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Christine Keeler and the Swinging Political Sex Scandal

1960s | July 11, 2018

March 27, 1963: Christine Keeler takes a holiday in Spain shortly before her controversial involvement with war minister John Profumo led to his resignation. (Photo by Stroud/Express/Getty Images)

Christine Keeler, the teenage would-be model at the center of the 1961 British political sex scandal known as the Profumo Affair, was portrayed by the media as a either an innocent, naïve young girl who put her trust in the wrong person or as a wily seductress and potential spy. In reality, she probably fell somewhere in between. One thing is certain; Christine Keeler did have a sexual fling with a top British politician that resulted in his resignation. 

Christine Keeler Had a Troubled Childhood

Keeler, who was born in 1942, grew up in extreme poverty. Her mother, who Keeler described as distracted and promiscuous, had no interest in her daughter. Her stepfather was cruel and abusive and sexually assaulted Keeler as a young teen. She became pregnant by her then-boyfriend at the age of 17 and attempted a self-induced abortion that failed. The child was born but died in the hospital a few days later. After that, Keeler left home and moved to London where she hoped to find work as a model. 

Keeler Became a Dancer in Soho

When Keeler first moved to London she worked as a waitress but was still so poor that she had to borrow money for food. One day, a showgirl came into Keeler’s work and talked to her about becoming a dancer at Murray’s Cabaret Club in Soho…a job that would earn her a lot more money. Keeler accepted. At the Cabaret Club, she soon met a regular customer named Stephen Ward, who Keeler later described as ‘trafficking in a web of espionage and sexual desires.” Ward ran in all the right circles, and counted aristocrats and political figures as his friends. Ward took Keeler under his wing and helped introduce her to other wealthy individuals…for a fee. 

Keeler Swam Naked at a Swanky Party

It was Ward that invited Keeler to join him at a 1961 party that was attended by many celebrities and politicians. The problem was, the 19-year old Keeler forgot to bring her swimsuit. Her solution was to simply swim in the nude in front of all the party guests. As she stepped out of the pool, naked and dripping wet, she was introduced to Britain’s Secretary of State of War, John Profumo, and his wife, Valerie. John had been watching Keeper swim with interest. Valerie had not. 

(The Times of London)

At First, Profumo Denied the Affair

Keeper’s affair with Profumo was short-lived, but it set off a chain of events that ended with the 1963 Denning Report, detailing sexual exploits of top politicians, and the collapse of Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s government. At first, Profumo denied having a sexual affair with Christine Keeler, he eventually confessed and resigned his position as Secretary of State of War. When it was revealed that Keeler had also had an affair with Eugene Ivanov, a Russian naval attaché, and that this affair was also arranged by Stephan Ward, the media and the government took notice. Were political secrets and espionage information being passed along via pillow talk with Christine Keeler? 

Both Keeler and Profumo Retreated from Public Eye

Following the Profumo Affair and the release of the government’s official inquiry into the situation, the Denning Report, Profumo left public office and politics. He later worked on behalf of charitable causes. Keeler did not become the top fashion model that she hoped to become, but she did serve as the model for several movie and literary femme fatale-type characters. She has been the subject of much conjecture. Was she simply a naïve 19-year old under the control of Stephan Ward who basically pimped her out? Or was she a cunning seductress? In 2012, Keeler told her story in a memoir titled, Secrets and Lies. She passed away in 2017. 

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Karen Harris

Writer

Karen left the world of academic, quitting her job as a college professor to write full-time. She spends her days with her firefighter husband and four daughters on a hobby farm with an assortment of animals, including a goat named Atticus, a turkey named Gravy, and a chicken named Chickaletta.