When two of the women, Valerie Harkess and daughter Josephine van der Spuy, later sold their stories to London tabloids, Clark's indefatigably tolerant, relentlessly upper-crust wife, Jane, sniffed, "If you bed people of be-low-stairs classes, they go to the papers, don't they?"
Remarkably, voters—at least those in London's posh borough of Kensington and Chelsea—seem equally willing to forgive the right-winger. Last January, Clark, 68, was picked by Conservative constituents there to run for Parliament again in Britain's general elections, which will take place on May 1. Since the opposition Labour party has named a largely unknown challenger—and since Kensington and Chelsea has long been one of the Tories safest seats in the House of Commons—the political return of the nation's favorite equal-opportunity offender seems assured. "Clark is one of the most charming men in politics," says political writer Simon Hoggart of the left-of-center Guardian, explaining Clark's appeal. "He's roguish, rakish and has utterly alarming candor." Adds Matthew Parris of the more conservative London Times: "Clark is like a rather wicked luxury."
As it happens, luxury is a subject the Right Honourable Alan Kenneth McKenzie Clark knows something about. As the eldest son of art historian and TV personality Lord (Kenneth) Clark (of Civilisation fame) and his wife, Elizabeth, a hot-tempered Irish beauty, Clark inherited an estimated $64 million, including estates in Kent and Scotland, farms in Wiltshire and Dorset and a Swiss chalet, from his father, who died in 1983. In the five years since he retired from Parliament—a decision he regretted—he has devoted himself to Conservative party fund-raising, writing a history of the party and tending to estate business at Saltwood, the 11th-century castle in Kent where he and Jane live.
He traces his political ambitions back to his aristocratic youth. "All that upbringing in the governing classes makes it natural for you to feel that you should govern," Clark says. After attending Eton and Oxford, Clark wrote four books on European military history. In 1956 he met his future wife on a beach on the south coast of England and caused his first minor scandal, since he was 28 and Jane only 14 at the time. Against her parents' objections, the couple married two years later. (They have two sons—Andrew, 35, a retired military officer who lives in London, and James, 37, who manages the family's 28,000-acre spread in Scotland.) Alan insists he is "completely" in love with Jane but admits his promiscuity has "caused her dreadful unhappiness." For her part, despite her blithe comments, Jane, objects—sometimes violently—to his infidelity. "There was that time I was chopping wood as he was going to see one of his ladies," she says, "so I threw my ax at him. As it left my hand I thought, 'God, I hope it doesn't hit him!' " When it didn't, she concedes, Clark simply got in his car and drove off to his rendezvous.
Clark's political career has been almost as stormy. After winning his first election to the House of Commons in 1974, he served as a minister of trade and then as a defense minister under Thatcher, whose "attractive" ankles he once publicly admired. In 1988, however, Clark challenged his then boss by pushing (unsuccessfully) for animal-rights legislation, including a ban on the upper-class sport of fox hunting. And he once showed up drunk to deliver a speech in the Commons. ("Never, never again," says Clark.) More seriously, he secretly advised a British company to make illegal arms sales to Iran and Iraq in the late '80s—and then publicly admitted his actions.
But it was the brutally frank Diaries—in which Clark bragged about his toilet habits, mused about the women in his life and referred to Jordan's King Hussein as "that oily little runt"—that definitively established his flair for scandal. "I think you must distinguish between two kinds of sleaze," Clark says in his own defense. "One is warm, sensual relationships. The other is taking bribes, commissions, all that sort of stuff. I've never done that in my life."
In the likely event that Clark makes it back to Parliament, he has no plans to be a changed man but does pledge to spend less time on his large collection of pricey cars (he drives an oxblood 1997 Bentley) and more time on affairs of state, such as advancing his pro-life, tough-on-crime, spare-the-animals agenda (though he now down-plays his condemnation of fox hunting). As for those other affairs? "I'm very happy with Jane. But you can't predict life," says Clark. "That's what makes it such fun."
NINA A. BIDDLE in London
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