This Christmas, Alexandra Little will be tucked up in her comfortable house with husband and four children. For the 41-year-old ex-model, with her alarmingly perfect white teeth and coiffured hair, there will be all the expensive pleasures that success in the advertising world provide in the Surrey stockbroker belt.
Meanwhile, her sister Camilla Carr may well, if she is still alive, be stuck in a freezing cell in some devastated quarter of Grozny, the prisoner of Chechen bandits who kidnapped her and Jon James, her partner, last July.
The Carr sisters are very different creatures. If they weren't related, perhaps they wouldn't want to know each other. When they were at public school in Shrewsbury, Camilla, jaunty and earnest with her long curly hair, was head of hockey, while her sister preferred to hide in the art room ("I hated all sport"). Afterwards Alexandra plunged lucratively into the commercial world of Soho advertising, while Camilla went off to Amsterdam to put on what Alexandra now remembers as "very wild, no I can't use that word, let's say `avant garde' plays." She later became a respected sculptor. In Jon James she found a kindred spirit. The son of a Gloucestershire postman, he has spent much of his life involved in alternative therapies and has particular interests in Native American and Celtic cultures. An outdoor type, at the age of 10 he famously canoed the Severn tidal bore. "He only ever wants enough money to live on," says his mother, Doris.
Alexandra remembers a winter visit the pair made to her weekend cottage at Lyme Regis. "They just peeled off and ran down for a swim in the sea. It was the middle of February. Even my Norweigian au pair was amazed."
Still, it wasn't easy for Alexandra to understand why, last April, Camilla decided to drive across Europe with James, 37, to Grozny. Each left a young son behind. They took an old Lada. The family still marvels at a photograph of them crouched over a stove just after they had arrived in Grozny: "No key, no electricity, so we make tea," is scribbled on the back.
Now Camilla's survival, and her abducted partner's, could depend on Alexandra's ability to wage a campaign of which Jill Morrell would be proud.
It started this week, when families of the kidnapped couple held a special service at St James', Piccadilly. The opening hymn was Camilla's favourite - "Lord of the Dance", dozens of candles were lit by the congregation and everyone held hands for a "magic squeeze" that rippled through the congregation. Terry Waite reminded the families of an occasion when his wife read newspaper headlines saying he was dead. Never believe anything you hear until it is confirmed, he advised. John McCarthy spoke. "If they get any hint," he said, "that we are all here launching this campaign, it will give them a huge amount of support and encouragement."
For five months the family had remained silent about the kidnap in accordance with the Foreign Office's desires; they had hoped that working behind the scenes would do the trick. But when that policy failed even to confirm that the couple were alive, the family decided it was time to make a move. And now, the FO, nervous of seeming laggardly - as they did over the McCarthy kidnap - smartly despatched their minister, Baroness Symons, to sit in the front row at the service. Further Christmas church events are planned, along with T-shirts, concerts and a record - "We're hoping that a really well-known group like Blur will help us," says Alexandra.
Although Camilla's brother, Raj, is involved, as is the family of Jon James, Alexandra is the central figure. Her husband, David Little, creative director of the London advertising agency Davies, Little Cowley, has helped organise the campaign. He's strong-jawed with a hard-selling style usually reserved for promoting cornflakes. "I believe in consistency and icons," he says. "We have one simple theme - support Camilla and Jon - and one great photo that is being used everywhere. These are the two stick-of- rock elements."
David Little has an equally candid take on the Carr family. "They range from complete free spirits to people with their feet on the ground." It was always so. Camilla and Alexandra's father was an Old Etonian bomber pilot in the Second World War, whose wife Helen supplied the bohemian strain, graduating from the Slade School of Fine Art. She is descended from Thomas Cobbe, a British army officer who famously married an Indian princess from Udaipur in the last century and died on his journey back to Ireland leaving her with 10 children. Camilla took after her mother's side of the family. The pair share interests in spiritual healing and Sufiism. "Camilla and I," says the mother proudly, "travelled together to Rajastan in 1994 to a conference held by the Brahma Kumaris to promote world peace."
I ask Alexandra how she is coping with the kidnap. "There are days and days when you don't sleep," she says, "and then days when all you do is sleep because you are so tired. I had a lot of nightmares, especially at the beginning, imagining that Camilla was in a dark wet cave. More recently, I have felt that she is being looked after in better conditions. I don't know why, but I just feel it. It is more than likely that she has been moved. Maybe they have been sold on by their kidnappers for financial reasons.
"Hearing about the kidnap was a terrible shock. I had been to my daughter's speech day. We had heard on the car radio that a British married couple had been kidnapped in Chechnya, but I put it out of my mind because Jon and Camilla aren't married. Then when I got home about six, my mother- in-law was on the phone and said, `Turn on the television immediately. It's Camilla - I think she's been kidnapped.' So I turned the television on and I could see Camilla's face staring out at me."
The sisters had spoken only a few days before, when Camilla had been in Moscow, buying furniture for The Little Star, the centre for rehabilitating traumatised children, run under the auspices of the Centre for Peacemaking and Community Development, a Quaker aid organisation. "There seemed to be no hint of danger. They seemed to be OK. They asked me to buy tennis racquets and send them over to the children. I was just about to buy them when the news came through."
This Christmas, their families hope the great physical and spiritual strength they have gathered during unconventional lives will carry them through the kidnap ordeal. But Camilla Carr and Jon James must be praying that the voices of suburbia will finally secure their release.Reuse content