Little granddads by the pool, an agent of the GRU – the Soviet military intelligence service – who plays pretty hearts and a minister in big sheets. The Profumo Affair begins as a black and white spy film but ends as a moral tale, with an act of contrition and final redemption. In July 1961, at a party given at Lord Astor’s mansion in Cliveden, near London, Christine Keeler, 19-year-old model apprentice – while waiting for better, she works in a strip club – tries to dry with a towel that is too small after swimming naked in the pool.
The scene did not escape John Profumo, 46, Secretary of State for War in the Conservative government of Harold Macmillan. The interest is mutual. Problem: the pretty brunette with the abundant hair is also the mistress of Yevgeny Ivanov, naval attaché of the embassy of the USSR and spy of the GRU. In the middle of this small world, Stephen Ward, osteopath of the stars and, incidentally, organizer of torrid evenings for honorable gentlemen of high society, plays a murky game.
When a thug, Christine Keeler’s ex-lover, fires two shots in the door of Ward’s home, MI5 steps in. The British secret services, which are interested in the young lady and know the honorable diplomat’s service record, easily go back to the minister. In the midst of the Cuban missile crisis, the affair is embarrassing, but it is hushed up. The young woman – whose conversation, according to Profumo, boils down to makeup, clothes, fashion and records – hasn’t communicated anything compromising.
Privacy: the end of a taboo
Everything goes wrong when Mrs Keeler gives explosive (paid) interviews to the press. Ivanov was repatriated fissa to Moscow and, in March 1963, John Profumo had to explain himself publicly to the Commons. Never, anything “Improper” never happened between them, he says. Three months later, the rising figure of the Conservative Party decides to confess everything to his wife during a trip to Venice.
Overnight, he leaves politics and his gold to devote himself voluntarily to a charity. This spectacular and definitive reconversion earned him the status of Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1975. Margaret Thatcher, twenty years later, completes her rehabilitation by designating him as “One of our national heroes”.
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