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Christine Keeler; central figure in British scandal

Associated Press/FILE

Christine Keeler.

By Neil Genzlinger New York Times 

NEW YORK — Christine Keeler, who in the early 1960s was at the center of a sensational political scandal in Britain, known as the Profumo affair, that played a role in the downfall of a Conservative government, died on Monday in Farnborough, England. She was 75.

Her son Seymour Platt said she had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

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“My mother, Christine Keeler, fought many fights in her eventful life,” Platt wrote on Facebook, “some fights she lost but some she won. She earned her place in British history but at a huge personal price.”

Ms. Keeler was the “party girl” — as she was often described — who had an affair with John Profumo, a star in the Conservative government of Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. The secretary of state for war at the time — some saw him as a future prime minister — Profumo had met Ms. Keeler at a party in 1961, when she was still a teenager and he was in his mid-40s.

A startling series of events eventually brought Profumo’s involvement with her to light, but not before he had tried to save his career.

In March 1963, he went before the House of Commons to try to quell rumors about a sexual relationship. “There was no impropriety in my acquaintanceship with Miss Keeler,” he said.

But details kept coming out — British newspapers called it the “Scandal of the Century” — and he resigned in June 1963.

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“I said that there had been no impropriety,” Profumo said in his letter of resignation. “To my very deep regret I have to admit that this was not true.”

Ms. Keeler had multiple lovers, among them Commander Eugene Ivanov, an attaché in the Soviet Embassy in London, and when that relationship came to light, government figures and MI5, the domestic intelligence agency, feared that her affair with Profumo might have created a grave security breach.

When Macmillan resigned later in 1963, the Profumo affair was cited as a contributing factor.

Profumo died in 2006, having rarely spoken about the matter again. His wife, the movie actress Valerie Hobson, stood by him. She died in 1998.

Ms. Keeler, though, had a lot to say about the scandal over the years, including in “Secrets and Lies,” a memoir written with Douglas Thompson and published in 2012.

“I enjoyed sex and I indulged in it when I fancied the men,” she wrote, “but I was no hypocrite. It was others who were disguising their peccadilloes in dinner jackets, diamonds, and evening dresses, indulging in weird fantasies.”

Christine Keeler was born on Feb. 22, 1942, outside London in Uxbridge. She left home at 16 and was dancing in a topless club in London when she met Stephen Ward, an osteopath.

“In reality,” she wrote in the book, “Stephen Ward was a spymaster who befriended hosts of prominent and powerful people in the British government, aristocracy, and even members of the royal family.”

Newspapers said Ward ran a “vice ring.” He killed himself in August 1963.

He introduced Ms. Keeler to Profumo in July 1961, at Cliveden House in Buckinghamshire. She had been swimming nude.

Profumo, she wrote, seemed not to be a first-timer when it came to illicit affairs. (Headlines just last week in Britain told of his apparent relationship with a Nazi spy years earlier.)