Colourful past as a 'tart' in Paris wrecks dream of shortlisted Labour candidate

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Indy Politics

Educated at a girls' grammar school and Oxford University, Christine Wheatley, a trainee barrister, seemed to be a model New Labour candidate.

Educated at a girls' grammar school and Oxford University, Christine Wheatley, a trainee barrister, seemed to be a model New Labour candidate.

There was just one detail missing from her Curriculum Vitae: she had been a prostitute in Paris.

Like a scene from Belle de Jour , Ms Wheatley, 53, had enjoyed a brief secret life as a French tart. And like the classic 1960s film character starring Catherine Deneuve, Ms Wheatley saw nothing to apologise for.

In fact, she said she was more ashamed of selling encyclopaedias in Germany than her own favours on the Boulevard St Michel.

"Yes, I worked as a tart. I'm not ashamed," said Ms Wheatley yesterday. "It was before I found proper work. I hit Paris with £300. I didn't have much to spend. I had to find money.

"It was very gay. I was living on the Left Bank - Paris in the 1970s, and I was a delightful young woman. I used to sit at a café on the Boulevard St Michel. French guys would come along and say, 'Would you like something to drink?'

"I would say, 'will have a coffee'. Then I would say, 'Would you like to make love?' They always said yes. Then I would say, 'Do you have the money?' Then we would go to a hotel." The romance of Paris was not part of the picture, however. "It was not truly Parisian love," she said. "It was usually only three minutes."

Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair's former director of communications, once boasted of a life as a Riviera gigolo but Labour Party officials took a dim view when Ms Wheatley revealed all about her past to a local newspaper.

Her name was hurriedly removed from the shortlist for the safe Labour seat in Copeland, a rural constituency in Cumbria, being vacated by Jack Cunningham, a former cabinet minister who is standing down at the next election.

She had impressed Labour leaders with her CV, which included the fact that she was educated at St Paul's Grammar School for Girls in Birmingham, where she learned French, before going to St Anne's College, Oxford, to study politics, philosophy and economics.

She lived in Paris before travelling in Europe and after returning to England, was training to become a barrister. She seemed like the perfect choice for the shortlist for New Labour.

She had read about the vacancy in Cumbria in the magazine Tribune . Party officials there invited her to an interview after she sent them a CV - three ward branches in Birmingham nominated her - and making it on to a shortlist of seven, was invited to a hustings meeting last Saturday. She travelled from her home in Birmingham to give a speech but horrified officials intervened after reading about her past life as a prostitute.

They contacted her, before the meeting, to tell her she was no longer on the shortlist. Labour officials insisted she was not disqualified because of her life as a prostitute but because she had been less than frank in her CV.

Ms Wheatley worked as a call girl for about six weeks in 1979 after abandoning Belgravia and a job as a secretary with IBM to drift around Europe's capitals.

After Paris, Ms Wheatley returned to London in the early 1980s and eventually moved back to her home city of Birmingham.

Ms Wheatley said: "I am not ashamed at all. I have worked as an encyclopaedia salesman in Germany - I'm more ashamed of that. We have single mothers who want to be MPs, gay and lesbian candidates, so why not former sex workers?

"I am just mind-numbed by Labour's decision."