The socialist and the socialite: the inside story of a private affair turned public scandal

Even by the standards of the long, ignoble history of British political scandal, the story of the Home Secretary, his ex-lover, her child and the nanny is extraordinary. Not least because it is being played with the full collusion of the media. Here Andy McSmith, Blunkett's biographer, pieces together the most definitive account of the sorry saga
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One of drama's great tragic heroes, condemned to loneliness by the colour of his skin, diagnosed his problem as being that he "loved not wisely, but too well". That was Othello. A Labour MP used more down- to-earth language last week in describing the predicament of one of his contemporaries. "There is," he remarked, "no fool like an old fool in love."

One of drama's great tragic heroes, condemned to loneliness by the colour of his skin, diagnosed his problem as being that he "loved not wisely, but too well". That was Othello. A Labour MP used more down- to-earth language last week in describing the predicament of one of his contemporaries. "There is," he remarked, "no fool like an old fool in love."

The "old fool" in question was, of course, David Blunkett, who would apparently prefer to throw away the political career he has built up so carefully for 34 years rather than be parted from a two-year-old boy.

The story of the Home Secretary, his ex-lover, her husband, the child and a Filipina nanny is unlike any political scandal in recent years. Sex scandals usually begin with a powerful man discarding a powerless mistress, who takes her revenge by public disclosure, breathing life into the sexist mantra that "Hell hath no fury ..."

The estranged ex-lovers are, indeed, consumed by a fury that seems to set no limit on the hurt they will inflict on one another. But Mrs Kimberly Quinn, the female lead in the drama, cannot complain of being a woman scorned. For three agreeable years she was dividing her time between a powerful politician who loved her obsessively and selfishly, and a husband so selfless that apparently he can tolerate being Britain's best-known cuckold.

Now she is having to hide herself from public view, she is unable to work and her health is at risk, not because her lover abandoned her but because she scorned him, and he cannot seem to come to terms with it.

In private conversation, Mr Blunkett still talks about her constantly, as if her departure were an open wound that he cannot stop touching. His first, erratic reaction to his loss was to try to get her back. Now he has transferred all his lonely longing on to the child he believes he sired.

This domestic drama would be compelling if it had been played out in the suburbs. But this is a story about the Home Secretary, whose job is to make sure that the rest of the country is behaving properly. It has also shown up the strange relationship between newspapers and the people they write about. In the old days, reporters inhabited a different world from the society figures who made the gossip columns. Newspapers covered lovers' quarrels, but did not take part in them.

In this case, the newspapers have been behaving like friends of the couple ­ but not like those tactful friends who stay in the background, avoiding doing anything to inflame the situation. On the contrary, national newspapers have joined each side of the mêlée. They have been the means by which the feuding ex-lovers have staked their positions and tested each other's resolve.

At several points in the drama, an event that was traumatically important to those involved took place out of the public eye, only to be followed with suspicious rapidity by a burst of newspaper publicity. It has become clear that when one ex-lover did something the other did not like, the normal retaliation was to call the newspapers.

Yet it all must have been such wonderful fun, when it started at a dinner party just over three years ago. Power is said to be an aphrodisiac, and no doubt it had that effect as the recently wed Kimberly Fortier examined the craggy face of the Home Secretary, whose beard and unseeing eyes can give him the appearance of an Old Testament prophet.

But this was in no way a case of a gullible young intern being led along by an experienced seducer holding high office. Although David Blunkett is one of the country's most experienced politicians, he was almost a babe in the woods in the situation into which he was plunged after he met Kimberly Fortier.

One former minister said: "I used to give David Blunkett a lift home almost every evening when we lived near each other. In the car, we used to talk about almost everything, including sex ­ or in David's case, the lack of it and how lonely he was."

Having been sent away to a boarding school for blind boys at the age of three, David Blunkett missed out on the sexual liberation enjoyed by his contemporaries during the swinging Sixties.

"While boarding school tends to make children tough and reliant," he wrote in his autobiography On a Clear Day, "pupils can become hardened, fail to mature as rounded individuals and are largely ignorant of how to conduct relationships, particularly with the opposite sex. Most of us remained clueless about how to handle relationships with the opposite sex."

At the age of 18, he summoned the courage to ask a girl he had met at a Methodist youth club for a date.

"Looking back, I realise that my Methodist upbringing, lack of experience with girls and a serious commitment to passing my exams at evening classes meant that I was not the most worldly boyfriend she might have had," he recalled.

But at least she taught him to "kiss and cuddle" and when she dumped him for someone more experienced, his self-confidence nosedived, leaving him convinced that a blind boy could never compete in the sexual stakes. So he immersed himself in laying the groundwork for a political career.

In a youth club one evening, when others were dancing to "Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band", he again screwed up his courage to ask someone to dance, only to receive a curt refusal from a gruff male voice.

"No one likes to make a fool of himself in public, but blind people feel particularly vulnerable," he wrote.

When he was 21, he at last succeeded in forming a friendship with a 17-year-old girl named Ruth Mitchell. As with his first girlfriend, he met her in the unexotic setting of a Methodist discussion group. They married two years later, and had three sons, but the marriage was effectively over by the time Mr Blunkett entered Parliament in 1987. The couple's decision to live apart gave him his first experience of a tabloid invasion of his private life.

This was a world away from the privileged, exciting life of the young Kimberly Solomon, who rose to prominence as Kimberly Fortier, and now prefers to be called Kimberly Quinn. She had no experience of the grinding poverty, the loneliness, or the fear of being laughed at which hardened Mr Blunkett.

Her mother's strikingly beautiful face was once as familiar to American television viewers as Kimberly's has become to British newspaper readers. She was the actress Lugene Sanders, whose best-known role was as Babs Riley, the squeaky clean, all-American daughter of the accident-prone Chester Riley in the long-running sitcom The Life of Riley. Kimberly's father, Marvin Solomon, made his money from radiation detection equipment.

Her first job was as secretary to the founding editor of Cosmopolitan. She was editing a trade magazine in the US when she met and married the American investment banker Michael Fortier. But according to the none-too-kind remarks that Mr Fortier made after news of the Blunkett affair broke, she did not allow her married status to cramp her stylesaying that she had had "a string of affairs" during their marriage.

"Even when she is lying in her grave she'll be thinking if there is anybody more interesting she could have lying next to her," he added. One of those affairs was with Stephen Quinn, whom she met when working with Condé Nast magazine publishers. An Irishman, 17 years her senior, he started in magazineadvertising but showed an aptitude for spotting trends and lifting circulation, which he put to successful use in the 1980s when he launched GQ, one of the first lifestyle magazines aimed at a purely male audience.

In 2000, the Fortiers divorced. Mr Quinn's marriage had also ended. He and Kimberly Fortier were married in the summer of 2001, just a few weeks before she embarked on the affair that would bring disaster to their lives.

By now, she was a highly successful businesswoman in her own right. Having taken over in 1996 as publisher of The Spectator, part of the group that owned the Telegraph titles, she helped to push the little magazine's circulation up to 60,000.

The magazine's political editor, Peter Oborne, described her glowingly as "brilliant at her job, always lively and always fun".

He added: "A few years ago The Spectator committed a massive faux pas and moved into profit. This kind of vulgarity is frowned upon in the world of magazine publishing, but much of the achievement was down to Kimberly, and everyone knew it."

So when this clever and charming woman began to flirt with the lonely and sexually timid Home Secretary, it was "like light flooding into a dark basement" ­ as one of Mr Blunkett's associates put it. He "just went bananas over her", said another. Another said: "You have to understand that he was completely in love. That got the better of his judgement, frankly."

For the three years that their affair lasted, Mr Blunkett was probably happier than at any time since he emerged in national politics. The liaison has been described in recent coverage as "secret", though actually the two made frequent public appearances together.

They accompanied each other, for instance, to the farewell party for the veteran BBC journalist Sue MacGregor. They also sat side by side at the sumptuous state banquet given by the Queen at Buckingham Palace in honour of President George Bush.

The couple also went on holiday together in Corfu, where she was reportedly addressed as "Mrs Blunkett", and he was seen playing affectionately with her young son, who was born in 2002. As long ago as November 2001, a Daily Mail gossip columnist recorded Kimberly Fortier's much-quoted remark that she had often wondered what it was like to sleep with a blind man.

Some of Blunkett's cabinet colleagues certainly knew that she had stopped wondering, having found out. They did not entirely approve of this dalliance with someone from the enemy, the Tory media. "He was warned about her," one cabinet minister said last week. "But he was not going to listen."

It was on 14 August when the News of the World suddenly announced on its front page that David Blunkett was having an affair with an unnamed "married mum". According to the newspaper's source: "They are torn. There's a deep love but neither of them knows what the future will hold."

For the benefit of those who did not already know, the next day's Sun added the detail that the woman in question was Kimberly Fortier. It was reported on 17 August that she was pregnant again. The child is due in February.

She fled back to her parents in Los Angeles, where she was caught by photographers walking along the street with her son. She made a formal complaint when a photograph was published in the following weekend's Sunday Mirror, but did not contest the truth of what the Murdoch press had previously published. Her complaint was dismissed by the Press Complaints Commission.

Thus the world found that Ms Fortier's interest in sleeping with a blind man was more than academic. What they did not know was the cruel drama that had been played out in private over the previous few days was to get even worse.

The publicity had come at the worst possible time for the woman who had at last decided to make a choice between her husband and her lover. She no longer wanted to be called Kimberly Fortier. She had decided to be Mrs Quinn.

It has been since been said by her friends that she had begun to find Mr Blunkett overbearingly possessive. It was, after all, stubbornness and ruthless, bloody-minded persistence that had enabled the blind boy from a Sheffield council estate to reach the pinnacle of political life. But in addition to the authoritarian streak in his personality, which has made him a thoroughly unpopular Home Secretary among the liberal-minded, there was also their vastly different experiences and attitudes in matters of sex.

This was, after all, one of David Blunkett's few successful sexual conquest in three decades. For Mrs Quinn, it was one of many. For Mr Blunkett, it would be unthinkable to have affairs with two women simultaneously. For her, having more than one man on the go seems to have become something of a way of life.

He demanded fidelity from her. He wanted her to divorce her husband, marry him, and stay with him for life. He wanted them to raise the small boy, whose birth certificate identified him as Stephen Quinn's son, and the child with whom she was now pregnant.

In August, she went to Mr Blunkett's London home for the grim conversation that ended their relationship. Oddly, so her friends say, when she tried to use her electronic key that would have opened the barrier and allowed her in through the back door, it did not work. She used the front door. The News of the World story, a few days later, was illustrated by her photograph at Mr Blunkett's front door.

There was a witness to this conversation, Jonathan Sedgwick, Mr Blunkett's principal private secretary, who is also an honorary priest at St John's Church, Dulwich, south London, who is said to have helped to calm a very distressed Home Secretary.

The next day, Mr Blunkett phoned Mrs Quinn to tell her that the News of the World had learnt of their affair. She went to the office of the legal firm Simpkins for a meeting ­ to which Mr Sedgwick turned up, with John Toker, the head of the Home Office press office. There is a dispute about exactly what the two civil servants were doing there. The Home Office has denied a claim that they brought along a statement they wanted her to sign, saying that her marriage to Stephen Quinn was effectively over.

What the Quinn camp now believes is that Mr Blunkett leaked the story to the Murdoch press, even conniving with the newspaper to secure a photograph, in the desperate hope that publicity would force a break between Mrs Quinn and her husband.

Westminster rumour has been more specific. It was being said ­ and was reported in last week's Spectator ­ that the information was passed on by one of the Home Secretary's advisers, who is in a relationship with a very senior figure in the Murdoch press empire.

The Murdoch newspapers certainly covered the story with more delicacy than they have usually shown for a politician caught embracing another man's wife ­ so much so that newspapers such as The Sun appeared to be part of the Blunkett "camp". The Home Secretary's social conservatism has made him something of a political hero at Murdoch's Wapping headquarters. He has assiduously built his personal contacts there over the years.

But his staff flatly deny that he ever discussed the relationship with journalists until he was forced to, a week ago. His biographer, Stephen Pollard, writing in yesterday's Daily Mail, says that the newspaper's editor, Andy Coulson, tried to do a deal with the Home Secretary, but was rebuffed. Yet the suspicion lingers that if he did not tip off the News of the World, someone else did it for him.

This suspicion seems to have triggered the ill-feeling that has turned a broken relationship into a political disaster. Amid a welter of claims and counter-claims, it is common ground that they held long, stressed telephone conversations at strange hours over the next few days ­ though who was calling whom is disputed. Mr Blunkett did not accept that the relationship was over, and is said to have "bombarded" Kimberly's friend, the publicist Julia Hobsbawm, hoping that she would act as conciliator.

Then the story seemed to die. Though some commentators ­ such as Amanda Platell in The Independent on Sunday ­ attacked the Home Secretary for having an affair with a married woman, no one thought the revelation had political implications. Several national newspapers ignored it altogether.

That changed suddenly on 21 November, when the News of the World struck again, in its second edition, with a report that Mr Blunkett had launched a legal challenge to prove that he was the biological father of both his former lover's children. This story ran for days, pulling first in one direction, then another. The Evening Standard announced on 23 November that Kimberly Quinn could prove that Mr Blunkett was not the father of her first child. The Sunday Telegraph claimed the opposite five days later.

It had become clear to everyone that relations between the former lovers had deteriorated to a point at which they were communicating through lawyers. Mr Blunkett had instructed one of the country's best-known solicitors, Geoffrey Bindman. One of the partners in his firm, Katherine Gieve, happens to be the wife of John Gieve, the Home Office's most senior civil servant.

In fact, matters had progressed beyond lawyers' letters. Suddenly, instead of having to rely on second- or third-hand accounts of what was going on, they had a hard fact to report ­ but frustratingly, were not allowed to say so. On 11 November, the Home Secretary had lodged an application under the 2000 Children Act, passed when he was Education Secretary, for a "parental responsibility order".

If granted, this would allow him to be involved in important decisions in the child's life. It would also mean that Mrs Quinn could not legally return to the US permanently with her son, without his permission. He also applied for a contact order, to give him the legal right to go on meeting the child.

The application must have been a hideous shock for Stephen Quinn, who ­ like Mr Blunkett ­ believed the child was his. Leoncia Casalme, the nanny the Quinns hired to look after the boy, later told the Daily Mail: "He was the one I would see playing with William after work, or singing him lullabies. He was a real daddy's boy. He always ran to Stephen first rather than Kimberly." But even as the doubts about his paternity became public knowledge, Mr Quinn forbearingly insisted that he wanted to be part of a family with his wife and both her children, and was prepared to say so publicly. He became what is known to the French as a mari complaisant. His attitude follows a tradition of the British aristocracy, for whom the child's father is always the person to whom the mother is married, regardless of biological circumstances.

What he did not want, nor did his wife, was David Blunkett in their lives for the long years ahead, exercising his legal rights as a biological father. The court hearing, which newspapers were not allowed to report, took place on 23 November. Kimberly Quinn's request that the case be adjourned until after her baby was born, was rejected by Senior District Judge Waller, whereupon her solicitors lodged an appeal. The court was also told that she "does not accept" that Mr Blunkett is the father, prompting that day's London Evening Standard to report that the Quinns had "proof" that Stephen was actually the father.

In the next few days, the Quinns demonstrated that they were at least as media-savvy as the Home Secretary. Husband and wife have, after all, worked in magazines for years, and have a host of friends and allies in the media. By the weekend, Mr Blunkett was left in no doubt about their determination to use their experience and contacts to try to warn him off.

The day after the hearing, The Times was told that the strain was too much for Kimberly Quinn, who had been signed off work until May with a stress-related illness. Other papers were told that Mrs Quinn had lost weight, and that there were fears that she might lose the unborn child. The implication, which friends of the Quinns such as Peter Oborne pointed out, was that Mr Blunkett was callously pursuing a sick woman through the courts when all that was asked of him was that he wait a few months.

Last weekend's Sunday Telegraph added an unexpected element, by revealing that Mrs Quinn had already agreed to Mr Blunkett's request for a DNA test on the child, anticipating that it would prove Stephen Quinn's paternity. In fact, to her dismay, it had demonstrated the opposite. This left people mystified as to why Mr Blunkett should therefore need to persist with his court hearing, when apparently he had the proof he needed that the child was his.

But a private DNA test is not binding on the courts, and David Blunkett's argument ­ now accepted by two judges ­ is that his case would be undermined if he allowed eight months to go by, from August to April, without having any contact with the child.

However, the Quinns had other, more lethal weapons in their armoury, in the form of information that was also passed to The Sunday Telegraph. It included a charge Mr Blunkett has admitted, that he gave his lover a first-class rail ticket assigned to him as an MP, a breach of Commons rules for which he may be made to apologise in public.

A more serious charge implied that he had abused his position as Home Secretary, by helping the Quinns' Filipina nanny to obtain permission to reside permanently in the UK. This forced Mr Blunkett to break the public silence he had maintained so far on the affair. He said he was "saddened that someone I cared so deeply for should seek, quite erroneously, to damage my public position" and "mortified" to see his private life exposed to public view.

By turning a private feud into a political issue, the newspaper's allegations ripped away what little privacy the participants had been able claim up to now. The Conservatives had kept well away from the affair until this point, under a ruling from Michael Howard that it was a personal matter. Now, for the first time, the shadow Home Secretary, David Davis, began commenting on it, calling for a full investigation into every allegation relevant to Mr Blunkett's role as public figure. For the first time, Mr Blunkett looked vulnerable, politically and personally. On one occasion, for instance, aides rushed to help him when he stumbled badly while walking his dog, Sadie, near Portcullis House in Westminster. A senior colleague who spoke to him on Tuesday night reports that he seemed "shell-shocked".

"I think he was beginning to regret his last conversations with her, all the shouting. She is obviously a more formidable opponent than he had thought," the colleague remarked.

Senior politicians have urged Mr Blunkett to "calm down" and at least one cabinet minister sent him a not-very-coded message via the front page of the Daily Mirror to soft-pedal his paternity suit for the sake of his career.

But in public, at least, Downing Street, has been steadfast and friends say the Prime Minister's wife, Cherie, has been his most staunch supporter. She was at his side as he carried out his first public engagement after last Sunday's revelations and is likely to have been giving him legal advice.

Mr Blunkett's strongest card is that Tony Blair wants to hold on to a Home Secretary whose brand of social conservatism and tough line on criminals and yobs is central to his strategy for winning the next general election.

Hours after The Sunday Telegraph report was published, Mr Blunkett declared that there would be an independent inquiry into the allegations about the nanny's visa, though not about any of the other allegations made by the Quinns. Sir Alan Budd, who had been a Treasury adviser under the Tory government, was chosen to conduct the inquiry.

As MPs gathered in the Commons last Monday, they had to consider the Blunkett affair not just as a diverting domestic drama, but as a story with political implications. Some Labour MPs ­ particularly women MPs ­ were already unhappy over the aggressive assertion of a father's rights. Some had battled for years to enable mothers to escape from the unwanted attention of domineering men, and even if they had limited sympathy for Kimberly Quinn, they feared that the Home Secretary's behaviour would encourage groups like Fathers 4 Justice.

However, at this stage, almost none thought that the case of the nanny's visa would threaten to bring down the Home Secretary. The general assumption was that an experienced operator such as Mr Blunkett would not have called in an outside investigator if he had anything to hide.

The mood changed noticeably three days later. This time, the blow to Mr Blunkett's reputation was not delivered by his enemies. It came from the nanny, who hardly knew Mr Blunkett, but had fallen out with Mrs Quinn, and from the Daily Mail.

Despite being militantly pro-Tory, the Mail ­ like The Sun ­ holds Mr Blunkett personally in high esteem. He knows the editor, Paul Dacre, well, and has been a frequent visitor to the Mail's Kensington headquarters. But as a Mail executive said last week: "Dacre's view is always that you don't let personal relations stand in the way of a good story." The Mail had paid Ms Casalme for her account of life- with the Quinns, and had obtained from her two letters she received from the Home Office about her application for permanent residency.

One, dated 23 April, warned her to expect a "lengthy delay". The next, on 12 May, told her that her application had been accepted and granted her permanent residency rights.

The extraordinary speed with which this was handled had an electrifying effect among MPs who had previously been inclined to dismiss the allegations against Mr Blunkett, especially those who had handled difficult immigration cases involving their constituents. One Labour MP said: "One of mine had to wait two years and got a letter this week telling him he can't stay. I've got no sympathy for Blunkett."

A senior whip remarked: "There used to be just two people who thought David could survive this, David and the Prime Minister. Now it's just David."

Then, as it seemed that even a politician with Mr Blunkett's resilience was doomed, he won an important victory. Justice Ryder, who heard the appeal against the 23 November court ruling, came out in his favour on two important points.

First, he lifted the reporting restrictions, enabling the Home Secretary to put an end to stories that he was trying to separate a mother from her child by seeking custody of the two-year-old.

Justice Ryder also rejected the claim by Mrs Quinn's legal team that she was too ill to instruct lawyers, and ruled that there should be an "imminent" hearing to decide whether to use a DNA test which, it is assumed, will establish in law that David Blunkett is the child's father.

That is not likely to be the end of the saga, but only the beginning of another chapter. Mr Blunkett may have to go to court again when the second child is born to establish paternity. And after that, who can tell what acrimony and recriminations lie ahead?

The phrase "Shakespearian tragedy" is perhaps overused. The Bard's tragedies followed a set pattern, in that the main character was always a person with extraordinary qualities who is caught up in a situation in which those very qualities are his undoing.

The Blunkett-Quinn story features a charming woman with a strong will and a taste for sexual adventure, and a man of almost superhuman stubbornness and determination, operating to his own unbending moral code ­ both of whom knew how to use publicity as weapon to get their way. Publicity is now threatening to destroy them both professionally. It is a clash of backgrounds and cultures, the socialist and the socialite. It is, in a word, Shakespearian.