I had to be briefed on Lenin's favourite drink

IREK MUKHAMEDOV
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The Independent Online
Irek Mukhamedov has two passports, one Russian and one British. He obtained his first Soviet passport when he was 18 and started travelling abroad with the Bolshoi Ballet. Before his passport was issued, though, he had to answer a series of searching questions. There were posers like: "Who leads the Communist Party in Russia?" and a lot of rather silly questions, including: "What was Lenin's favourite drink?" It was deemed important that Irek knew the answers in case he was quizzed while he was abroad.

Irek passed the test with flying colours and his reward was not the common or garden red passport ordinary Russians are issued with, but the smart blue passport usually bestowed on diplomatic personnel. On his blue passport he danced all over the world - with the Bolshoi and also appearing with other ballet companies. It is easier to list the countries he didn't visit: Africa, Antarctica, Iceland and Canada.

In the late 1980s Irek fell in love and married Masha who was also a dancer. When she fell pregnant with their first child, Irek became disenchanted with his native country and its silly questions. Having travelled so extensively, he knew that bringing up a family in Russia was much more of a struggle than in other countries. He and Masha decided they wanted a Western upbringing for their child, so in 1990 they left Russia for good. They defected to Britain and settled in London where Irek became a principal dancer with the Royal ballet.

The couple now have two children, and last year they officially became British citizens. Up till then, Irek had to leave his Russian passport with the Home Office and travel on special documents. This meant he always spent hours filling out forms and answering questions at immigration in the queue marked "Other Passports" and the family avoided foreign holidays because it was difficult to obtain visas. If they wanted to go to Spain for a couple of weeks in the summer, they had to apply a good three months beforehand for a visa, and even then there was a chance they'd be turned down.

Now the proud owners of European Community passports, they can go where they like when they like. Their greatest pleasure says Irek is not the actual travelling, it's getting back to Heathrow, heading for the queue marked "EC Passports" and sailing through immigration with a hello and welcome from the official behind the desk.

On 13 February Irek Mukhamedov opens at the Royal Opera House in London in a major revival of 'The Judas Tree', the ballet Sir Kenneth MacMillan created for him.

YOUR PAPERS PLEASE

Place of Birth RUSSIA

Date of Birth 8 MARCH 1960

Occupation PRINCIPAL DANCER WITH THE ROYAL BALLET

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