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The Aitken affair: Exclusive social circle which served his ends

Friends and supporters
AITKEN'S SOCIAL circle was as exclusive as it was extensive, a by-product of rank and privilege that he exploited with sure- footed adroitness to serve his own ends.

His great-uncle, the newspaper baron Lord Beaverbrook, perhaps unwittingly set in motion the decades of tireless networking by taking the young Aitken aside while he was at Eton and giving him the ultimate spur: "I'm going to pay you the greatest compliment," said Beaverbrook, "I'm not going to leave you a cent."

It was the catalyst to which Aitken would proudly refer to over the years that he was not, in fact, the product of years of wealthy establishment breeding, whose provenance included his father Sir William Travern Aitken, a Tory MP, and his grandfather Lord Rugby, a colonial civil servant, but that he was a self-made man.

Attending Eton and Christ Church, Oxford, to read law helped him further up the ladder. Aitken added a twist as he schmoozed his way through the hostess circuits in London, Paris, Rome, New York, Cairo and Washington.

He worked his charm so expertly that his Westminster colleagues dubbed him the "Casanova of the Commons".Aitken was once tagged "the second most eligible bachelor in London" on the party circuit. The first was the Prince of Wales.

Women flocked to him. They included Carol Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher's daughter, a liaison which led to political isolation as punishment by the then prime minister when his relationship with Carol came to an end.

Over the years, beautiful women came and went. Among them Lady Antonia Fraser, a mother-of-six, Earl Howe's daughter, Lady Charlotte Curzon, Elizabeth Harrison, the former wife of Richard Harris and Rex Harrison, Arianna Stassipopoulos, the Greek broadcaster and writer, Lizzie Spender, daughter of the poet Stephen Spender, and Soraya Khashoggi, ex-wife of Saudi arms dealer Adnan. It emerged only recently that Aitken had an 18- year-old child by Mrs Khashoggi.

His list of female acquaintances also included the prostitute Paula Strudwick who gave a steamy account in 1995 of their affair 15 years earlier.

In 1979, he stunned society by wedding the little known Swiss economist Lolicia Azucki. The marriage lasted 18 years before they divorced last year. Their initial separation was announced in June 1997, the day before his libel action collapsed.

He still commands loyalty despite recent events. By his side at court yesterday was his mother, Lady Aitken, and friend, the former MP Michael Allison, once a speechwriter to Margaret Thatcher. He can also count on his children even though he admitted fabricating Victoria's witness statement.