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Saturday, 1 December, 2001, 10:14 GMT
Stella Rimington: Spying Dame
Dame Stella Rimington: From housewife to spymaster
Former spy chief Dame Stella Rimington has given her first television interview, in which she revealed the difficult balancing act her job involved.

Being the first woman boss of MI5 must have had its share of experiences for Stella Rimington.

One she wasn't aware of, however, was that former KGB colonel and double agent, Oleg Gordievsky, harboured a secret passion for her.

Gordievsky, who defected to the UK in 1985, said: "I actually liked her, the woman, immensely.

I am different without a doubt

Dame Stella Rimington
"She was a beautiful woman, she had beautiful deep green eyes. She was not so tall, she was not too slim. She had curves."

Divorced by his wife back in Moscow, Gordievsky saw no reason for them not to get together.

He revealed: "Officially speaking, I was a single man and she was a single woman. I was thinking how lovely to have you as a partner, as a friend."

Motherhood and spying

The startling revelation - which Gordievsky never acted upon - is made in a BBC Two programme The Spying Dame.

In her first television interview Dame Stella talks frankly about the strains of combining motherhood with her role as Britain's chief spymaster.

On one occasion, she was due to meet a would-be defector when she received a call saying that her sick daughter had been rushed to hospital.

Rather than failing to turn up to the appointment, she went to the hospital via the safe house where the would-be defector was staying.

She explained to him what had happened.
The first publicly named head of MI5
Dame Stella: The first female chief at MI5
She said: "I had to borrow money off him. I hadn't had time to go to the bank and all the taxis involved in this piece of manoeuvring meant that I was short of money.

"So I borrowed money off him, rushed off to St Bartholemew's Hospital, having explained what had gone on and managed to do both things."

She added: "That was an extreme example of trying to be an intelligence officer and a mother."

Publicity-shy spy

Dame Stella was director general of the internal security service for four years until 1996. She was the first MI5 chief to be publicly named.

She served in all the key departments at MI5, including counter-terrorism, counterespionage and counter-subversion.

Throughout her career she met resistance as both a woman and a mother, but she remained determined to do things her way.

"I was never a chap and I'm not going to behave in the same way as chaps behave. I never have and I never will."

Early career

Dame Stella's secret service career began in 1965 in India, when as a dutiful, but bored diplomatic housewife, she was approached by a first secretary and asked if she would be interested in part-time work assisting the local MI5 representative.

She said: "I say in a jocular way that he said: 'Pssst, do you want to be a spy?'

"It was sufficiently interesting for me to want to pursue it, and that I did. That was the beginning of my career in MI5."

The perception was that women were not really suitable

Dame Stella Rimington
Back in London Dame Stella continued to work for MI5. Her first job was checking membership of the Communist Party. Although the work was boring, she knew she had found the career she had always craved.

At the same time, she became aware that many within MI5 at the time thought that women should be kept in their place. The atmosphere at MI5 was male, public school and clubby.

She said: "The perception was that women were not really suitable to go out and do the sharp end work.

"The sharpest end, I suppose, consisted of going out and meeting human sources of information, people who are members of the terrorist organisation or whoever and that was how it was really. It was a male-dominated ethos."

In 1992 Dame Stella was appointed director general of MI5. She was delighted to get "one of the best jobs" in the world and felt that it was the culmination of her career.

Out of the shadows

Critics, however, resented the appointment and resented the head of MI5 being publicly named, but Stella wanted to use her role to bring MI5 out of the shadows

Delivering the Richard Dimbleby lecture
"I have always wanted to bring some daylight into the world of intelligence. I was always fed up with the breathless James Bond approach which the press and a lot of other people have to the world of intelligence."

But she caused huge controversy when she decided to write her memoirs, re-igniting the debate about whether former intelligence staff should be bound by life-long confidentiality agreements.


Since retiring from M15, Dame Stella has continued to be busy, working as a director of Marks & Spencer, as well as giving the occasional well-paid lecture to businessmen.

Her career may not be as high profile as during her years as MI5 boss, but her attitude to life remains the same.

"I am different without a doubt. Anybody who knew me, or knows me knows that."

The Spying Dame was broadcast on Saturday 1 December at 1925GMT on BBC Two.

Dame Stella Rimington
"I am different without a doubt"
Dame Stella Rimington
I was asked, do you want to be a spy?
Dame Stella Rimington
On how a would-be defector helped her in her hour of need
Former double-agent Oleg Gordievsky
"I was a single man and she was a single woman."
See also:

08 Sep 01 | UK
Ex-MI5 chief sparks outrage
16 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Terror here to stay, says ex-MI5 chief
08 Sep 01 | UK
First lady of espionage
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