Perhaps, more than the threat of Hell’s Fire and Damnation in the afterlife women should fear the Hell on Earth of looking back in old age at their young, attractive and innocent selves, and wondering where it went all wrong.
At the present moment there is a picture circulating on the Internet of a decrepit bag lady in a shabby mackintosh in down-at-heel sandals with thin stringy hair, corpulent and multi-chinned pulling a shopping trolley. The caption is “Guess Who?”
Cruelly, the first picture is then backed up by pictures of a stunningly beautiful young woman, and the answer is “Christine Keeler”. This is the woman who as a barely legal teen slept with a British Minister of State, a Russian KGB colonel, and numerous Society people—and eventually brought down the government of the patrician Harold MacMillan.
In kindness I have to say she was silly and star struck rather than stupid. Why was this poor little uneducated and rather dim village girl invited to orgiastic parties at the poolside of Lord Astor at his stately home, Clivenden, attended by politicians, diplomats, crooked property developers and members of so-called High Society? Because they are always on the lookout for something fresh to perk up their jaded appetites?
I had some peripheral involvement in the Christine Keeler affair because I was for a year the Manager of SHELL’s aviation laboratory in Egham, the Thameside village where she lived. I never met her, but some of my lab assistants went to school with her. They say that she was unfortunate that at early puberty she transformed from a gawky ugly duckling that attracted nobody into a beautiful swan who attracted everybody. A child in a woman’s body.
A year previously, when I was an RAF officer, and before the scandal broke, I was introduced to Antigoni the Royal portrait painter who was one of her clients. And I attended parties at Powis Terrace, a Peter Rachman (who was involved with Keeler through his girlfriend Mandy Rice-Davis) development in the then unfashionable and raffish Notting Hill.
Now Christine is indigent and living on benefits, and is doomed to look at pictures of her young self and wonder what might have been if she had mixed with better company—like Layla, the Palestinian air hostess in my book THE GULF “Reaping the Whirlwind”.
Yes Layla in her teens escaped the Palestinian refugee camps and hung out around the American University in Beirut working as a waitress and used her beauty to gain favours. But she passed herself off as a Lebanese Christian, made sure she learned good English, and never ever let her milk white skin turn brown in the sun. And so she landed a job with Middle East Airlines, had a hymen repair and snagged a rich Saudi husband fascinated by her apparent sophistication, and virginity.
But life is cruel even for the young and beautiful. She could not produce a son, and so her Saudi husband divorced her. She went back to Palestine, converted to Christianity, and like most Levantine women ran to fat in her middle age. But she tried bravely to make a difference by running a Church of England orphanage near Ramallah—and was hassled by the Israelis and the Palestinians alike, her only ally a broken down old English expatriate.
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