BIANCA OF THE SORROWS

From high priestess of Studio 54 to scourge of totalitarianism: Bianca Jagger has proved even more adept at self-reinvention than her ex- husband. Is she too good to be true?
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The Independent Culture
ALL I WANTED from Bianca Jagger was an interview; so it came as a surprise when, two weeks after our first contact, she telephoned from New York and said: "I'm going to Guatemala and I think it will be dangerous. Will you be my human shield?" "Sure," I said, and 48 hours later she called back to say that she had booked the tickets. We would be flying down together from Washington on TACA, El Salvador's national airline. She'd be arriving in Washington from New York the day before to address two demonstrations, outside the White House and Congress, on behalf of 20,000 Nicaraguan exiles whom the Clinton administration was seeking - unjustly, in her view - to deport.

At 7.15am sharp, our agreed rendezvous time, I was standing by the kerbside at Dulles, Washington's international airport. The morning heat was tropical. This time of year in Washington you breathe water, mixed, in places like the busy drop-off point where I was waiting, with grey smog. Half an hour late, she emerged like a Persil ad from a taxi, dazzling in a white trouser- suit. Smaller - as celebrities tend to be - than you would imagine, small- boned, brown-skinned, a dash of crimson lipstick, La Jagger strode purposefully towards me. I was amazed. We were supposed to be away for five days and she was only carrying two small bags. This was the woman who had her dresses made by her close personal friend Calvin Klein and, according to the Mail on Sunday, bought her shoes from the same London boutique as the Princess of Wales. She stopped, turned and gestured to someone behind her. A porter appeared from behind the boot of her taxi, struggling with three pieces of plastic luggage bulky enough to accommodate the needs of a battalion of UN peacekeeers.

At the check-in counter she reminded the TACA lady that we had been assigned front-row seats. The TACA lady was sorry but she had no record of this. Bianca's voice - low, fetchingly bronchial - did not rise, but with a practised air of chilly command she lifted one of her magnificently sculpted eyebrows. What, she asked in Spanish, was the manager's name? Bianca Jagger would like to talk to him. No need for the manager. The TACA lady said we could have the seats.

Then we went to buy the morning papers. I picked up the New York Post, and there she was, occupying half the front page, in a white evening dress, holding hands with a middle-aged man in a dinner jacket. "Bob and Bianca Split", the headline ran. Bob was Robert Torricelli, a Democratic congressman, who would not be known to readers of Rupert Murdoch's New York tabloid by his three-letter name were it not for his romantic association of two years with the world's only celebrity called Bianca. "Oh my God," said Bianca, more in jest than in despair. Was it true? It was, for the most part. She read the story, all six paragraphs of it. How was it? "It could have been worse. It could have been the British tabloids." Then we set off towards the plane and resumed a conversation we'd begun at the check- in counter about Guatemalan human rights. She'd dismissed the Post story from her mind as if it had been a passing mosquito. Seeing her picture splashed across newspapers and magazines stopped being a surprise a long time ago; in 1971, to be precise, when, aged 21 and four months pregnant, Bianca Perez Mora Macias changed her name to Bianca Jagger at St Tropez's wedding of the century.

Since then, her private life has been public property. We know, or we do if we read People magazine, that she was born in Nicaragua on 2 May 1950 into a well-off, if not spectacularly wealthy, Managua family; that her parents were divorced when she was 10; that her mother had to open a shop to pay for her convent education; that she moved to Paris when she was 16 after obtaining a French government scholarship to the Institute of Political Science; that her beauty drew her into fashionable society; that she met Michael Caine and then Mick Jagger.

Within a couple of years the stately, constipated New York Times was describing her as "a world-class celebrity". Like all good world-class celebrities, she became a generator of world-class gossip, mainly thanks to her husband who, unfortunately for their marriage, discovered that he required more than just the one enchanting apparition. A year before the divorce, in May 1978, Newsweek carried a report on Jagger and Jerry Hall which quoted Bianca as saying that it was "hard to continue being a romantic, to maintain a dream that is unshattered". And then stories started appearing about Bianca and Ryan O'Neal, the heart-throb of Love Story. The stage for this soap-opera was New York's Studio 54, the paparazzi heaven of the late Seventies. Bianca, in an image of Ancient Roman decadence favoured by the newspapers in those days, was the disco's "high priestess".

Today she has transformed herself into the high priestess of moral righteousness, a one-woman United Nations who takes on causes like Naomi Campbell puts on suits of clothes. It is a role in which she has contrived to remain almost as much in the public eye as her ex-husband, and to preserve, while playing to a more sober beat, the same illusion of ageless glamour. Part of the secret, perhaps, is one quality she still shares with Mick Jagger: a tireless energy. She's travelled to Bosnia twice since the conflict erupted there - once for six weeks, once for four; she's held talks with the warring factions in Northern Ireland; she's fought for the right of the indigenous people of Brazil to defend their land against tree-cutting predators; she's stood up for battered women everywhere; she's campaigned on behalf of Aids victims; she's delivered addresses before the UN and the US Congress; she is continually besieged by requests from human rights groups seeking her services, be they fund-raising speeches or personal appearances to help dramatise the plight of forgotten, far-flung people. She is Goodwill Ambassador of the Albert Schweitzer Institute, serves on the board of directors of the Action Council for Peace in the Balkans and is a special adviser to Cambridge University's Indigenous Development International.

But her first and most enduring political passion is Central America. As a teenager she endured the sickly stench of tear gas at demonstrations against Anastasio Somoza, the dictator the Sandinistas deposed in 1979. And the turning point in her life, as she describes it, came in November 1981, when she was visiting a Salvadorean refugee camp in Honduras. About 40 Salvadorean soldiers marched over the border and rounded up 35 of the refugees, suspected guerrilla sympathisers. Bianca and other foreign observers gave chase, whereupon the soldiers turned their guns on them - and this at a time when army death squads were killing 1,000 people a month in El Salvador. First news reports out of Honduras said that Bianca had been killed. But she survived unscathed, and the refugees managed to escape. She sent a report on the incident to Amnesty International and testified before a sub-committee on Capitol Hill, prompting the New York Times to write a story which began, "If you believe that Bianca Jagger is just another jet-set playgirl, think again."

Not that she ceased to be a social animal. It's just that the parties she has been attending in the past decade have not been the knid at which you would expect to bump into Keith Richards. Sheathed in her satin Calvin Klein numbers, she goes to cocktails at the White House, dinners at the Washington homes of white-haired senators, fund-raising dos at august universities (before Torricelli, she was involved with Senator Christopher Dodd). Politicians' wives, trained in the meek uxorial ways demanded by America's conservative electorate, have been known to pause in horror over their vichysoisses at the outspokenness of her views. And her tales of derring-do in places which US politicians, much less gossip-column celebrities, would never dream of visiting evoke responses of admiration, confusion and dismay.

One such tale provided the context for our trip: in November 1987, Bianca ventured on another mission to El Salvador, as an escort to a charismatic leftist leader called Ruben Zamora who was returning home after the assassination of his brother seven years earlier had driven him into political exile. The danger to Zamora's life was real, yet Bianca appeared next to him on platform after platform when the expectation was that at any moment an assassin's bullet would crack though the air. The press dubbed her Zamora's human shield, and it was in ironic recollection of the image that she had asked whether I'd perform the same function for her in Guatemala.

THE TRUTH was that it was she who was once again going to play the human shield. The story centred on the fate of Efrain Bamaca Velasquez, a Guatemalan guerrilla commander of indian extraction who had been captured by the army in 1992 and had never been seen again. His wife, Jennifer Harbury, a Harvard-educated Texan lawyer, has spent the past two years holding protests outside the White House and the presidential palace in Guatemala City, clamouring for information about her disappeared husband. Things came to a head four months ago when Bianca's beau, Congressman Torricelli, released to the media information withheld by the government revealing that Bamaca was dead and that the man who ordered his killing was a Guatemalan army colonel on the CIA payroll. Harbury then obtained information from the US State Department that her husband had been buried in a clandestine mass grave near an army outpost at La Montanita in the south-western Guatemalan department of San Marcos. The army had refused to allow her to exhume her husband's body, and so she decided to hold a vigil at the grave site until the bones were disinterred. Harbury judged that the vigil would be dangerous, and so she asked Bianca to join her. Bianca agreed to do so.

On the four-hour flight south Bianca pored over human rights documents, studied facts and figures, breaking off from her reading from time to time to point out animatedly that, for example, two-thirds of the arable land in Guatemala is owned by 2.2 per cent of the population. She speaks English well, but with a Spanish accent, the occasional slip into Spanish sentence construction and a histrionic Nicaraguan emphasis. She shakes her fists a great deal in conversation and screws up her brow in an attitude of concentration so intense that her skin forms two deep, perfectly parallel little valleys above her nose.

My attempts at small talk - "Is that Cuba down there?", "What did you think of the Hugh Grant business?" - received short shrift. She talked only of the job at hand. Covertly and overtly, she reminded me, the US has been funding the Guatemalan regime since 1954, when the CIA organised a coup to depose a benign civilian president of social democratic leanings and installed the military in his place. A guerrilla resistance movement began in the Sixties, since when the Guatemalan army - Latin America's leaders in the field of human rights abuse - has murdered 100,000 people and "disappeared" 40,000, most of them indians of Mayan extraction. (It was the Guatemalan army, or, more specifically, its American-trained G2 intelligence unit, that invented the phenomenon of the "disappearance".)

Despite some anxiety on Bianca's part that "they" might be waiting for us at customs, we breezed through. Her battered British passport has proved to be one of her marriage's more blessed legacies. Our destination was seven hours away by four-wheel drive. Before setting off Bianca took the precaution of phoning the US ambassador, who instantly took the call and asked her to come right over. When she entered the white-walled embassy fortress, I waited outside, assuming this to be the function demanded of a human shield.

Guatemala is a creepy place, the creepiest in Latin America, because it is so sinister and so beautiful at the same time. As we drove out of the city towards Malacatan, the nearest town to the mass grave, the countryside was a deep, lush green. A blue volcano rose away to our right; at its feet, a placid lake. The road was busy, pot-holed and, because of the insane recklessness of the drivers, spectacularly dangerous. After one particularly close brush with death, Sergio, the photographer accompanying us, sighed deep and said, "Ah, life is cheap here, my friend!"

It was long past nightfall by the time we reached Malacatan. I shared a local hotel room with three other men. Bianca shared hers with a young congressional aide who had come down from Washington. She did so uncomplainingly. She had raised her eyebrow at the suggestion that she might not be getting the front row of the plane, but she tucked into her beans and rice at the hotel quite cheerfully. "I was brought up in a Third World country," she said. "I have no trouble adapting to conditions anywhere. I am, really, a citizen of the world."

For the foray to La Montanita, Citizen Bianca sported a wide-shouldered safari jacket tucked in at the waist with matching belt, a V-necked white T-shirt, skin-tight black riding trousers and brown state-of-the-art walking boots. Her hair was freshly washed, tied back in a little bun, and the colour crimson adorned the fabled lips. An uneventful, if bumpy, half- hour ride later, we had the base in our sights. A couple of soldiers at the guard-post had us in theirs. We stopped the car in a tall-grassed meadow, about the size of four football pitches. Tall rows of maize fields stretched as far as the eye could see towards the foothills of two volcanoes whose conical peaks rose high above the clouds. Jennifer Harbury stepped up to greet us. She had camped out the previous night, the first of her vigil, with three university students from Guatemala City and a Roman Catholic bishop from Detroit. With the party were two young indian girls whose father was also said to be buried in the mass grave. The night had passed without incident, Jennifer reported, but relations with the army neighbours were tense.

Bianca sat down with the little indian girls. Micaela Mateo, the older of the two at 17, told how one night six years ago a lot of soldiers had arrived at their village, taken away their father, a community human rights activist, and killed him. Their mother had died of an illness - they didn't know what kind - when they were very young. Bianca listened with her deep- valleyed frown. "This is where they buried them. We want to find him, even if it's only his bones. We want to see his bones so we can see the truth that they killed lots of people." Upon which the younger sister, 13-year-old Juana, piped up, "We have to fight even if they kill us. Better that they kill us if they won't let us see my dad." Then Juana cried and Bianca held her hand; and the thought occurred, to me and to others in our party, that, had Bianca turned up wearing a check shirt and jeans like Jennifer instead of her Manhattan wilderness wardrobe, she would have been less true to herself, to the little indian girls, and to their cause.

Bianca went for a walk around the meadow with Juana and then she and Jennifer and the bishop and the rest of us walked over to the military guard-post, 100 yards from our small encampment, and Bianca informed one of the soldiers - indian boys both - she wished to speak to the commanding officer. On a blackboard by the guard-post, alongside a picture someone had drawn in green chalk of what looked like the head of a chicken, a message said: "Welcome. Machine-gun Eagles 1." As we waited for a response, Jennifer pointed to the grave site, a large open field behind the base where she and other witnesses had counted several dozen unnatural mounds, each with a low ditch alongside. A small soldier who identified himself as Sub-Lieutenant Federico Juarez came and said that he would communicate the request to his chief and asked for Bianca's name. "It's Jagger." "How did you say?" "Jagger." "How do you spell that?" Bianca spelt it. The name didn't mean a thing to him. We were turning to leave when another soldier, with a video camera on his shoulder, said to all of us, but addressing himself to Bianca, "Would you mind just waiting there a moment so I can film you?" "Not at all," said Bianca. So we stood there, and he filmed, said thank you and left. Bianca responded to the soldier's request with the routine casualness of a woman who has long ago resigned herself to the hopelessness of trying to fend off the camera's prying eyes (and to the fact that it is best to humour men with guns).

Bianca did remark later, however, that she was troubled by the thought of what might befall the three university students. That video would go straight to G2, the army killing unit. Guillermo, one of the students, said not to worry: G2 already had enough photographs of them to fill an album. "When we go back to Guatemala City we'll be followed, we'll receive calls. A few years back they'd kill you and make it known the death squads had been responsible - the bodies would be found tortured, with the thumbs tied behind the backs and the tiro de gracia, the finishing shot through the head. Things have improved now. They kill you on the street, stab you, and say it was a common crime."

Then Associated Press and Reuters arrived, and then CNN, who interviewed Bianca in English and in Spanish within spitting distance of the gate of the base, making sure to get the two guards as the backdrop to their frame. "I call on the government of Guatemala to put an end to the lawlessness and the impunity for the military. Reigns of terror are vanishing from the rest of Latin America and here the genocide must end too." A Guatemalan driver employed by Jennifer clutched his head in horror. "What is she saying? Here, of all places, in the middle of nowhere, with the soldiers listening..." I clutched my head too. She checked her lipstick in a compact mirror, patted down her safari jacket, and prepared for another take.

This was brave, possibly to the point of recklessness, but it was behaviour consequent upon the challenge she took on when deciding to come to Guatemala in the first place. Your regular star on the good cause celebrity circuit would have selected a venue more newsworthy, more glamorous and more safe. But Bianca, I sensed, was driven by a sincere sense of outrage. Unwilling to settle for the photo opportunity and the soundbite, she stuck her neck out, dramatising by her presence the intensity of the repression to which Guatemalans continue to be subject when even El Salvador and Nicaragua are now in relative peace; and the continuing supremacy of the military, for the indian population as pervasive and frightfully controlling a political presence as the Communist parties ever were in Eastern Europe. That was Bianca's job: to put the spotlight, however briefly, on a country which otherwise inhabits darkest night.

After the television cameras had left, we slept in the car: me, Bianca and Jennifer. Bianca had brought a tent, but it was raining too hard for camping. A guitar inside the base lulled us to sleep; a riderless horse galloping past woke us at dawn.

We retired to the hotel, me for breakfast, Bianca for a jog, only to be summoned back to the camp. G2, clearly miffed by the vigil, had organised a demonstration by more than 100 employees of San Marcos's army garrison, and the camp was "under attack". By the time we arrived, the rent-a-crowd had gone, but Bianca judged the time right to summon reinforcements. She called the US Embassy, whose officials contacted the Minister of Defence, the UN mission in Guatemala and the San Marcos police. A dozen policemen were dispatched to guard our camp around the clock. As Bianca remarked, "It just shows that the Americans can put these people under control, when they want to."

Back at the hotel once again, I returned to my room, switched on CNN, and there she was, in white trouser-suit and cream camisole, doing a half- hour interview, recorded the day before we left Washington. She was giving her views on the Bosnia crisis.

ON THE FLIGHT back to the United States I reminded her of another interview: the one I had originally requested, which she had not wanted to do while there was more important business to attend to in Guatemala. We agreed to meet in New York, not in her Park Avenue home, but at her office in the Grace Building, a swanky, undulating construction on the Avenue of the Americas.

She showed up in a white ankle-length cotton dress with shoulder-straps and a pair of low-heeled white shoes, each with a bow arranged in the shape of a flower. Immediately, she launched with what I can only describe as fanatical zeal into her plans to accumulate information on drug deals in which she believed the Guatemalan army to be involved, to pass on the information to her high-placed friends in Congress, to write letters to the president and vice-president, to focus Washington's attention on the need to bring the generals to heel. All this she has done, and continues to do, with pushy effectiveness. You would never imagine the scale of her influence from a glance at her office, the size of a large bathroom, dark, windowless and cluttered with human rights documents, postcards from her grandchildren, recent photographs of herself in sultry supermodel poses and press clippings about Bosnia and the dangers of passive smoking. She suggested that before doing the interview we should have lunch. She rang a number and said, not "Can I have a table for two?", but, "This is Bianca Jagger, can I have a table for two?" We stepped across the road and into the Royalton, which is to New York lunches in 1995 what Studio 54 was to New York night clubs in 1978. There were a couple of tables available, but the maitre d' implored us to wait a moment. At the Royalton, the ordinary customers off the streets are made to sit at the dimly-lit tables by the bar. The higher up the social ladder you are, the closer you move towards the well-lit wall opposite the bar. Here you sit not on chairs but on green velvet sofas, thrones facing on to the rabble, who gawk at you and whom you ignore. The maitre d' escorted us to one of these thrones. We ate a soft-shell crab salad, with which she ordered a plate of mashed potatoes; then returned to her cramped office where, at long last, I got my tape-recorder rolling.

We sat face to face, her back to a table, mine to a wall, and I asked her the obvious question. What on earth had propelled the transition from Studio 54 gadfly to high-fashion Mother Theresa? Had there been a Damascan flash? There had not, she said. She had simply evolved and grown wiser. Then, to my surprise - for she is notoriously coy about her private life - she started talking about her marriage. "When I got married I did not know what I was getting married into until the day of the wedding, and especially the day after my wedding. The one thing that for me was shocking was that they had to make the wedding of a Rolling Stone into something scandalous, you know, something completely different - a circus. Of course, that came with the territory. But I remember the writing of the following day: I was in tears because the person that was portrayed there was not me. The evolution from being a private person to being the centre of the world was overwhelming to me. People think that you want that and that you pursue that. But it was devastating. I didn't know how to cope. I no longer was a person in my own right who had my own thoughts, my own beliefs, my own working life, my own background."

None the less, she spoke with a marked absence of rancour of her ex-husband. The image she portrayed was of a woman who had emerged cleanly from whatever pain she endured during the separation. And she could not deny that in order to acquire her present influence and eminence she had traded on the interest of having once been married to the world's most celebrated rock-and-roll star. She had, for example, retained his name, had she not? "I have become known as Bianca Jagger. It would be almost impossible to undo that, you know, and say that's not who I am."

She once was Bianca Perez Mora Macias. She became Mrs Jagger. The struggle has been to forge a mature third persona that reconciles the two - the sort of task with which the Princess of Wales, for example, is also said to be struggling. The Princess might detect a familiar ring in Bianca's plaintive cries, and a note of comfort in the solution she appears to have found.

"Do you know how difficult it has been for me to emerge from within this extraordinary, massive and overpowering reputation? I was weighed down by who I had become and I said to myself at one point, 'There is no point struggling, there is no point protesting and saying, you know, I am someone else and I have my own ideas and my own identity and I am a person of substance.' But I am a person of substance, and I am a thinking woman. I said to myself, 'You just have to calm down and you just have to let time pass and let your actions speak for themselves.' And it has been very hard. But somehow I have come to a point where I feel that finally I am emerging from these constraints. I was divorced in 1979, but it has taken all these years of all this work and all this effort for the outside to begin to perceive me in a different light."

The question which the Princess of Wales must ask herself is whether she will ever live at peace with the reputation of her past. Bianca's agitation when I asked her about her previous incarnation as Studio 54's high priestess suggested that she too remains deeply sensitive to the opinion of the world.

"OK, so I was an insouciant person and I went and I danced at Studio 54. So what? Should I be condemned? Should I be put to trial because I did that? Should I be put to trial because I was married to Mick and we were this couple that everybody thought of and, you know, invented an extraordinary life for?"

Even now she continues to endure attacks from those who take the fashionable view that charitable impulses are to be mistrusted. An article this April in the Sunday Times, for example, painted her as a fame-seeker who used her rescue of a sick boy from Bosnia as an opportunity to keep her name in the headlines. That hurt. In April 1993 she had volunteered for a relief mission to Bosnia which lasted six weeks and took her to Tuzla, where, on a visit to a paediatric ward, a Bosnian doctor asked her if she could arrange the evacuation of two sick children. Sabina, 12, was suffering from leukaemia; Mohamud, eight, had a congenital heart condition. The doctor said they would die unless they could be flown abroad for treatment. She obtained the permission of the parents and, after endless appeals to the UN and her friends in the US Congress, she persuaded the commander of a British tank battalion to escort her on a harrowing two-day trip through Bosnia's mountain roads to Split. Despite the attendance of an American specialist who flew out especially from Yale, Sabina suffered a brain haemorrhage, fell into a coma and died on 17 May. Bianca got Mohamud to New York where he underwent open heart surgery. Against the predictions of doctors, the operation was a success, and for the next eight months, until his parents flew over to the United States after obtaining permission to live there, she acted as his nurse, mother and constant companion. She has since worked with the Albert Schweitzer Institute to evacuate 20 more children from Bosnia.

When I asked her what had been the greatest satisfaction of her life, she replied, without hesitation, that it had been to save Mohamud's life. That, she said, was the most important thing she had done. "Everything I do starts from the belief that individuals can make a difference, and I feel that one of the failings of our society today is that people have begun to lose the belief that you can influence decision-making, that you can influence politicians, that whatever you do will have an effect. And I think that everything that motivates me motivates me because of that. Yes, I am only one woman but I can help, I can make a difference."

IF ALL this high-mindedness seems a little unrelenting, that impression is not entirely fair. There were unguarded moments - albeit brief and often banal ones - when I managed to breach the wall of earnestness and glean some titbits of Bianca trivia - small reminders that the public life has not entirely wiped out the private person. For example: she likes dogs but not cockroaches; she loves horse-riding and water-skiing, but knows nothing about football; she admires Camus, whom she has studied keenly, and enjoys going to the movies, her all-time favourite film being Les Enfants du Paradis; she places a fair amount of faith in the significance of star signs -as a Taurus she finds she gets on uncannily well with other Tauruses; she has a fear of riding bicycles because she was knocked off one by a car in Long Island in 1985, shattering her left thigh-bone into tiny pieces and subsequently spending a year unable to walk (she has to run every morning now, otherwise her left leg becomes excruciatingly painful); she is a grandmother twice over, and she dotes on her grandchildren.

Another piece of gossip she has done little to discourage is that she might run for the Nicaraguan presidency - even though she told me that one thing her varied life had taught her to see was the disquieting similarity between rock stars and politicians. "The projection of the image, the planned projection, and the whole thing of mesmerising the public. It's a very dangerous thing, I think, because it suspends critical thought." None the less, she acknowledged that she was indeed giving careful thought to entering the hoopla of Nicaraguan politics, the question uppermost in her mind being whether she would be of any use. "Can I really change the situation? If not, I should not do that. If I feel that I am not capable of something I will not do it. I try to be rational and pragmatic."

For myself, I wonder whether Bianca would be able to adapt to living again in Nicaragua, which is one of the two or three poorest countries in Latin America. For all her resilience in Guatemala, New York - the Royalton restaurant and all that - has clearly become her natural habitat. To live in Central America she would have to adapt, engage in yet another struggle for self-definition, a task complicated by her failure to address some of the more fundamental requirements of a happy life. Marianne Faithfull, Mick Jagger's first celebrity lover, gallantly observed to a journalist last year that while Bianca was "very, very intelligent", she "just had the bad luck of being born a raving beauty." By which Ms Faithfull seems to have meant that her successor had been fated to succeed in many things but not in love. And so I asked Bianca the question that had been nagging me almost from our first encounter, when we came across the article about her and Bob Torricelli. To what degree was her determination to lead a morally useful and active life a consequence of her failure to build a lasting relationship? Did she not yearn at heart for a life free of these political burdens, for something quieter ?

"Yes, of course," she replied, quickly but subdued. "There are times when I think about it. I mean, I do wonder how I would be if I was happily married and I had a house in the country and I had a blessed relationship. Sometimes, with this sense of duty I have, I ask myself, 'Why do I do it? Why do I risk so much?' There aren't always clear-cut answers. But, yes, there are certain things that are missing. This sense that you are able to accomplish things and give to other people, well, it does not replace other things - but it makes you think less about the fact that you don't have that blessed marriage."

Was the armour of the human shield cracking? I pressed on. How important was it to find a big love in her life?

"It's very important. But I have very ideal visions of what a big love in life means, adolescent ideals, and maybe that's why it's so difficult for me to attain. Maybe it's too romanticised."

What, did she still retain her adolescent notions of romance?

"Yes." Tears seemed to threaten.

One last question. These notions: would they ever go away?

"No. But it's not romance I'm talking about. It's a great love, or the great love, the person you will find and you will marry for ever. If you were to ask me, 'What is the greatest regret you've got?', it's that. That I wasn't able to achieve... that." !

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