Suleika Dawson recalls ‘zigzagging’ years-long affair with author John Le Carre

Suleika Dawson recalls ‘zigzagging’ years-long affair with author John Le Carre

A woman who claims to have had a years-long affair with the late John Le Carre, whose real name was David Cornwell, has revealed intimate details about their relationship in a new book.

Suleika Dawson, which is not her real name, said she first met Cornwell when he was 50 years old and that they were together for a total of 30 months, first for two years between 1983 and 1985, and for another six months in 1999.

The novelist, whose book is titled The Secret Heart – John Le Carre: An Intimate Memoir, told The Times that she was “the love of his [life]” and spent more time with him than “all his ‘other women’”, aside from his two wives.

Cornwell, who died in December 2020 at the age of 89, was married twice. His first marriage was to Alison Sharp from 1954 to 1971, and his second was to Valerie Eustace, with whom he remained till his death.

In an excerpt of her book published on Monday (3 October), Dawson recalled The Night Manager author’s “zigzagging” when it came to making decisions between her and Eustace, who died two months after him.

She wrote that, after “all the broken dates, the double-down promises that followed to patch things up [that were] broken too” in the summer of 1984, she had had enough.

“It was his particular talent to drive you to the very edge and then appear shocked when you finally flung yourself into the abyss,” Dawson said.

In a “quasi-apologetic” letter, the former MI5 and MI6 worker “said he had no excuse for his ‘zigzagging’ and then proceeded to make several excuses and zigzag some more’”.

Later that same year, the pair went on holiday to Zurich where they stayed “at our usual hotel, the Dolder Grand”, Dawson wrote.

But the day after they arrived, the atmosphere had changed between them as they lay in bed in the early morning, she said.

John le Carre and Florence Pugh attend the World Premiere of
John le Carre and Florence Pugh attend the World Premiere of

“I couldn’t begin to guess what was so wrong, but something had to be – badly, badly wrong,” she wrote. “His voice, when he finally spoke, was flat and empty, a terrible void. ‘You have to go back,’ he said. ‘I can’t be this happy.’”

Elsewhere in her book, Dawson divulges intimate details about her and Cornwell’s sex lives. She described their first time in bed together as “sex that only the hero and heroine can have; sex for the cameras, sex for the gods”.

In an interview with the newspaper, Dawson said she had to wait until Cornwell’s death to publish her book “because he had the money to sue her”.

However, she added that she believed Cornwell would have enjoyed her novel, adding: “For your cover to be blown, you have still to be undercover, you have to be operative. I think being dead is as inoperative as you can get.”