Page 3 Profile: Dame Stella Rimington, Author and former Spy Chief


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Do you want to know a secret?

The former head of MI5, Dame Stella Rimington – now the author of eight books – has one obligation that few of her rival novelists need to worry about: submitting her books to the security service for clearance before publication.

Well, loose lips do famously sink ships…

Indeed, and Dame Stella, who served as Director General of the internal security service from 1992 to 1996, has had to be careful since publishing her memoirs in 2001. She has now penned seven novels, and yesterday the 79-year-old writer explained that although she is no longer privy to the details of the operations being carried out, her manuscripts must still be checked to ensure nothing she writes will affect national security.

Are her books full of blacked-out passages?

Apparently MI5 prefers to take a hands-off approach. “I’ve occasionally been asked to change a name… or a place if I’ve got some action going on in a place where they actually have got action going on, but nothing very significant,” Dame Stella told the BBC. “I’m dreading the day when they say, ‘No, you can’t use this plot at all because it’s far too close to the bone,’ but they’ve never said that.”

But she must use her insider knowledge to an extent?

Yes, her novels often reflect contemporary issues, but the former intelligence officer, insisted this is down to keeping a “very sharp eye” on what’s going on, and what the current security threats to the country and the world are. “I want the books to be up to date,” she explained. “I want to write about what’s going on now but using my knowledge from how things are done… to make it real.”

Could she be tempted to spill the beans?

She knows how to keep schtum. Up until she was made Director General –  when the Government made the unprecedented move of announcing her appointment – nobody, including her children, knew what she did. “When I joined the Service it was completely covert,” she said. “You were told you weren’t allowed to talk about what you did or anything so a lot of my life has been led essentially undercover.”