Why life turned out so differently for Profumo girls
Published 08/10/2013 | 12:00
Since the great operatic composers such as Puccini and Verdi often made courtesans their heroines, it isn't surprising that Andrew Lloyd Webber's latest oeuvre is around the notorious Profumo affair, featuring Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies (although the musical is called Stephen Ward).
Christine and Mandy were, after all, the famous young call-girls in the 1963 scandal involving a British Cabinet minister, a Russian spy, and the osteopath Stephen Ward, who subsequently killed himself.
But what contrasting characters Christine and Mandy were – and are. Though linked together through the scandal that finally brought down the Conservative Party, they couldn't have been more different, and the outcome of their lives demonstrates most vividly that it is character that shapes destiny.
I met both Mandy and Christine in the 1980s: I worked on a Granada TV show with Mandy, when she was launching her racy novel The Scarlet Thread, in 1989. I also spent an afternoon with Christine in Chelsea when I did a long interview with her, looking back on her life.
Christine Keeler really had been a beauty. The pictures don't quite do justice to the texture of her appearance: a flawless body of leonine gracefulness: a very slightly Oriental look to her eyes, and a vulnerability about her demeanour which was hugely attractive to men.
Mandy was not a natural beauty: she was pert and pretty and Welsh: she had good hair, but bad legs. Yet in every sense, Mandy made the best of herself. She was as bright as a tack – a 20th century Becky Sharp from Thackeray's Vanity Fair. She had started out at 16 as a model for the Earls Court Motor Show, but had grabbed the chance to make money as a Soho dancer at the well-known Murray's Cabinet Club.
She became the mistress of Peter Rachmann, the notorious slum landlord who gave his name to 'Rachmannism'. (Though when I spoke to Christine, she defended Rachmann – "Without him, some people would have had no homes at all. Better a slum flat, than homelessness.")
Unlike Mandy, Christine never managed to capitalise on her notoriety: whatever she was paid for her memoirs seemed to slip through her fingers and dissipate. While Mandy accumulated several husbands, always emerging unruffled, it seemed, Christine's failed marriages seemed to leave her high and dry.
Today, Mandy Rice-Davies is a multi-millionaireness, living in Virginia Water, Surrey – a well-preserved grandmother at 68, while Christine (71) has grown stout and looks sadly unkempt, and although the mother of two sons, lives alone in a Kent council flat with her cats.
The difference between the two women – who haven't spoken to one another for 30 years – is in character, in disposition, and perhaps significantly, in their childhood family background.
Mandy came from a stable, intact family which had originated in Wales, but moved to Birmingham. Her father had been a policeman who went on to work at Dunlop's factory, and her mother had been on the stage. The home was a semi-detached in suburbia. Young Mandy was wilful and keen to escape the narrowness of suburban life, but nevertheless the family was solid and there was no experience of deprivation.
Christine's natural father abandoned her mother when she was little and she, her mother, and a stepfather lived in two converted railway carriages in the dingy Wraysbury, Berkshire. There was no electricity, no hot water, and no privacy, and Christine was often a witness to her mother's sex-life. At nine, she was malnourished.
Once she hit puberty, her stepfather made advances to her: as did very many men. Christine was a constant victim of attempted sexual molestation and harassment. She left home at 15 to work as a model, and at 17, she gave birth to a mixed-race child, who died after six days. A tough start in life.
Although Christine was portrayed as the femme fatale who was sleeping with the British Minister for War and a Russian spy simultaneously, she wasn't anything like that, to meet.
She struck me as naive and pitiful, with a weak sense of survival and poor self-worth. She had a negative view of most men – the only man she spoke nicely about was Lord Denning, the old judge who was "so kind" to her in cross-examination.
Mandy was the polar opposite. She was completely confident during our TV programme – one smart cookie who could take care of herself.
Mandy's shrewdness was evident when she set the world laughing with her devastating put-down of Viscount Astor, who denied having slept with her: "He would say that, wouldn't he?" In her natural idiom, it was a foxy young lassie's rebuff of a fallacious denial. It also showed Mandy's confidence, her lack of deference to a toff and her cheeky belief in herself.
The gulf between the two can never be breeched, and it's small wonder Christine, who is now so poor, has expressed bitter words about Mandy and her affluent lifestyle, calling her "a true tart". It is character – and upbringing – which decide our destiny.
'The difference between the two women is in their childhood family background'