Profumo sex scandal: Who was Mandy Rice-Davis – and what was the affair all about?

Former model and dancer who became involved in the most famous sex scandal of the last century, rocking the political establishment

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Indy Politics

Who was Mandy Rice-Davis?

A former model and dancer from Solihull who headed to London at the age of 16 and found herself caught up in the Profumo Scandal. The most famous sex scandal of the last century, it rocked the political establishment, dealt a damaging blow to Harold Macmillian’s government and was an early taste of the Swinging Sixties.

What happened after she came to London?

While working as a dancer she met Christine Keeler who introduced her to the socialite Stephen Ward, a society osteopath with numerous connections to famous names in politics, the aristocracy and showbusiness. Rice-Davies was a frequent visitor to the mews house in Marylebone that Keeler shared with Ward.

While there an ex-boyfriend of Keeler’s turned up outside and fired at the front door. The resulting trial lifted the lid on Ward’s links to many powerful society figures – and crucially Keeler’s affair with the Minister for War, John Profumo.

Why was the revelation of Keeler’s affair with Profumo so dramatic?

Keeler, who met Profumo at a society party hosted by Lord Astor, was also said to have had a relationship with the Soviet defence attaché Yevgeny Ivanov. The security implications at the height of the Cold War were hugely damaging to the Macmillan government.

Profumo, a society figure married to the famous actress Valerie Hobson, denied the affair in a statement to the House of Commons in March 1963.

So what was Rice-Davis’s role?

Two months later Profumo admitted the affair and resigned in June 1963. Shortly afterwards Ward was arrested and charged with living off immoral earnings from her and Keeler.

Rice-Davis’s evidence at Ward’s trial, which gripped the nation, had a dramatic impact. When it was put to her that Lord Astor denied having had an affair with her – or even having met her – she replied: “He would, wouldn’t he?”

The phrase touched a nerve. It immediately entered the language and sealed her notoriety and fame.

What happened next?

Before the jury could pass its verdict, Ward took an overdose of pills. He was convicted in his absence of living off immoral earnings and died after four days without regaining consciousness. He was widely regarded as the scapegoat of the scandal as the establishment tried unsuccessfully to close ranks.

The episode is widely seen as heralding the birth of the permissive era following nearly two decades of post-war austerity in Britain. And the teenager from Solihull uttered the most memorable phrase of the entire affair.