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LONDON — This time it’s an American who brought down a British government minister.
While the details may not be as seedy or full of political intrigue as those of the Profumo scandal in the early Sixties, Kimberly Fortier’s now notorious extramarital affair with former British cabinet minister David Blunkett has all the makings of a prime-time soap.
The story, which broke during the August holiday and has fed the British tabloids for months, initially centered on the socially and professionally ambitious Fortier, publisher of the conservative political magazine, The Spectator, and wife of British Vogue publishing director Stephen Quinn, and her lover Blunkett, the former home secretary with whom she had been having an affair for three years. Blunkett resigned in tears last week.
Over the past four months, it has widened to include the Quinns’ son William, whose paternity is now in question; that of Fortier’s unborn child, which is due in February; and a Filipino nanny, whose visa request was unfairly fast-tracked by Blunkett’s office — the reason he stepped down. The case is now commonly referred to as Nannygate.
To add to all the drama, another of Fortier’s former lovers came forward last week and admitted to having an affair with her while she was carrying on with Blunkett.
Simon Hoggart, a Guardian journalist and quiz-show host on BBC Radio 4, said he had “a sexual relationship” with Fortier that started before her marriage to Quinn, but which became “very infrequent indeed” afterwards. However, Hoggart, who is married with two children, said there is no possibility that he could be the father of her son William. Even more dramatic are rumblings in the press of a third lover who has yet to come forward with his story.
Earlier this month, Fortier spent three weeks in a private London hospital for stress-related complications to her pregnancy. Throughout the scandal, her husband has stood staunchly by her.
“I love her deeply, and it is returned,” Quinn told The Sunday Times of London earlier this month. He is also known to be a model father to William. “I am not obsessed with the biological details. I think that fatherhood is all about being there.”
Despite its made-for-tabloid details and almost-daily dramas, Fortier’s story is far more sad than it is spectacular. It’s more in the spirit of Emma Bovary than Becky Sharp, whom the British press compares Fortier with constantly.
“She’s behaved very badly, and she’s now trying everything she can to save her marriage. She wants to stay with Stephen,” Andrew Roberts, a historian and contributor to The Spectator, said in a telephone interview.
Roberts, who used to vacation with Fortier and her ex-husband, Michael Fortier, added: “In those days she seemed very sweet, charming and balanced. There was never any hint of the cataclysms to come.”
That view is in marked contrast to many of those who have described her. Sunday Times columnist India Knight called Fortier “shamelessness on legs,” adding, “It’s not every day you come across somebody so dementedly and gracelessly determined to be seen with the right person.”
Born in Los Angeles to an affluent family, the 44-year-old Fortier is a daughter of Lugene Sanders, who played Babs Riley in the Fifties sitcom “The Life of Riley” and Marvin Solomon, owner of a radiation detection equipment company. As reported widely in the U.K. press —with more than a few snickers — she earned her pocket money as a teenager working as none other than Snow White at Disneyland.
After graduating from Vassar, Fortier worked as an assistant for Helen Gurley Brown at Cosmopolitan and wrote for magazines including Woman’s Day before marrying the American banker Michael Fortier in the late Eighties. The couple moved to London, where Fortier has lived since.
Before joining The Spectator as publisher in the late Nineties, Fortier worked for Condé Nast U.K., in the communications office. Nicholas Coleridge, managing director of Condé Nast U.K. (which, like WWD, is a unit of Advance Publications Inc.), introduced Fortier and Quinn, who were seen around London together for several years afterward. The couple finally married in 2001, after both had divorced their previous spouses. Quinn was overjoyed at the union, spending months planning the wedding and their honeymoon.
But only a few months after the wedding, Fortier began her three-year affair with Blunkett. This behavior clearly did not come as a surprise to Fortier’s ex-husband.
“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,” Michael Fortier has been quoted as saying in the British press.
As the oft-repeated tale of her first meeting with Blunkett goes, Fortier told the cabinet minister, who has been blind since birth, that she was tall and blonde. (She’s a brunette of average height). She also reportedly wondered aloud what it was like to sleep with a blind man.
Two years ago, Fortier’s and Quinn’s first son William was born — Quinn had had a vasectomy reversed — and Fortier is now pregnant with her second child. It’s still unclear who the fathers of the children are. Blunkett believes William is his son, and has private DNA tests to prove it, although these are not binding in the courts. He is pressing ahead with a paternity suit — which the Quinns are fighting — and which is currently working its way through the courts.
While Fortier’s ambitions may have worked against her in her personal life, they’ve clearly served her well professionally. She’s said by many to mix a giggly, little-girl charm with a pushy, in-your-face attitude and thundering self-confidence to get what she wants. In that regard, she is credited with helping to boost The Spectator’s circulation, making the title profitable and transforming it into a sexy brand name.
Ironically, she joined The Spectator when it was owned by another older, powerful man: Conrad Black, later granted a peerage and since caught up in a scandal of his own, albeit a financial one. Fortier regularly volunteered that “Conrad” agreed with the direction in which she was taking the magazine.
“It went from being a totally political magazine to a lifestyle one during her tenure,” said Roberts. “And she was the one responsible for getting in the new advertisers.”
Susan Farmer, consumer p.r. director of the Diamond Trading Co., the marketing arm of De Beers, said Fortier was the one who sold her on The Spectator.
“She’s very amusing and has enormous charm and enthusiasm,” said Farmer. “Everything we’ve ever done with the magazine has been successful.” Last year, the DTC sponsored the 175th anniversary issue of The Spectator, and it regularly takes out full-page ads in the title.
What of the future?
Last week, an official investigation into the visa case concluded that Blunkett’s office had indeed helped in speeding through Fortier’s nanny’s application. However, investigators could not reach a decision on whether Blunkett had actually ordered it.
Blunkett, who has a reputation for being stubborn and strong-willed and who wanted Fortier to leave Quinn and settle down with him, is still reeling from the end of the affair.
“I misunderstood what we had. I misunderstood that someone could do this, not just to me but to a little one as well,” he told the British press. The former government minister, who has three adult sons by his ex-wife, said he was always prepared for the consequences of a paternity battle.
“If I was ever going to see my youngest son again, if I was ever going to hold him as I did as a baby in my arms, there were going to be consequences. In time people will understand what I have been through, what I am prepared to go through, what I was prepared to sacrifice along with my three older sons for that little boy,” he said when he resigned.
Stay tuned. Fortier is said to have kept meticulous, detailed notes of her affair with Blunkett, and the U.K. press is already speculating about the possibility of a major book deal.
The papers also suspect that, when the dust settles, Fortier may return to California with her children, provided the paternity case turns out in her favor.