Though I've long since been fascinated by what has become known as The Profumo Affair, the story of a nineteen year old 'party girl' and model who brought down Macmillan's Tory government by sleeping with both the Minister for War John Profumo and a Soviet naval attache Eugene Ivanov, I hadn't ever actually read Keeler's version of events, My Story - The Truth At Last, which was co-written by Douglas Thompson and released thirteen years ago and recently re-released and updated as Secrets and Lies.
Hadn't ever actually read until now that is.
Keeler's story is fascinating and an engrossing read. It is markedly different to the perceived wisdom people may be familiar with from the 1989 feature film Scandal or the various newspaper reports, or even The Denning Report, the official enquiry commissioned shortly after the affair broke. Perceived wisdom has it that Stephen Ward the society osteopath and Christine's sometime flatmate and benefactor, was a pimp who ran a stable of girls including Christine and Mandy Rice Davies for his friends who formed the rich, elite and famous establishment of the land. The story was sex and nothing more. Just sex in high places; the stuff the News Of The World was made for.
It was only Scandal and Ludovic Kennedy's book The Trial Of Stephen Ward that suggested the notion of Stephen pimping was absurd (Kennedy pointing out how if anything Ward gave more money to girls like Keeler than he ever took from them) and that he was in fact a scapegoat.
Whilst Keeler's story also supports the notion that Ward was never her pimp, she adds another layer by stating that he was in fact a soviet agent who procured secrets and sexual gossip with the help of girls like herself which he then fed back to his superiors at Moscow Centre. It's not the first time I've heard Ward being suggested as a Soviet mole; in a biography of Ruth Ellis by her sister, Muriel Jakubait (and Monica Weller) in 2005, it's claimed that Ward groomed the club hostess Ruth Ellis for spying purposes also. But for the past fifty years any notion of spying or interest from Moscow in the affair tended to be levelled at the Russian Ivanov. Keeler claims that it was Ward, not Ivanov who she says was always Ward's patsy, who asked her to ask Profumo about the Allied Forces strategic weapons in Berlin. She claims Ivanov only slept with her once on Stephen's orders, a rainy day policy to muddy the waters should the scandal break. She believes that Stephen's constant visits from the likes of Anthony Blunt (of the Cambridge spy ring) and Roger Hollis (head of MI5 who many claim was himself a Soviet agent) as well as her belief that he was in the know about many things during The Cold War, proves that he was a mole trading on secrets when his friends had their gaurds down, at orgies and sex parties all over London.
It's fascinating stuff. Do I believe it? I'm not sure. I do feel Ward was a scapegoat and not the pimp the press and law suggested at the time, but a plant? Regardless it's well told and clearthat Keeler utterly believes it.
There's a whole host of great stories that link so many names; the FBI interest in Keeler, with numerous transcripts naming her heading to and from J Edgar Hoover's desk. The infamous 'man without a head' photo featuring a nude male (face/head obscured) getting oral sex from the Duchess of Argyll, whom Keeler believes was Douglas Fairbanks Jnr, the Hollywood actor who always had a camera handy for his sexual adventures. Diana Dors and her husband who had a penchant for two way mirrors in the guest bedrooms. Mariella Novotny, dominatrix extrordinaire, married to an unassuming antique dealer and hostess of many wild parties including one with 'the man in the mask' serving, an aristocrat who liked to be punished. Novoty, it's claimed was an international escort, having bedded both Jack and Bobby Kennedy and being pimped out by film maker Harry Alan Towers in America. Keeler claims Novotny's 'misadventurous' death in the early 80s, choking on her own vomit face down in a bowl of jelly in her bed, was a sanctioned kill by the security services. Her little black book of contacts and secrets has never been found.
Unfortunately despite the engrossing entertainment value, the book is still a frustrating experience principally because one feels that Christine, for all her desire for the truth to be finally told can't seem to face the truth herself. It's filled with concrete statements of intent before being utterly discredited on the next page. For example when Christine says "My life has been cursed by sex I didn't particularly want" you can't help but laugh, given that she describes how actively she sought sex from a whole host of men, using them for money and yes, even accepting payment for sex, she finally admits to that.It's a surprising brazen promiscuity even when she's pledging undying love to whoever was flavour of the month. She will profess such an emotion about someone and then on the next page explain how a day later, still hung up on him, she was bedding someone else.
"Profumo was all over me and there wasn't much I could do about it. He was a much older man, not someone I wanted to be with" Um, how about saying no? Why have several assignations and dates with him then? Likewise, one person she is vehement about not ever having wanted is Lucky Gordon, the West Indian with a short fuse who, she describes kept her prisoner as his sex slave at his flat for a day until she escaped. The way in which such a passage is written naturally gets the reader on side and Gordon sounds absolutely horrific, so why did she continue to ensure she was seen at clubs she knew he'd be frequenting, seemingly goading him to react? She claims Gordon 'played the race card' whenever she turned down his advances and she admits that a white girl dating a black man was taboo at the time, and how she would be ostracised by friends and family. So why is it we read of her assignations with other West Indians including Johnnie Edgecombe, Clarence Commachio and Rudolph Fenton? All of whom would go on to have dates in court thanks to their association with Christine Keeler. It's passages like this that utterly mystify the reader and seriously weakens any sympathy one feels towards her, because ultimately she does come across as both someone who did very stupid things and couldn't care for the ramifications and someone following a certain amount of notoriety was keen to get what she felt owed; ie cold hard cash. The latter is later discredited by her claims that by the late 60s she wanted nothing more than a quiet private life and married a man in secret and away from the spotlight just for that...yet a page later she reveals that their marital ups and downs led to numerous break ups all of which she reported in the press! Like jelly to the wall, it's hard to pin down Ms Keeler, even now.
Some of the book's most amusing (and bitchy) moments are in Keeler's description of Mandy Rice Davies "I thought Mandy was a true tart. There was always shock on her face when she thought she might have to do more than lie on her back to make a living" Keeler later points out how Mandy's reaction to news of the death of her sugar daddy, the notorious Peter Rachman, was "Did he leave a will?" And one can understand her bitterness, Mandy - who was often linked to events that Christine swears never involved her, it was all part of the cover up to pin pimping charges on Ward - made a good life from her moment in the scandelous spotlight. Her naturally cheeky demeanour played well with the press, they knew she was a tart and she knew she was a tart, so everyone was happy, whereas Keeler was harder to define and always to them and the public 'the scarlet woman' or plainly 'the bitch'
Ultimately for all the contrasting hypocrises inherent in the tale and in Keeler herself one cannot help but feel sympathy for her. She did what she did and has never stopped paying the price. She lives her life as quietly as possible, alone, often in disguise and with a new surname by deed poll, yet she has never been allowed an existence. Just under forty years later she was sacked from her job as a school dinner lady because the headmaster found out she was Christine Keeler. Her first born son and her mother (who brought him up) refuse to have any contact with her, and her second son Seymour who at the time of the 2001 publication was very close to her now lives abroad and they are seemingly estranged.
Christine today, bewigged
Christine Keeler it seems has no one. Is it any wonder then that her life even now at the age of 70 is all about the events of the early 60s when she was still just a teenager? Unfortunately I feel that Keeler needs to face up to the lies inside herself, rather than the lies that have been told about her for fifty years now. Only then will she get the peaceful life she seems to crave.