and Mandy
Rice-Davies and of effectively running a brothel in his home.
This has been strenuously denied by Keeler,
who claims Ward used women and sex not for cash, but to gain influence among his peers.
However, she did make a statement saying Profumo
gave her money "for her mother", and Rice-Davies
admitted having sex for money in Ward's flat. Ward
was prosecuted but committed suicide on the very
last day of the trial, before the jury reached their verdict.
At Ward's trial, the prosecution alleged
Mandy Rice-Davies had received money from Lord Astor
in return for sex. When she was told Lord Astor
had denied ever sleeping with her, she uttered the immortal line: "He would, wouldn't he?"
In Keeler's autobiography, she claims Ward
was a spy for the Soviet Union and asked her
to get information from Profumo about the
placing of nuclear warheads in West Germany.
She also claims Ward asked her to drop off letters
at the Soviet Embassy and at one point tried to
kill her while she was water-skiing, because he feared she would blow the whistle on him.
More than this, she claims Ward and herself were used as a smokescreen by the establishment, who wanted the media to focus on the racier aspects of the story in order to cover up a serious breach of British security.
Keeler was found guilty on unrelated perjury charges - for not attending as a witness for the trial of a man who was shot at her home - and sentenced to nine months in Holloway Prison.
The government ordered an official report into the scandal from
Lord Denning, then Master of the Rolls,
on September 25, 1963. When the report was released
at midnight a couple of months later,
hundreds of curious members of the public
queued to buy a copy. However, it contained few salacious details.
Lord Denning criticised the government for not dealing with the affair more quickly, but he concluded that there had been no breach of national security.
Shortly after this, the Conservative Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan,
resigned, his ill health exacerbated by
the scandal He was replaced with Earl Home,
who renounced his peerage to become Sir Alec Douglas-Home
in order to take up office.
Between then and now, Keeler had two children from two different fathers. These days, she is estranged from one son and close to the other. She changed her name and took a job as a dinner lady until her past caught up with her and she was dismissed. Today she lives in a council owned flat in north London with her cat and can sometimes be seen out and about in her local shops.
When Profumo died in March 2006, she admitted to not being in love with him as he was so many years older than her.
Even 40-plus years after the event she is still bewildered by what happened.