Page last updated at 17:00 GMT, Sunday, 26 July 2009 18:00 UK

Lumley greeted as 'daughter of Nepal'

By Joanna Jolly
BBC News in Nepal

A high profile campaign led by the actress Joanna Lumley in May won many Gurkha veterans the right to settle in the UK.

The case was followed keenly by their families in Nepal as the BBC found out when the actress arrived in Kathmandu.

Joanna Lumley found herself mobbed by Nepalis and swathed in scarves

Joanna Lumley's visit to Nepal was originally intended to be a private affair.

But such was the level of gratitude towards the former model and actress, her imminent arrival in Kathmandu fast became the main event in town.

"We're so excited to meet her, she's been so good to us," said Sorala Thapa, 42, wife of a former Gurkha soldier who was one of hundreds of Nepalis travelling to Kathmandu's airport to welcome Joanna Lumley.

Sorala arrived with forty other Gurkha wives, all wearing traditional green saris bearing the Gurkha emblem of two crossed Khukuri knives.

As they waited for Ms Lumley's plane to touch down, they handed out placards bearing the slogans "daughter of Nepal", "goddess" and "thank you".

Prem Rai, chairman of the United British Gurkha Ex-Servicemen Association Nepal, said: "Gurkha wives and Gurkha widows are especially grateful to Joanna.

"They can now qualify for British settlement visas."

But Mr Rai said all Nepalese people were thankful for what she has done for the Gurkhas.

"We are very pleased to welcome her in Nepal," he said.

Gurkha veteran with sign
Elderly Gurkha veterans were among the throng

Many of those who turned up were elderly. As monsoon rain showers swept across the airport car park, they waited patiently, placards and flags in hand.

Finally Ms Lumley emerged from the terminal building. Flanked by Peter Carroll, the Liberal Democrat councillor who began the Gurkha Justice Campaign, she looked delighted to see the crowds waiting to meet her.

Leaders of the Gurkha ex-servicemen organizations draped orange garlands and traditional white khata scarves - usually given as a token of love - around her shoulders.

But, as Ms Lumley moved slowly past lines of well-wishers, the Nepalese press pack broke through the barriers and surrounded her.

'Absolutely thrilled'

The result was chaos as local police pushed back cameramen and photographers as everyone tried to get a shot of the actress.

"I'm absolutely thrilled, it's extremely sweet and warm," said Ms Lumley as her minders pushed her through the mob.

"Quite close contact," she added with a smile.

Undeterred by the scrum surrounding Ms Lumley, small and elderly former Gurkhas attempted to break through the crowd to reach her.

Despite their size and their age, they did surprisingly well - many of them managing to get close enough to drape more scarves around her neck.

Joanna Lumley addressing the crowd
The actress gave a speech shielded from the crowd by a car door

Using a car doorway as a platform, Ms Lumley was finally able to stand above the mob and deliver an impromptu speech.

"I want to thank you so much for your warm welcome," she said.

"I want to say the time-honoured cry, Ayo Gorkhali!"

On Monday the actress is scheduled to meet the Nepalese president and prime minister before addressing a crowd of former Gurkhas at Kathmandu's city hall.

"Everybody will be there to meet her," said 53-year-old Gyanendra Rai, a Falklands veteran who will be one the first to benefit from Ms Lumley's campaign to secure UK settlement rights for Gurkha ex-servicemen.

"We don't have any word to describe her, because she's like an original goddess for the Gurkhas. So we'll heartily welcome her to Kathmandu.

"It is a homecoming for her," he said.



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