Christine Keeler obituary: Life of the Profumo scandal model

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Christine Keeler found herself at the centre of an affair that rocked the British establishment.

The revelations about her relationship with the cabinet minister John Profumo hastened the end of the Macmillan government.

The resulting scandal, involving allegations of espionage and prostitution, and a dramatic court case, saw her pilloried in the tabloid press.

But Keeler was a somewhat naive victim of an establishment that was determined to protect its own position against what it saw as a tide of permissiveness.

Christine Keeler was born in Uxbridge, west London, on 22 February 1942.

Her father deserted the family while she was still a young child and her mother later set up home with Edward Huish, in a pair of converted railway carriages near Windsor.

She was sexually abused as a teenager both by her mother’s lover and his friends, for whom she babysat.

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She suffered an abusive childhood

Keeler left school with no qualifications and had a succession of jobs, including working in a gown showroom and a spell as a waitress. She also posed for some modelling pictures.

Platonic friendship

At the age of 17 she became pregnant. Attempts at a self-induced abortion failed but the child, a boy, died days after the birth.

“I was just 17, I did not have many illusions left, and the ones that did remain were soon to vanish.”

  • A classic Westminster scandal

Keeler found a job in Murray’s, a Soho nightclub, where she served drinks and posed semi-naked on the stage. She also befriended another model, Mandy Rice-Davies.

“When we weren’t on stage, we were allowed to sit out with the audience for a hostess fee of £5,” she later wrote.

By her own account she, like a number of the girls, had sexual relationships with the club’s clients, although it was officially forbidden by the management.

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Her relationship with Stephen Ward was platonic

It was at Murray’s that she met Stephen Ward, an osteopath who had a client list that included a number of rich and important people, including the former Conservative MP Viscount Astor.

Keeler moved into Ward’s flat although the couple maintained a platonic friendship.

Ward took Keeler to parties where he introduced her to many of his friends including Peter Rachman, the notorious slum landlord, with whom she had a relationship.

Ward and Keeler were also frequent attendees at weekend parties at the Astors’ Cliveden estate in Buckinghamshire.

Dismissed

At one of these events, on 8 July 1961, Keeler, splashing in the swimming pool, caught the attention of John Profumo, then Secretary of State for War.

Profumo, who was married to the actress Valerie Hobson, was seen as one of the government’s rising stars. He kept in touch with Keeler and the pair had a brief affair.

Also at the party was Eugene Ivanov, assistant naval attaché at the Soviet Embassy, who was friendly with Ward.

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John Profumo, here with his wife Valerie Hobson, was seen as a rising political star

Keeler later claimed she had been sleeping with Ivanov at the same time as she was having an affair with Profumo, but many commentators have since dismissed her account.

She had also been having relationships with two other men, Lucky Gordon and Johnny Edgecombe.

Gordon and Edgecombe quarrelled bitterly over Keeler, resulting in Edgecombe firing shots at a flat where Keeler was hiding.

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