The name Christine Keeler will always be synonymous the Profumo affair.
The model at the centre of a scandal, which rocked the British political and social establishment, and ended an age of deference in British culture, has died.
The scandal brought about the downfall of a prominent minister when she slept with both him and a Russian embassy military attache. But her son believes the controversy was actually a catalyst for ‘a sea-change in British culture’ that did ‘immense good for the country’.
Keeler was only 19 when she had her notorious affair in the early 1960s with a married Macmillan cabinet minister, the 46-year-old John Profumo, while simultaneously sharing a bed with a Soviet diplomat and presumed spy, Yevgeny Ivanov.
Before Profumo was outed as lying to Parliament, he testified he knew nothing about the two young women in the middle of the scandal.
Christine Keeler, a young woman catapulted into British history through a scandal involving UK cabinet minister John Profumo in the 1960s, was confirmed dead yesterday by her family. She was 75.
Christine Keeler was born in Uxbridge, Middlesex, in 1942 and raised in Berkshire by her mum and step-dad.
She claimed in a later memoir she was sexually abused by her step-father, who she said beat her mother and drowned her puppies. She also said she aborted her own child with a knitting needle after falling pregnant to a US airman aged 17.
Still only a teenager, Christine was a topless cabaret dancer in London’s Soho when she met society man-about-town Stephen Ward. He introduced her to a whirlwind party scene involving what were described as orgies attended by aristocrats and VIPs.
It was through Ward that she met both Cabinet minister John Profumo and Soviet spy Yevgeny Ivanov in 1961. She had affairs with them both.
When the love traingle came to light two years later, fears of a Cold War security leak sparked a lurid scandal that rocked the government and had the public transfixed for months.
It made Christine Keeler one of the most famous women in the world in 1963.
Opposition MPs alleged that having such a close link between a senior government minister and a rival power presented a security risk, predicated on the idea that Keeler could be a conduit to leak secrets to the Russians.
Attempts by Profumo to distance himself from Keeler led to him lying to parliament, saying there was “no impropriety whatsoever” in his relationship with her. When it the lie was found out, he resigned from his position.
An official government report into the affair concluded that there had been “no security risk,” though Keeler herself later said that some of her activities effectively constituted spying.
The scandal was seen as a watershed moment in British public life, when a long-standing tradition of deferring instinctively to those in positions of power came to an end.
Since then it has become a cultural norm in Great Britain for revelations about the personal lives of ministers to end careers and change the shape of the government.
In a fiery exchange after his resignation, Labour leader Harold Wilson said the affair “shocked the moral conscience of the nation,” and then Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, agreed.
At the height of the scandal, Christine Keeler sold her story to newspapers around the world and was the subject of a proposed film, the Keeler Affair, which was never released in the UK.
To promote it, she agreed to pose naked for photographer Lewis Morley in a studio in Peter Cook’s Establishment Club.
Her modesty was covered by the curved back of a bent plywood chair – a copy of the iconic Model 3107 by Danish designer Arne Jacobsen.
Meanwhile, Keeler gave an interview to the tabloid press and reportedly received thousands of pounds in exchange.The photograph of her posing nude while straddling a chair, released shortly after Profumo’s resignation, became the iconic image of the scandal.
Profumo’s resignation was a major blow to Macmillan’s government, and was one of several factors which led to his resignation later that year, and a loss for the Conservative Party in 1964 to Harold Wilson.
Keeler went on as a minor celebrity in the UK, appearing in interviews and in newspapers based on the scandal, which produced books, the 1989 film “Scandal,” and the West End musical “Stephen Ward.”
Some official papers relating to the case are due to remain classified until 2046, 100 years after the birth of Mandy Rice-Davies, Keeler’s roommate and the youngest figure in the scandal.
Image Source: Photo by Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images