top of page

Christine Keeler: a view from 1963

Christine Keeler, Peter Cook's Establishment Club, Soho London 1963

When I was 14, I remember being fascinated by this picture of Christine Keeler. She emerges from the dark; suggestive and demure, but posed.

Christine Keeler at 19 years old was caught up in circumstances of which she seemed, to those close to her at the time, to have little understanding. She was directed this way and that by her pimp, the osteopath Stephen Ward; her solicitor; the press; photographers and the public. They commodified and consumed her, one way or another, dabbed their pursed lips and made their judgments. "I took on the sins of everybody, of a generation, really," she told The Observer in 2001.

A beat up appearing in the British press after the launch of the musical "Stephen Ward" in 2013, whose reputation Andrew Lloyd-Webber had sought to rehabilitate, made fun of Christine's ageing and compared her unfavourably to Mandy Rice-Davies, who died the following year. Christine wouldn't assist Lloyd-Webber with the musical or appear at the launch. ‘For some reason she doesn’t like me, maybe because I lived abroad and escaped a lot of the obvious prejudice she suffered,’ reflected Rice-Davies.

Christine's relationship with John Profumo nearly brought down the British government of the day, and she was assigned much more agency than she ever had. Like Profumo she never lived it down, but unlike him she was never forgiven. "It's time to forget the Keeler business," said Thatcher. "His has been a very good life."

Like so many figures of history adjacent to the powerful but not of it, her role was cast for her; she took the blame for their hypocrisy. Her death brings up issues still familiar in our civic debate. Viewed from 1963 the standard set by the treatment of Monica Lewinsky, or the 'St Kilda schoolgirl' or so many others would suggest a change in the discourse is long overdue.

On her passing Christine's son told Sky News, “I hope we now live in a time where we stop blaming women for the urges of men.”

Me too.

bottom of page