John le Carré’s dozen mistresses just ‘tip of the iceberg’, claims biographer

The author's affairs were conducted using elements of spycraft, his biographer said
The author's affairs were conducted using elements of spycraft, his biographer said - Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP
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The dozen known mistresses of John le Carré are “just the tip of the iceberg”, according to his biographer.

Adam Sisman revealed details of le Carré’s extramarital affairs in a book published last year, and said other women have come forward since.

One of le Carré’s mistresses was a woman 40 years his junior. He also seduced the wife of a friend, and his son’s au pair. The affairs were conducted using elements of spycraft, booking into hotels under assumed names and using safe houses for assignations.

Sisman worked with le Carré on an official biography, published in 2015. The spy author, whose real name was David Cornwell, asked Sisman not to include the tales of his infidelity while he was alive, out of respect for his wife, Jane. After the author’s death in 2020, Sisman produced The Secret Life of John le Carré as an “annexe” to his earlier work.

Appearing at the Oxford Literary Festival, Sisman said: “In the book, I have identified 12 mistresses, but I’m quite sure that is just the tip of the iceberg.

“I think there were at least a dozen more. In fact, several more have come forward since the book went to press. That’s a subject in itself.”

‘They just kept popping up’

Describing the process of writing his book, Sisman said: “I just kept coming across mistresses. I wasn’t looking for them. I was at a lunch party near Bath one Sunday and somebody said: ‘Oh, I know somebody who had an affair with John le Carré.’ I was at a party one night, talking to someone I had only just met; we were talking about translations of Proust and they said: ‘Oh, I know someone whose mother had an affair with John le Carré.

“They just kept popping up. I’m sure there would be more if I looked actively for them.”

He added: “I did talk to David about this, and he would usually hang his head in his hands and say, ‘Oh, no.’

“I said: ‘We can’t ignore this aspect of your life.’ He said: ‘It’s very difficult for me and very difficult for my family and, of course, with Jane most of all. I don’t want to humiliate her.’ I thought: ‘It’s a bit late for that.’” Jane died two months after her husband.

Le Carré put versions of some of the women into his novels.

“You can see how he uses woman after woman as characters in his books,” Sisman said. “He also used them to create a sense of drama in his life, which was otherwise rather dull.”

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