Pamela Harriman

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Pamela Harriman
58th United States Ambassador to France
In office
June 30, 1993 – February 5, 1997
PresidentBill Clinton
Preceded byWalter Curley
Succeeded byFelix Rohatyn
Personal details
Pamela Beryl Digby

(1920-03-20)March 20, 1920
Farnborough, Hampshire, England
DiedFebruary 5, 1997(1997-02-05) (aged 76)
Paris, France
Resting placeArden, Harriman, New York, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
(m. 1939; div. 1946)
(m. 1960; died 1971)
(m. 1971; died 1986)
ChildrenWinston Spencer-Churchill
RelativesEdward Henry Kenelm Digby (brother)
  • Diplomat
  • socialite

Pamela Beryl Harriman (née Digby; March 20, 1920 – February 5, 1997), also known as Pamela Churchill Harriman, was an English-born American political activist for the Democratic Party, diplomat, and socialite. She married three times: her first husband was Randolph Churchill, the son of prime minister Winston Churchill; her third husband was W. Averell Harriman, an American diplomat who also served as Governor of New York. Her only child, Winston Churchill, was named after his famous grandfather. She served as US ambassador to France from 1993 until her death in 1997.

Early life[edit]

Pamela Digby was born in Farnborough, Hampshire, England, the daughter of Edward Digby, 11th Baron Digby, and his wife, Constance Pamela Alice, the daughter of Henry Campbell Bruce, 2nd Baron Aberdare. She was educated by governesses in the ancestral home at Minterne Magna in Dorset, along with her three younger siblings, and later attended Downham School. Her great-great aunt was the nineteenth-century adventurer and courtesan Jane Digby (1807–1881), notorious for her exotic travels and scandalous personal life. Pamela was to follow in her relative's footsteps, and has been called "the 20th-century's most influential courtesan".[1]

Raised amid acres of Dorset farmland and woods, from an early age Pamela was a very good horsewoman. She competed at shows at the International Olympia, Royal Bath and West Show, and local shows at Dorchester and Melplash. She show-jumped a tiny pony called Stardust that did a clear round at Olympia when every fence was above the animal's withers.[2]

At the age of seventeen, she was sent to a Munich boarding school for six months. While there she was introduced to Adolf Hitler by Unity Mitford. She subsequently went to Paris, taking some classes at the Sorbonne. Although in her Who's Who biography she identified these classes as "post-graduate" work, she actually never completed a college degree.[3] By 1937, she had returned to Britain.[4]

She was a descendant of the Earls of Leicester and Ilchester and the Dukes of Atholl. She was a first cousin of Lavinia Fitzalan-Howard, Duchess of Norfolk. She was also a third cousin, once removed, of Angus Ogilvy, husband of Queen Elizabeth's cousin, Alexandra of Kent. She was also a fourth cousin, once removed, of Sarah, Duchess of York.[2]

Personal life[edit]

Pamela Digby, 18 June 1938 Coming of Age cover Tatler Magazine

Marriage to Randolph Churchill[edit]

In 1939, while working at the Foreign Office in London doing French-to-English translations, 19 year old Pamela met Randolph Churchill, the son of Winston Churchill, who according to British writer Sonia Purnell was, "a womaniser and alcoholic, desperate for a wife having already proposed to eight women in the space of two weeks".[5] Randolph proposed to her on the very evening they met, and they were married on 4 October 1939.[4] Two days after Randolph Churchill took his seat in the House of Commons, their son Winston was born. Shortly after giving birth, Pamela and the newborn were photographed by Cecil Beaton for Life magazine, its first cover of a mother with baby.[6]

In February 1941, Randolph was sent to Cairo with the British Commandos, acquiring gambling debts during the boat journey.[7] Pamela was left to cope alone with a young baby and Randolph's creditors. His letter to Pamela asking her to make good on new gambling debt of $12,000 (equivalent to over $190,000 in 2020[8]) forced her to take a £12-a-week job at the Ministry of Supply and sell her wedding presents and much of her jewellery, while keeping it a secret from her in-laws.[8] She fell in love and started an affair with American envoy Averell Harriman, who was married and almost 30 years her senior.[8] She filed for divorce in December 1945 on the grounds that Churchill had deserted her for three years. Later, after having converted to Catholicism, she obtained an annulment from the Catholic Church.[6]

Romantic involvements and affairs[edit]

Beside two additional marriages, Pamela Harriman had numerous affairs with men of prominence and wealth. When her marriage to Randolph Churchill started to fall apart, she became romantically involved with Averell Harriman, who later became her third husband; Edward R. Murrow; and John Hay "Jock" Whitney.[citation needed] After her divorce from Churchill she was involved with Prince Aly Khan, Alfonso de Portago, Gianni Agnelli, and Baron Elie de Rothschild.[6][9]

According to American author Michael Gross, Churchill became well known for her attention to detail with men.[10] William S. Paley, briefly a consort during WWII,[citation needed] said: "She is the greatest courtesan of the century", meaning it as a compliment.[6] The more critical Max Hastings said, acerbically, "she was ... described as having become 'a world expert on rich men's bedroom ceilings'."[11]

In 1948 she moved to Paris and began a five-year-long romance with Gianni Agnelli, a noted playboy and heir to the Fiat empire, who was a year younger than she was. She described this as the happiest period of her life.[citation needed] In August 1952 Pamela walked in on him embracing a young woman, Anne-Marie d'Estainville, at a party. Later that night Agnelli sustained a severe leg injury in a car accident while taking d'Estainville home. By Pamela's account, she nursed him back to health while he was in the hospital, then while he was convalescing in Turin they decided together to end their relationship.[12]

Her next significant relationship was with Baron de Rothschild, who was married. He supported her financially, and she was schooled in art history and wine-making during this clandestine and short relationship.[13][unreliable source?] During this time she also had affairs with the writer Maurice Druon and with the shipping magnate Stavros Niarchos.[6]

Marriage to Leland Hayward[edit]

In 1959, she met Broadway producer Leland Hayward, who was still married to Slim Hawks.[10] He proposed to her, and after her marriage ultimatum to Rothschild was rejected, she accepted Hayward's offer and moved to New York City. The day Hayward's divorce was final, she became the fifth Mrs. Hayward with the ceremony taking place in Carson City, Nevada, on May 4, 1960. Hayward was rich with income from his productions, notably the very successful The Sound of Music, allowing for a lavish and luxurious lifestyle mostly between their residence in New York City and the Westchester County estate "Haywire." Haywire also became the name of the memoirs of her stepdaughter Brooke Hayward.[10] Her step granddaughter through Brooke was Marin Hopper. Pamela Hayward stayed with her husband until his death on March 18, 1971.[4]

Marriage to W. Averell Harriman[edit]

The day after Hayward's funeral, Pamela arranged to resume her acquaintance with her former lover, Harriman, then 79 years old and recently widowed. They were married on September 27, 1971. With this marriage, her social focus was moved to Washington, D.C., where he owned a townhouse in Georgetown from which they entertained many notable people. Harriman, a railroad heir, was wealthy and also bought an estate in Virginia and a private jet.[4] With Harriman's involvement and links in the Democratic Party, her political career began. Her last marriage lasted until his death in 1986.[4] In later years, she had many legal problems with Harriman's children concerning the inheritance.[6][14]

Pamela Harriman served on The Rockefeller University Council from 1977 to 1979, and on the Board of Trustees from 1979 to 1993.[15] She also served on the Board of Visitors of the College of William and Mary from 1986–1990 where she established The Pamela Harriman Professorship of Government and Public Policy and sponsored a scholarship in her name for three students to serve each summer at the US Embassy to France.[citation needed]

Political life[edit]

As Pamela Churchill Harriman she became a United States citizen in 1971 and became involved with the Democratic Party, creating a fund-raising system—a political action committee—named "Democrats for the 80s", later "Democrats for the 90s", and nicknamed "PamPAC". In 1980, the Woman's National Democratic Club named her "Woman of the Year". U.S. President Bill Clinton appointed her United States Ambassador to France in 1993. The Dayton Agreement was signed in Paris in 1995 while she served as ambassador.[4]


External videos
video icon Memorial service for Pamela Harriman at National Cathedral, Washington, D.C. February 13, 1997, C-SPAN

Pamela Harriman died on February 5, 1997[15] at the American Hospital, Neuilly-sur-Seine, after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage while swimming at the Paris Ritz one day earlier. The morning after her death, President Jacques Chirac of France placed the Grand Cross of the Légion d'honneur on her flag-draped coffin. She was the first female foreign diplomat to receive this honor.[16] Clinton, in further recognition of her contributions and significance, dispatched Air Force One to return her body to the US and spoke at her funeral at the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., mentioning her public service in glowing terms.[4] Harriman was buried February 14, 1997, at Arden, the former Harriman estate in New York.[2]

In popular culture[edit]

Her life story has been the subject of several films and novels, including:

  • In the 2000 biography of Madeleine Albright, Pamela Harriman is cited in contrast to Albright, as a socialite who slept her way to the top.[17]
  • In the 2015 two-character play, Swimming at The Ritz by Charles Leipart, Pamela Harriman, in need of $40 million to settle a family lawsuit, regales the audience with tales from her past. She and a hotel valet wait in a Paris Ritz suite for appraisers from Christie's who are preparing to auction her possessions.[18]
  • A 2020 book about Winston Churchill during The Blitz, The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson, details Pamela's married life with Randolph Churchill, with whom she had Winston Churchill's near-namesake grandson, Winston Spencer-Churchill. The book details the devastating toll Randolph's compulsive gambling took on their marriage and concludes with her love affair with Averell Harriman along with their eventual marriage decades later.

Coat of arms[edit]

Coat of arms of Pamela Harriman
These arms she bore by her father, the 11th Baron Digby. As a female, she bore them on a lozenge.
Azure a Fleur-de-lys Argent.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Purnell, Sonia (October 27, 2015). Clementine: The Life of Mrs. Winston Churchill. Penguin. p. 253. ISBN 9780698408203.
  2. ^ a b c Apple Jr, R. W. (February 20, 1997). "Pamela Harriman Estate Bequeathed to Churchills". The New York Times. Retrieved December 15, 2016.
  3. ^ "Tucker Carlson, "The Hall of Lame," Forbes magazine, March 8, 1999". Archived from the original on February 6, 2012. Retrieved September 29, 2010.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Berger, Marilyn (February 6, 1997). "Pamela Harriman Is Dead at 76; An Ardent Political Personality". The New York Times. Retrieved December 15, 2016.
  5. ^ Purnell, Sonia (October 27, 2015). Clementine: The Life of Mrs. Winston Churchill. Penguin. p. 110. ISBN 9780698408203.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Bedell Smith S (1996). Reflected Glory: The Life of Pamela Churchill Harriman. Simon and Schuster.
  7. ^ Ireland, J. (2021). Churchill & Son. John Murray Press. ISBN 978-1-5293-3777-8.
  8. ^ a b c Larson, E. (2022). The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz. Crown Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-385-34873-7.
  9. ^ Divathesite Archived 2006-11-06 at
  10. ^ a b c Gross, Michael (February 16, 1997). "'Basically, I'm a Backroom Girl': Of Lovers, Husbands, Wealth and Power". The New York Times. Retrieved December 15, 2016.
  11. ^ *Hastings, Max. Finest Years: Churchill as Warlord, 1940–45. London, HarperPress, 2009, p. 510. ISBN 978-0-00-726367-7
  12. ^ Smith 2013, p. 228.
  13. ^ From icqurimage Archived 2006-03-19 at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ Hoffman, Jan (September 17, 1994). "Heirs Sue Harriman's Widow, Saying She Squandered Trust Funds". The New York Times. Retrieved December 15, 2016.
  15. ^ a b "Paid Notice: Deaths HARRIMAN, PAMELA". The New York Times. February 7, 1997. Retrieved December 15, 2016.
  16. ^ Whitney, Craig R. (February 9, 1997). "In Final Adieu, France Gives Pamela Harriman Top Honor". The New York Times. Retrieved December 15, 2016.
  17. ^ Dobbs, Michael (March 15, 2000). Madeleine Albright: A Twentieth-Century Odyssey. New York: Henry Holt and Company. p. 7. ISBN 9780805056600. Retrieved December 15, 2016.
  18. ^ Lustig, Jay (January 15, 2015). "'Swimming at the Ritz' at NJ Rep: reflections on a one-of-a-kind life". Institute for Nonprofit News. Retrieved December 15, 2016.

Further reading[edit]

  • Costigliola, Frank. "Pamela Churchill, wartime London, and the making of the special relationship." Diplomatic History '36.4 (2012): 753–762. online

External links[edit]

Diplomatic posts
Preceded by U.S. Ambassador to France
Succeeded by