London - Whether she liked it or not, the name Christine Keeler will always be synonymous with one thing – the Profumo affair.
The scandal brought about the downfall of a prominent minister when she slept with both him and a Russian embassy military attache.
But her son believes the controversy was actually a catalyst for ‘a sea-change in British culture’ that did ‘immense good for the country’.
In his first full interview since the death of his mother this week, Seymour Platt said she was victimised – and spoke of his hope that women will never again be ‘blamed for men’s urges’ as she was.
Using her first name in the informal fashion of children brought up in the 1970s, Mr Platt, 46, said: ‘I think the entire Profumo thing did immense good for the country. There were people who lost their lives over what happened. That was never Christine’s intention, of course.
‘But I think it meant maybe we’re less deferential to people in power. We were beginning to stand up to politicians and say “You’re lying, we’re going to hold you to account”. There was a sea-change in British culture, and we’re reaping the rewards for that now, living in a more open society.
‘People born into wealth don’t necessarily get an easy ride as their birth right. Christine and the story were a catalyst for that.’
Keeler was 19 when she met Minister of War John Profumo and found herself rocketed to fame when her simultaneous affairs with him and Russian embassy military attache Yevgeny Ivanov erupted in 1963.
As the scandal unfolded, she was described as a ‘good time girl’, while osteopath to the rich and famous Stephen Ward was accused of pimping Keeler and her friend Mandy Rice-Davis. Ward killed himself during his Old Bailey trial and Profumo had to resign from the government at the height of the Cold War after lying to Parliament about his relationship with Keeler by saying they were just ‘on friendly terms’ and there was ‘no impropriety’.
Mr Platt said: ‘Some of the older language from the Sixties like “call girl” and “good time girl” are no longer appropriate. We’re in the 21st century.
‘Back in the early Sixties, Chris was just a young girl having fun, and I don’t think we’d think about putting labels like that on someone like her now. Then, women took the blame for stuff – they took the blame for a man’s urges. The world we live in is very different now, and I don’t know if there’s the same appetite to blame women for the sins of men.
‘The redemption of my mum would be something I’d be delighted to see. She was an icon, but she was also a human being with a family, she was a grandmother – and she was a terrible victim as well. It would be nice if we lived in a world where women aren’t vilified for what men do.’
Keeler died of the lung complaint chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in the Princess Royal hospital in Bromley, south-east London on Monday. She was 75. Mr Platt is her son by her second, brief marriage to company director Anthony Sidney Platt, from Wiltshire.
Speaking from his cottage in rural Longford, Ireland, Mr Platt, said: ‘There are some quite awful pictures of Chris when she wasn’t well a few years ago, when she was quite large. I know she hated them when she saw them.’
But he remembers her fondly as having a great sense of humour right up until the end, loving Scrabble, crosswords and having a ‘fantastic memory for numbers’.
‘And she also had a great sense of justice, he added. ‘She would stand up against big guys and tell them they were slap-bang out of order. If I learned anything from her it’s about bravery to stand up and have your voice heard when you need to.’
Despite the strains of the Profumo Affair, Mr Platt – a business consultant who lives with his wife and their young child – said there were also aspects of his mother’s life at the centre of swinging London that she never regretted.
‘She had the opportunity to meet fantastic people, really interesting people, and she led a fantastic life,’ he said.
‘Of course, a lot of it was fun. This is a girl brought up very poor and in a bad environment in post-war Britain – and she had the opportunity to meet princes and movie stars and become famous herself. It must have been very exciting.
‘The Profumo scandal was in a very short window of time, and a lot of the fun happened afterwards when she met movie stars like George Peppard on an equal footing. The star of the 1960 film The Time Machine, Rod Taylor, said to Chris on one occasion, in a room with other movie stars, “The only person here who is truly famous is Christine – because she’s the only one who’s going to be in the history books”.
‘And one thing that will probably last forever is the image of her sitting on that chair. She didn’t have one of those chairs herself, sadly.’
In the final years of her life, Keeler led an anonymous life after changing her surname to Sloane. And far from the bright lights of swinging Soho, she lived in a small flat in suburban Bromley that she bought for £54,000 in 2010.
Mr Platt said: ‘I don’t know if people knew who she was. I never raise it with people, and I don’t presume people know it, and she was exactly the same. She never met people and said, “Hi I’m Christine Keeler, you may remember I’m from the 1960s”.
‘Chris didn’t have many boyfriends, certainly in the time she was raising me. She didn’t trust men to be around a child, after what happened to her when she was young.
‘She was very protective, so there weren’t a lot of men in her later life – and none in recent years.’ But she also enjoyed glamour to the last, dressing up in her best clothes and make-up just a week before she died.
Mr Platt said his mother was in and out of hospital for most of this year before entering a nursing home. ‘We were over seeing her the weekend before last, and she seemed absolutely fine,’ he said. ‘She was in great form.
‘She got dressed up and put make-up on. There was a lot of love around her, and it was a wonderful weekend.
‘But by last Friday she was back in hospital. On Monday the hospital told me it was time to get back, but I couldn’t get a flight until Tuesday. I don’t believe she was suffering in the end, the hospital made sure of that.’
As he grapples with his grief, Mr Platt draws strength from one of his mother’s last utterances – a telling reflection of her personality: ‘The end of life isn’t much fun, but I guess you’ve just got to get on with it and chin up.’