Quinn: The woman who loved, spun and won

But at what cost? As Kimberly Quinn, the woman who helped bring down a Home Secretary, escaped Britain yesterday for a holiday from the headlines, Francis Elliott investigates her extraordinary rise to power and fall from grace

Kimberly Fortier - as she then was - leaned over the lunch table and flashed her famously winning smile at her guest. "Conrad Black has known me since I was a 14-year-old," she confided. "And, you know, I think he still thinks of me as being that age."

Kimberly Fortier - as she then was - leaned over the lunch table and flashed her famously winning smile at her guest. "Conrad Black has known me since I was a 14-year-old," she confided. "And, you know, I think he still thinks of me as being that age."

Recalling this weekend the remark made around three years ago, the guest said: "It is interesting: did David Blunkett think of her like that - as a young, naive girl?"

Yesterday, as she headed off for a holiday with her husband, Stephen Quinn, Kimberly may well be ruing her ability to attract powerful men. She has helped to bring down a Home Secretary, and will pay the price of that victory for the rest of her days.

Men of standing have always been a part of Kimberly's life. When she was two her father founded a company that made nuclear detection equipment - and a lot of money.

Marvin and Lugene Solomon brought up their daughters, Kimberly and Jennifer, in San Marino, a well-to-do suburb of Los Angeles.

Clearly Black, the now disgraced media tycoon, was one family friend, but there were other powerful allies. When the couple celebrated their golden anniversary this March - at a time when Mr Blunkett was in the US - there was even a congratulatory speech in Congress to mark the occasion.

Republican congressman Jerry Lewis told the nation that the Solomons had "lived the Californian dream" of success and happiness. But their ambitious daughter had her eyes set on far grander things. A stint at Vassar College, New York, was followed by a degree from Oxford University. Her connection with Black can't have harmed her career, but there are those who challenge her version of her early days in the bitchy world of New York magazines.

According to received wisdom her first job was as a secretary to the former editor of Cosmopolitan, the legendary Helen Gurley Brown. Brown, however, is reported not to be able to remember her. She is also said to query the story that Kimberly was sacked for failing to put through a phone call from Truman Capote with sufficient speed. "I haven't had many secretaries to begin with, and I am sure she wasn't one of them," the New York media boss is reported to have said. "And why would I fire anyone for having a good phone relationship with Truman Capote?"

Whatever the truth of that first step on the ladder, by the mid-1980s Kimberly was an editor of a trade magazine. In 1987 she married Michael Fortier, a US investment banker, but moved to London two years later. She has said that she was shocked to find that "it was not like the 19th century, which was the impression of England that I had taken from the history books".

Former colleagues at the publishing house Condé Nast, where she worked under Nicholas Coleridge, are scathing about her subsequent transformation.

"She went from being Beverly Hills to a Today programme intellectual," one former colleague told the Evening Standard.

Kimberly's circle in those early days was based around a book club in west London that included the actress Sarah Standing. It was a connection she is unlikely to have kept to herself, according to one former colleague - "She could be the most infuriating namedropper, outrageously so, but she used to do it in such a cack-handed manner that you felt rather sorry for her."

The marriage to Mr Fortier began to fail around this time, but by 1996 her professional status was beginning to catch up with any dinner party boastfulness. Appointed publisher of The Spectator, she helped to double sales.

However, though the magazine's political editor, Peter Oborne, has been a staunch defender, not everyone connected with The Spectator regards her with affection.

"To know her is to hate her," says one with whom she has clashed. "She is very much an open book. It's very, very obvious that she is the American girl on the make in London, so her whole life is dominated by sucking up to anybody who appears to be in charge of anything, sucking up on a colossal scale.

"She is also a great transferer of allegiance. Also, she has a great need to be the centre of attention in any activity she was part of. At The Spectator, she was called the publisher. The publisher is actually the person who sells advertising. She always wanted to give the impression that she had a say in editorial content. You can imagine how this went down with those rather well-bred generals' daughters who are the subs at The Spectator. They couldn't bear her."

Members of staff do not forget that the 23-year-old caught having an office affair with Rod Liddle was given a high-handed lecture on breaking up other people's marriages by none other than Kimberly Fortier.

A recent editorial conference was punctuated by one staff member saying: "I hope this magazine is proud of itself for standing up for that slapper."

The details of her second marriage, in 2001, to Stephen Quinn, a 60-year-old publisher at Condé Nast, and the affair with David Blunkett she embarked on weeks later are, in contrast to her early life, now all too well known.

Yet even here, there are gaps and oddities. In his book on Mr Blunkett, Stephen Pollard writes that they met one or two nights a week and one weekend a month. In their three-year affair they had at least three foreign holidays.

How could Mr Quinn possibly not have known about the affair? Yet her friends insist she was terrified that her husband would find out.

"She was sure that Stephen would walk out on her when he found out," a friend said. "That's why she was so scared of it making the papers."

Friends say she turned to Mr Blunkett when she was "needy" - a strange emotional state to be in,, one might think, weeks after a marriage.

Other aspects of their relationship seem curious. Mr Blunkett's eldest son, Alastair, and his girlfriend accompanied the couple on at least one tryst, for instance. He was clearly prepared to include her in his family - one of the first people he told was his ex-wife, Ruth, testament to an enduring trust between the two.

Did Kimberly similarly confide in her relatives? If not, it is a curious coincidence that Mr Blunkett was in the US the week of the Solomons' golden wedding anniversary.

Strangest of all, perhaps, is why the relationship faltered. Her friends say she grew frightened by the intensity of his desire that they should be together. "He never let up. She was intimidated by his relentless passion. She became frightened of him." Her detractors have an altogether different explanation for her decision to end the affair.

"You can imagine that, in 2001, a rather scatter-brained girl like her could see David Blunkett becoming Prime Minister as the "stop Brown" candidate. It would have completely gone to her head that she might be standing on the White House lawn, this girl from America, on an equal footing with Laura Bush.

"These adventurous women always assume that the power of the men they are with is going to last for ever, when it doesn't. It was going to last another five or six years, and after that she was going to end up in Sheffield, far away from the Condé Nast life."

What does the future hold for her now? Financially, it will be comfortable, but not overly so. Contrary to reports, Mr Quinn, a divorcee himself, is not especially wealthy. His three-storey Mayfair house, the backdrop to the Quinn camp's briefings, gives an inflated impression of his financial standing, say senior magazine executives with whom he has worked.

Those around Andrew Neil, her new boss at The Spectator, say there are signs that he is restless about the prospect of her return to the magazine after maternity leave, but Stephen Quinn has dismissed speculation that the couple will move to the US. However, it must be attractive for Kimberly and her children to spend more time in America to be nearer her parents and sister, Jennifer, who has two children of her own.

Her mother, Lugene, is a former TV star best known in the US for her role as Babs in the Life of Riley sitcom. Publicity shots from the heyday of her career as Lugene Sanders explain where Kimberly got her looks.

Nowadays, she runs her own company, C Sanders Emblems, an embroidery company that makes patches and logos for corporate uniforms across the country. (She also gave $1,000 to the campaign to re-elect George Bush.) Marvin and Lugene, who love the theatre and opera, also have an apartment in Paris.

In the short term, the couple will have their brief holiday before the birth of her second child in February. Less attractive will be the prospect of the final stages of the Quinns' court battle with Mr Blunkett in the Family Division of the High Court, which he will now have the time to pursue with ever more vigour.

Kimberly is said to recognise that she must, in the end, give Mr Blunkett access to his son. "If he's the biological father it is obvious that he must have access. She is coming to terms with that," said one who has spoken for her.

"This is just an awful situation for everybody," her friend added. "She is full of grief and remorse."

Kimberly's flash-lit white face as she emerged from St Mary's Hospital in west London on Friday night gives some credence to those who insist she is "fragile" and "vulnerable".

Her startled expression was a study in the aghast comprehension of consequences hitherto only dimly grasped.

However, maintaining public sympathy in the months ahead may be hard. For the fortnight that the drama raged far beyond her hospital bed, Kimberly was what playwrights refer to as the "absent centre". Players rushed on and off the stage, monologues were declaimed, the saga unfolded - but all the while its main element was hidden from view.

She won a titanic battle of spin with her former lover while never showing her face, but at what cost? Her exit from hospital - and the exit of her former lover from high office - has changed the dynamics of their relationship.

In the end, Kimberly Quinn may find making a return to public life every bit as difficult as David Blunkett will.

Additional reporting by David Usborne

Into the limelight comes another figure at entertaining magazine

Simon Hoggart is the latest contributor to The Spectator to be dragged reluctantly into the scandal limelight. As the magazine's political editor, Peter Oborne, has said, it has become a journal "which continues to produce more news than it can consume locally".

Hoggart, the magazine's wine correspondent, angrily denies claims in today's News of the World that he had an affair with Kimberly Quinn at the same time as her relationship with David Blunkett.

By way of contrast, other members of the magazine staff have admitted dalliances with fellow toilers in its townhouse offices in Doughty Street, London. Boris Johnson, its editor, was forced to resign from the Tory front bench last month when his affair with columnist Petronella Wyatt became public knowledge. Rod Liddle was subject to a bruising media row with his wife after his affair with Alicia Munckton, the magazine's receptionist, leaked earlier this year.

Hoggart, 58, who is the journal's television critic as well as its wine correspondent, said yesterday: "I am absolutely gob-smacked at this stuff appearing. We're good friends and that is the extent of it. Somebody who hates her very much, and I don't know who that is, is trying to blacken her name."

Mrs Quinn has herself praised Hoggart in print including his column in a list of favourite writers in a piece for The Guardian 14 months ago. He lives in south-west London with his wife of 21 years, Alyson, a child psychologist. The couple have two teenage children. Denying the allegations that he had had an affair with Mrs Quinn last night he said: "This morning I got a phone call from the News of the World saying 'you have had an affair'. I said I have not. I said if you have any evidence fax it to me. I heard nothing."

Observers pointed out that Mr Hoggart may well have fallen victim to the bitter briefing war being waged.

Francis Elliot

Simon Hoggart age 58, political writer for 'The Guardian' who denies claims of an affair. Wine columnist for
'The Spectator', edited by ...

Boris Johnson age 40, MP for Henley and married with four children. Sacked as Tory culture spokesman after revelations of his fling with ...

Petronella Wyatt age 35, 'Spectator' columnist, socialite and daughter of
the late Lord Wyatt of Weevil. Works
in the same
office as ...

Rod Liddle age 44, former editor of Radio 4's 'Today', associate editor of 'The Spectator'. Left his wife for Alicia Munckton, a 23-year-old assistant on the magazine

WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT HER

Blunkett was used by Quinn just as she used her husband. Then she launched a vendetta against him.

The Sun (edited by Rebekah Wade)

Her selfishness will stigmatise those children for ever. Most women, on hearing that their ruthless campaign to destroy a former love had succeeded, would, for a moment at least, hang their heads in shame.

Amanda Platell, Daily Mail

What kind of woman, while having fertility treatment to conceive with her husband, puts her self in a position to get pregnant by another man?

Caroline Jones, Daily Mirror

She isn't the biggest sinner in God's kingdom. It is absurd to paint her that way. My area of interest relates to the best of my ability to protect Kimberly. I love her deeply. And it is returned.

Stephen Quinn, The Sunday Times

Everyone is 100 per cent behind Stephen and Kimberly here in their decision to stay together.

Nicholas Coleridge, (Condé Nast managing director), Evening Standard

She has always been brilliant at her job, always lively and always fun.

Peter Oborne, (Political editor of The Spectator), Evening Standard

In future, that little boy will want to know that his father cared enough about him to sacrifice his career, but he will also want to know, I hope, that his mother has some regret.

David Blunkett

I haven't had that many secretaries to begin with and I am sure she wasn't one of them.

Helen Gurley Brown, (Founder of Cosmopolitan and supposedly Quinn's first employer), Reported by New York's Daily News

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