Top diplomat was 'courtesan of the century'

The wife of the British ambassador in Paris was adamant, 'I will not have that tart in this embassy.' And so, despite her utmost striving, Pamela Churchill was not invited to a reception for Queen Elizabeth II to mark the monarch's first official visit to France. But the snub dates back 37 years. In the meantime 'that tart' has come a very long way.

Pamela Churchill has changed her name, her nationality and her reputation. Today she is back in Paris, residing on the Faubourg St Honore, next door to the building where that slight was delivered in 1957. Her new home is the US embassy residence. And Pam Harriman, now a tireless, resplendent 74, is not the ambassador's wife. She is the ambassador.

This exalted assignment is one capstone of the career of a remarkable 20th-century woman. This week has brought another, which its subject has not appreciated as much - a biography less concerned with Pam Harriman, powerbroker and grande dame of Washington's Democratic establishment, than with Pamela Churchill, Winston's daughter-in-law and once scarlet lady of half the Western hemisphere. She is reportedly most displeased.

Diplomatic niceties preclude Ms Harriman from saying so herself. But according to sources quoted in the Washington Post, she is 'extremely unhappy' at the scant attention given in the book to her later political endeavours, not least on behalf of President Bill Clinton.

Not that what Christopher Ogden, a former Time magazine correspondent, has written is salacious. But the title alone, Life of the Party, is clue enough. So too are the chapter headings, 'Averell,' 'Ed,' 'Frank,' 'Gianni,' named after the small army of rich, powerful, older - and almost always married - men who have decorated her life, many of them simultaneously.

'Averell' is the statesman- diplomat Averell Harriman, with whom she had a passionate wartime affair in London and who would become the last of her three husbands in 1971, when he was 79. 'Ed' was Ed Murrow, the legendary CBS broadcaster. Another paramour was Marshal of the Royal Air Force Charles Portal. 'Gianni' was Gianni Agnelli of Fiat. There was Baron Elie de Rothschild and Aly Khan. 'Frank' was Frank Sinatra with whom Pamela, claims Ogden, had a brief fling.

According to her biographer she was 'the courtesan of the century'. For Truman Capote, she was 'a geisha girl, who made every man happy'. For the socialite Taki Theodoracopoulos, friend of Agnelli, 'she was the perfect housekeeper, she ran Gianni's life perfectly'. Pamela liked men, money and the high life. But to her liaisons she brought 24- carat connections, a dynamic personality, a shrewd intelligence, and a steadfast affection. Not a bad image - but not quite one befitting an ambassador to France.

The biography was originally meant to be official. But Random House publishers bid dollars 1.625m ( pounds 1.08m) for the rights; for that price, Ms Harriman assumed, she would have to tell all. She panicked, says Mr Ogden, and dropped the project. By then she had accorded him about 40 hours of interviews. After failing to reach agreement with her, Mr Ogden decided to go ahead.

Life of the Party is the result, chronicling her metamorphosis from party circuit gold-digger of the 1950s to one of the most powerful and heeded women in Washington. Mr Ogden says he interviewed 200 people. Of Pamela Harriman in the boudoir we learn relatively little, apart from the claim by her second husband, the late Broadway impresario Leland Hayward, that she 'could do sensational tricks with ice cubes'.

Alas, this titbit, like the remark of the British ambassadress, is attributed in the notes to a 'confidential source'.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence