She is, of course, the working-class beauty who brought down a government. As a Sixties party girl, Christine Keeler was at the centre of a political scandal which destroyed the married War Minister John Profumo’s career and brought down Harold Macmillan’s Tory administration.
Now, almost half a century after her scandalous affair with Profumo resulted in his disgrace, new photographs which show her in her bewitching prime are published for the first time.
Youthful promise: Sixteen-year-old Keeler in an early modelling shot by an unknown photographer
Christine Keeler: My Life in Pictures is at the Mayor Gallery, Cork street, London W1, from November 3 to December 17. Her beauty then could not be in greater contrast to her appearance today. At 68, she wears her cares heavily, after nearly five decades of being vilified as a common prostitue who brought down a respected politician.
Keeler, who rarely gives interviews or speaks of the past, gave permission to her friend of 17 years, curator James Birch, to exhibit these photographs from her private collection to remind people of the woman she was before the scandal that overshadowed her life.
She saw herself as a party girl, who just liked to have fun. I think she feels she was the real victim of the scandal, a scapegoat for people to blame.
In the driving seat: Keeler aged 18 in 1960, when she worked as a showgirl at Murray’s Cabaret Club in London
‘Through my friendship with Christine I have found her to be a lovely, warm, unassuming woman.’
Certainly these private photographs show a young woman who, say friends, regarded her beauty as a passport to a better life. A runaway teenager from the Berkshire village of Wraysbury, it was at Murray’s Cabaret Club in Soho where, as a topless showgirl, she met society osteopath Dr Stephen Ward.
Also on display at the exhibition are the original pamphlets advertising the club’s services.
Ward recruited Christine Keeler as one of the ‘girls’ he used to wield influence among his well-connected friends.
It was in July 1961 that she met John Profumo at a pool party in Cliveden, the Buckinghamshire mansion owned by Lord Astor. Profumo started an affair with the young Christine, unaware that she was also sleeping with Yevgeny Ivanov, a naval attaché at the Soviet Embassy and reportedly a spy. When the truth was exposed two years later, prompting Profumo’s resignation and an official inquiry by Lord Denning, Keeler was dismissed as nothing more than a ‘tart’.
But these photographs show a carefree young woman, who possessed a breathtaking beauty. Had she used it wisely, she might have become a trophy wife instead of a pariah. But at 19, according to friends, ‘she had no idea what she was getting herself into’.
Naked ambition: Keeler posed for risque shots ahead of her appearances at Murray’s Cabaret Club in London
Artist Caroline Coon, a friend since the Sixties, once said: ‘Every man who met her wanted her and those who couldn’t have her wanted to punish her.
‘She was a highly decorative, kind and charming woman who made her way in the world by making old, aristocratic men happy.’ John Profumo died in 2006, aged 91, having redeemed himself with a lifetime’s devotion to charity work. He was awarded the CBE in 1975 and was a guest at Margaret Thatcher’s 80th birthday. He never spoke of the scandal that ruined him.
Ground rules: The menu cover and a list of services offered at Murray’s Cabaret Club where Keeler worked
Keeler’s careworn appearance today reflects a life which could not be further removed from the glamour of her youth — she has been divorced twice and consigned to a life of poverty in a succession of grim flats.
Will she attend the opening of the new exhibition on Wednesday to revisit her glory days? Mr Birch will only say: ‘She has been invited, but whether she would prefer to forget the past remains to be seen.’ Christine Keeler: My Life in Pictures is at the Mayor Gallery, Cork street, London W1, from November 3 to December 17.