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Friday, 7 June, 2002, 17:05 GMT 18:05 UK
Heather Mills: Can't buy me love
Heather Mills
Her impending marriage to Sir Paul McCartney has not pleased everyone. But, as Bob Chaundy, of the BBC's News Profiles Unit, explains, Heather Mills' life has been a model of determination.

When Heather Mills went skiing in the Balkans, the war in Yugoslavia broke out. When she visited India, the country immediately suffered a major earthquake.

She was in New York on 11 September when the World Trade Center was hit, and again, when an airliner crashed in the suburb of Queen's a few months later. Sir Paul McCartney is clearly not a superstitious man.

Engagement picture
All smiles in their official engagement photo
Heather Mills came to fame when her modelling career was curtailed after she lost part of a leg in a road accident. But, in a way, it has been the making of her.

"The overcoming of adversity and, ultimately, denying it the rite of passage, has been a constant and perpetual motive throughout my life," she says. Such adversity, and the steel she derived from it, began as a child.

Heather Mills was born in Washington, Tyne and Wear, in 1968. Her mother abandoned her at the age of nine after suffering regular beatings from her father, a former Army officer who was to serve time for fraud.

Four years later, Heather joined her mother and her "snooty actor boyfriend," Charles Stapley, in London.

According to her autobiography Out on a Limb, written at the age of 25, she ran away to join a funfair at 15 and ended up, for four months, sleeping in a cardboard box under Waterloo station where she woke up one morning to find a tramp urinating over her.

The story of an extraordinary life
Stapley claims a lot of this is exaggerated and that Heather never really left home until she was 20. Neither, he says, is her assertion correct that her mother, too, lost a leg in a road accident. "She did have a car accident and injured a leg, but she didn't lose it."

Nevertheless, despite these alleged embroideries, Stapley concedes that a sexual assault by a swimming pool attendant when Heather was eight, and the actions of her father, "left a deep mark on her" and was responsible for much of her early "wild behaviour".

This included turning briefly to crime. She was put on probation for stealing from a jeweller's where she worked after she had left school.

Heather Mills' striking good looks and fierce ambition led her to a modelling career after her boyfriend sent pictures of her to a national newspaper.

Yugoslav mission

With a precocious entrepreneurial spirit, she set up her own model agency in 1986, at the age of 18. A year later, she married Alfie Karmal, an older man with children of his own

Heather Mills campaigning against litter
She has always been a doer
After suffering the pain of two ectopic pregnancies, the marriage ended after less than two years. She began to move in richer circles, associating with the likes of arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi.

But her life changed when she took a job as a skiing instructor in Yugoslavia in 1992. Civil war broke out and Heather Mills was compelled to help with the ensuing refugee problem.

She set up a refugee crisis centre in London and helped 20 people escape. With undoubted courage and determination, she would collect aid and drive the thousand miles to Croatia, often going via Austria for modelling assignments to fund the trip.

Then, in 1993, disaster struck when she was knocked down by a police motorcyclist answering an emergency call. As a result, she lost her left leg below the knee. Her reaction was unusual.

Public speaker

She sold her story to the News of the World, even boasting that she made love to her fiance, Italian banker Rafaelle Mincione, in her hospital bed.The injury refocused her philanthropic instincts.

Diana, Princess of Wales
Mills has taken on Diana's fight against landmines
She established the Heather Mills Health Trust which recycles prosthetic limbs. She has become a prolific public speaker, and has received innumerable awards for her charity work, even being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996.

More recently, she has taken up the mantle of Princess Diana in raising consciousness for the landmine problem.

In between her humanitarian efforts, she has enjoyed a successful television career presenting or producing such programmes as That's Esther and Wish You Were Here for ITV and First Say for the BBC.

The latter's producer, Subniv Babuta, has nothing but praise for her. "She is dedicated, committed, generous and kind, though her single-mindedness and high-powered ambition could be overwhelming at times."

Target of jibes

Her marriage to the former Beatle, 26 years her senior, and one of the world's richest men, inevitably has provoked the phrase "gold digger".

Linda McCartney
Like Linda McCartney, Mills is her own woman
The fact that McCartney's children are known to be none too happy about their father's impending nuptials has also fuelled the gossip mongers.

She has broken off two engagements and reports of her engagement ring being thrown out of a Florida hotel room following a row, has provided more grist to the rumour mill. But Heather Mills is her own woman, as was Linda McCartney before her.

"She has star quality, her presence fills the room, what's more she's a romantic," says Subniv Babuta. "I'm not surprised she would be attractive to someone of the calibre of Paul McCartney."

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07 Jun 02 | Entertainment
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