Christine Keeler, UK Scandal Girl Of The '60s: Young, Hot, And Maybe A Spy
Christine Keeler arriving at the Old Bailey, London, 1963. (Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)
In the early '60s, Christine Keeler was a young model with some powerful lovers, most famously John Profumo, the Secretary of State for War, and Yevgeny Ivanov, a naval attache at the Soviet embassy in London. The discovery that the head of Britain's military and a Soviet military official were sleeping with the same woman -- in the midst of the Cold War -- ranks among the biggest scandals of the 20th century. The notoriety and confusion -- was she a spy? did she know what she was doing? had she passed secrets to the Soviets? -- made Keeler a celebrity. Whether she was an unwitting pawn or real-life Bond Girl, Keeler gained a mystique that made her a strange kind of icon in the Swinging London scene.
Christine Keeler was from Uxbridge, Middlesex England. Her mother and stepfather raised her in two unused train cars. As a teenager, she was sexually abused by her mother’s partner and his friends. By 15, she was working as a model in a dress shop in Soho and two years later, had a son after a short-lived relationship with a US Air Force Sergeant. The child, who was born at home, died six days after birth. That same year, she began working as a topless showgirl at a cabaret club in Soho. She met Stephen Ward there and began living with him, although she said it was a platonic relationship. She has also said that Ward, an osteopath and amateur artist, was working as a double agent, passing state secrets along to the KGB. Ward later introduced her to John Profumo, the Secretary of State for War under Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, who was married to Valerie Hobson at the time. Keelet and Profumo's first meeting occurred in Cliveden in 1961, at the home of Lord Astor, who was sleeping with Keeler’s friend Mandy Rice-Davies. Once Keeler and Profumo’s short-lived affair began, they met at Ward’s home in Marylebone. There were whispers about their affair before it became public.
How The Scandal Came To Light
After the affair, Keeler was involved with multiple men and the drama that evolved from this led to the investigation that revealed the affair. There had been a confrontation between two of her lovers, Johnny Edgecombe and Aloysius Gordon; Edgecombe had slashed Gordon’s face with a knife and went looking for Keeler to get him a solicitor so he could turn himself in. Keeler, meanwhile, was hiding out at Ward’s house. Edgecombe was enraged and shot at the lock on Ward’s house. The subsequent investigation into Edgecombe’s actions revealed Keeler’s earlier affair with Profumo. Profumo denied the affair, but Keeler was also sleeping with a Soviet naval attache, Yevegeny Ivanov, deepening the scandal. Ward, who had initially connected Keeler and Profumo, had also introduced Keeler to Ivanov, who was known to MI5, the British Security Service. Allegedly, Keeler shared love letters Profumo had written and Ivanov also had used a hidden camera to take pictures of the couple having sex, with the intention of using the photos as blackmail.
Ward Takes A Fall
Profumo finally admitted to the affair and then resigned from Parliament and from the government. Accused of pimping Keeler, Mandy Rice-Davies and other girls, Ward was arrested and charged with living off immoral earnings. The charges were based on the small amounts that the girls had paid to him while they were living with him. These payments, however, were principally to cover expenses and as loan repayments, and Ward made his primary living as an osteopath. In addition to facing the accusations that Ward was a pimp, the press insinuated that he was a Soviet agent, due to his ties to Ivanov. Before the court was due to reach a verdict on the immorality charges, Ward overdosed on sleeping pills and died three days later.
The affair not only led to Ward’s death and Profumo’s resignation, but also to the failure of the Conservative government to gain reelection. The relationship between the government and the press changed as well, with a rising mistrust of politicians.
And The Drama Goes On
Keeler’s drama continued. In 1963, Keeler accused Aloysius Gordon of attacking her in a friend’s home. Gordon insisted he was not guilty, but investigators could not find the two witnesses who could prove his innocence. During the final days of Ward’s trial, which ran from July 22-31, 1963, the two witnesses came forward and testified that Keeler’s testimony against Gordon was false. Keeler pleaded guilty to perjury and was sentenced to serve nine months.
In the midst of the scandal, Keeler sold her story and a film was set to be made of her life. The movie, The Keeler Affair, was never released in Britain, but a picture of her by taken by Lewis Morley to promote the film became quite well known. In the picture, she sat naked astride a copy of an Arne Jacobson chair, leading to an increase in sales of the chair.
Her Life Once The Scandal Faded From The Spotlight
Keeler was married to James Levermore from 1965-66 and to Anthony Platt from 1971-1972. She had a child from each marriage, and her youngest child was raised mainly by Keeler’s mother. She was estranged from both of her children before her death at 75 in 2017.
Keeler’s story is at the center of a 2013 Andrew Lloyd-Webber musical, Stephen Ward. It has also been featured in a 2019-2020 6-part BBC show, The Trial of Christine Keeler. The film Scandal, starring Joanne Whaley as Keeler, was released in 1989. Keeler also published several books, including a memoir in 2012, Secrets and Lies. Her image lives on in the National Portrait Gallery, which houses a portrait created by Stephen Ward.
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