Page last updated at 12:11 GMT, Thursday, 27 May 2010 13:11 UK

An audience with the one and only Imelda Marcos

Kate McGeown
BBC News, Philippines

Imelda Marcos
Imelda told voters she would "uphold political integrity and the truth"

The former first lady of the Philippines, Imelda Marcos, will forever be associated with her vast collection of footwear, which for many, symbolised the grotesque excesses of the Marcos era.

The shoes were abandoned when she was forced to flee the presidential palace with her husband, Ferdinand, in 1986 - but now she is back, having just won a seat in the Philippine Congress at the age of 80.

I went to her support-base in Illocos Norte, in the north of the Philippines, to meet her.

"Madame's ready," we were told, within five minutes of arriving at the hotel.

She might have been ready, but I wasn't - I'd just had a long, hot flight, and could have done with a wash or at least brushed my hair.

But what Imelda wants, Imelda gets. That had been instilled into me already over the phone.

So we set off quickly down the corridor, and there she was - the trademark bouffant hair, the blue eye shadow, and shoulder-pads that wouldn't have looked out of place in a 1980s soap opera.

She was holding court in the corner of the hotel's restaurant, surrounded by a group of rather weary-looking Japanese reporters.

It was past 10pm, they'd been with her all day, and by the looks on their faces they hadn't been able to get a word in edgeways since at least before lunch.

She spotted us. "Ah come and join in," she waved, and as quickly as that, we'd been welcomed into Imelda's special world.

Violent dictator

Strictly speaking, you can't really interview Imelda - you're granted an audience with her. That's because she doesn't really answer any questions, she just talks.

In fact, over the years Imelda has probably collected more anecdotes than she has shoes - and she's known for having had well over 1,000 pairs of those.

She's fully aware that her name is a byword for extravagance - in fact she even embraces it

She told us she wanted a position in Congress to promote the good, the true and the beautiful.

She wants to save the Philippines, and by extension, the world, with endless, selfless love.

It's a mantra she repeated throughout our various conversations, but she also veered off course in some surprising directions.

I'm not sure, for instance, how we got on to the topic of Fidel Castro acting as her chauffeur - or how we moved seamlessly on to her view that she helped end the Cold War because China's Chairman Mao kissed her hand.

She also mentioned how her friend Saddam Hussein was misunderstood...

In fact, her stories sometimes sound like a roll call of the world's most infamous men - Kim Il-sung of North Korea, Burma's Ne Win, Libya's Colonel Gaddafi and American President Richard Nixon.

But the central man in her life was her husband Ferdinand, who died in 1989, just three years after being ousted from office.

According to most history books, he was a violent dictator who ruled for nearly two decades while amassing a private fortune.

Imelda has a different view - she thinks he was the best thing that ever happened to the Philippines. Her shoes and jewellery, she insists, were bought with his personal investments - and besides, they were beautiful, and beauty is important.

Imelda Marcos at the Marikina Shoe Museum in Manila
Imelda’s famous footwear collection is on display in Manila

She's fully aware that her name is a byword for extravagance - in fact she even embraces it.

"Come and look", she said excitedly the following morning, opening a folder full of press cuttings. She pointed to a photograph of an advertising hoarding in New York, promoting a shoe sale. "There's a little Imelda in all of us," the notice reads.

She's also kept a well-thumbed article that claims she's one of the greediest people who ever lived, along with Bernie Madoff, Charles Ponzi and Ghenghis Khan.

She's not entirely happy with the comparison, but she did concede she was greedy - greedy for the good, the true and the beautiful.

Rollercoaster ride

Imelda Marcos shows no sign of slowing down, despite her age.

As well as her seat in Congress, she wants to support her son, who's just been voted into the Senate, and her daughter, who's a local governor. And then, of course, there's the small matter of saving the world with endless, selfless love.

Imelda Marcos on beauty, love, power, greed and Chairman Mao

She has one other priority - to bury her dead husband, who's lying in limbo in a mausoleum next to her house.

She refuses to bury him anywhere but the National Heroes Cemetery, where other former leaders are interred, but successive presidents have said No.

She can't be holding out much hope that the man set to be the next president, Noynoy Aquino, will honour her request.

There are suspicions that the Marcoses were behind the assassination of Noynoy's father Ninoy Aquino - and one of the first things the new president wants to do is find out why his father died.

So Imelda has her work cut out, but she's survived a lot worse.

Her life has already been a rollercoaster ride. She's been adored, hated and satirised, she's even had a musical written about her, but she has no intention of being consigned to the history books just yet.

Not long before we had to leave, she turned to me and said, "You know, not even your British Queen is called just Elizabeth - she's Elizabeth the Second. There's only one Imelda." Then she smiled a slightly mischievous little smile.

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SEE ALSO
Marcos bids for Philippine seat
26 Mar 10 |  Asia-Pacific
Imelda's shoes survive Philippine floods
08 Oct 09 |  Asia-Pacific
Philippines country profile
19 Oct 11 |  Country profiles


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