A British M.P. Denies He Kissed and Told on Joan Kennedy

updated 07/30/1979 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/30/1979 AT 01:00 AM EDT

As Ted Kennedy has learned, privacy is the first casualty of any presidential campaign—especially in the era of All the President's Men. Even the senator's coy noncandidacy has stirred press speculation about his rocky marriage and his supposed extramarital flings, plus a resitting of the Chappaquiddick evidence 10 years after. Until now, though, the private life of his estranged wife, Joan, living alone in Boston and liking it, has been touched only when she initiated it (PEOPLE, Aug. 7, 1978). Now a British gossip columnist has changed all that by recounting the details of an alleged affair "a few years ago" between Joan and a member of the British Parliament.

The flap began when London Daily Mail writer Nigel Dempster reported the liaison between Joan and Jonathan Aitken, 36, a handsome, well-connected great-nephew of the late press tycoon Lord Beaverbrook. Tory back-I bencher Aitken, a sometime author, foreign correspondent, financier and tabloid favorite, has also been linked with Carol Thatcher, daughter of the prime minister, among many other glamorous women-about-London. He is currently engaged to Lolicia Azucki, a Yugoslav-born Swiss businesswoman, and plans to marry in November.

Reactions to the Dempster story came fast—and furious. "However thin you slice it," Aitken snapped, "it's still baloney." Across the Atlantic Joan wouldn't even go that far. "I would prefer not to comment," she said. Dempster, however, hadn't finished spilling the beans. "I had lunch with Jonathan about three Fridays ago," he says. "I got the story straight from half of the horse's mouth. Aitken said to me: 'Esquire magazine has been on to me about Joan Kennedy. A few years ago we did have an affair. They seem to have found some proof.' " Dempster believes Aitken was referring to letters he sent Joan—though the MP denies having any nonpolitical correspondence with either Kennedy except a note "saying I was sorry their son was ill."

No sooner was Dempster's story in print, however, than another London columnist, Peter McKay, claimed Aitken had also told him of his romance with Joan. The revelation, said McKay, came "after quite a few drinks" over dinner at the House of Commons. He said the youthful MP often talks his way into trouble, then "twists and turns and tells half-truths." Whatever the truth, or half-truth, of the matter, Aitken has this time left more than one reputation twisting slowly, slowly in the wind.

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