We were driving down to Southend-on-Sea on the Essex coast. Christine lived there for a short time but I can’t quite remember the dates. I remember it was summer, some time in the late 1990’s and Christine really wanted me to move down to Southend with her. I was living in a small studio flat in London, it was very pokey and she hated the idea of me being there. Her idea was to get a flat in Southend and we could both live near the sea and near family. Christine had some family in Southend, her aunties Betty and Pam both lived there with their grown-up children. Christine’s aunts were both nearly the same age as her, they grew up together, they went fishing on the Thames together, they were close.
We went down to look for a flat to rent, I think with a copy of Loot, a pink newspaper that advertised all the rentals. There was one that had caught her eye, it was only a few streets away from her Aunty Betty. It was bigger than she needed so I asked why she needed the extra bedrooms and that is when she told me about her plan: “You can come and live here too and get out of that horrible flat.” We then had a very frank conversation about how I wasn’t moving to Southend - I was in my late twenties.
Driving back to London, through the East End she told me about her friend who had lived nearby who had died a few years ago. “They killed her, Seems,” she said. “Mariella Novotny, she knew too much and she was murdered, she was going to write a book about everything, but they killed her and stole her address book, it was the CIA or MI5 or someone, but they wanted to silence her... she knew too much.”
Mariella Novotny was right at the centre of the Stephen Ward story. According to Christine she was born Stella Capes and changed her name, because as Christine said, Mariella Novotny “had more of a whiplash ring to it”.
In 1960 she married Horace Chapmen-Dibben, a rich nightclub owner and antiques dealer. Hod Dibben (as he was known) was also a good friend of Stephen Ward.
Mariella lived the most extraordinary life. In December 1960 she went to New York with a new lover, Harry Alan Towers, a film producer. Mariella had plans on being a famous actress. There were sex parties with the East Coast elite, even, apparently the Kennedys, according to Mariella. She was soon sleeping with men and giving money to Towers, but by March 1961 she was arrested for prostitution. In a statement to the FBI she claimed that Alan Towers was a Soviet agent providing information to the Russians to compromise prominent individuals. The FBI investigation was called the Bow Tie case.
Mariella jumped bail and with a false name made her way back to London, where she returned to hosting sex parties for the well connected.
Alan Towers pleaded not guilty to all charges and also jumped bail but made his way to Eastern Europe. The FBI soon dropped the charges and Towers returned to London to enjoy a long career producing a vast number of movies, but there was always a question mark as to whether he had been a Soviet spy.
Dibben and Mariella hosted sex parties, this time for the elite in London, like the infamous ‘Feast of the Peacocks’ sex party that had the mysterious man in the mask.
Christine told me years later that lots of people were wearing masks.
Mariella did an interview with The News of the World in 1963, and it’s a cracking read even now.
In 1973 she wrote a book called ‘Kings Road,’ talking about famous lovers. Later in the 1970s she helped investigate police corruption, even working undercover. In 1980 Mariella announced she was going to write a book about her amazing life and all of her encounters. “It is going to be dynamite,” she said.
The book never arrived and three years later she was found dead at home in bed. The coroner called it ‘death by misadventure,’ a drug overdose. Apparently a few days later her flat was burgled and her notes, files and diaries disappeared.
Christine maintained she was murdered for the secrets she knew and because the book she was writing would have embarrassed people in power. Christine believed Mariella was pivotal to those events in 1963, “because of all she knew and the power of blackmail”.
Both Mariella Novotny and her husband Hod Dibben gave evidence to Lord Denning for his report. What had they to say? Well, you will have to wait until 1st January 2048 when that part of the report is declassified.
Mariella lived the most extraordinary life, I really haven’t done her justice on this blog, in fact there is a book on its way about her: The Novotny Papers: 'A Bit Vulture, A Bit Eagle' by Lilian Pizzichini. I do hope it is dynamite!
Mariella’s Wikipedia is almost entirely blank.
This week there was some publicity because I was asked to go on the BBC’s Woman’s Hour to talk about the pardon for Christine. The show had run over so there was a little pressure on time, as I found out that Woman’s Hour is not actually an hour long, but much closer to 45 minutes.
Interviews are always nerve wrecking because you never quite know what angle they are going to come at you with.
38:30 minutes in and Emma Barnett, the presenter, said they were going to play a clip of my mother’s interview they had from 2000. There was no prior warning and I didn’t see it coming, honestly it took the legs from under me. When you lose a parent hearing their voice again brings them back, they are in the room or on the telephone with you, that is a by-product of loss. It was particularly emotional because Christine talked about how much she loved me, and how I had understood her. It was very moving and as you can hear on the interview my voice did get stuck in my throat.
After the interview lots of people got in touch to ask if I knew the BBC were going to play the clip of my mother. No, that took me by surprise. I had no idea.
In the clip Christine was really emotional about how people could just lie about her, she talked about being called a ‘gobbler’ in the newspapers, ‘gobbler’ meaning exactly what you imagine. Christine talked about how horrific that was her. People could say anything they wanted about her; it made her feel worthless, it made her feel less than human. I heard the exasperation in her voice and it took me right back to her sadness and her frustration because people could say anything they wanted to Christine and they could even say it to her face, because she was a convicted perjurer.
That is why.