In the news: Bianca Jagger - The lady of good causes who stands fame on its head

Click to follow
The Independent Online
AS SHE IS the first to admit, Bianca Jagger only became famous by proxy, when she married Mick. That was a quarter of a century ago, and they divorced in 1979, but she has held fast both to the surname and the fame ever since, writes Peter Popham.

Mick Jagger is still on tour, but Bianca has become something else: the celebrity as firefly, slipping in and out of fame like a quick-change artist. For the addicted and the helplessly ego-driven, fame functions as a sort of cage. For Bianca Jagger it is a set of wings, a suit of armour, a magic cloak that she dons and discards as her causes demand.

The muscovado voice comes on the telephone out of the blue. "This is Bianca Jagger, I'd like to talk to you, can we meet?" She takes her fame and stands it on its head: instead of being the pursued, the elusive, it is she who summons the journalist, then politely declines to be interviewed and rigorously debriefs him instead.

She is the wealthy and famous Nicaraguan lady of good causes; but the sympathetic press she usually gets isn't merely because she insists on looking over profiles of her before they are printed. It's because she is too brave, clever and persistent for the "compassion chic" charge to stick. Her most famous demonstration of this was when she brought an eight-year-old Bosnian boy with a hole in the heart out of the war for treatment in the United States: not by plane (the UN refused them permission to board) but overland. The boy was operated on, got better, and went home to his family.

Now she is in India, lending her name to the climactic phase of the Global March against Child Labour. It's a cause that resonates because child labour is a deep-rooted problem in her homeland, too. Explaining her causes to The Independent in 1996, she said: "It has a lot to do with who I am and where I come from. I was born in the Third World, and have striven to speak for those who have no voice."

So she is in the right place: few groups of human beings are more poorly represented than the child labourers, and according to Kailash Satyarthi, the organiser of the Global March, India has more than 60 million of them, despite abundant laws banning it.

Yesterday, Bianca and other high-profile participants flew to the city of Jaipur in Rajasthan for the final leg of the Indian section of the Global March (the march itself culminates in Geneva in June, when the International Labour Organisation will meet to draft a new international convention banning the most intolerable forms of child labour). It was an appropriate place to take a stand: for here, 13,000 children, some as young as four, work in the diamond industry.

Bianca's Central American experience tells her that evils as rooted as child labour do not vanish overnight. She also knows that the presence of one celebrated divorcee changes little. And she is plainly far from satisfied just to go through the celebrity motions. That's why she worries at the thing: takes notes, asks who matters and what they are like, asks herself whether she should stay on and try to do more in India or follow the Global March into Pakistan. "Everything I do," she once said, "starts from the belief that individuals can make a difference."


She won't answer questions about him any more, but holds on to Mick's name because she has never remarried. Besides, she says, "it's a pretty name, I like it". Besides, it hasn't done her any harm; it's doubtful whether Bianca Perez Mora Macias would do the business.


Her involvement with humanitarian causes goes back to 1972 when, aged 22, she flew to Nicaragua to help the victims of an earthquake. But the turning point came in 1981 at a refugee camp in Honduras when she helped stop Salvadorean troopsrounding up dozens of refugees and taking them back across the border.


Shockingly, Bianca Jagger is a grandmother twice over with her daughter Jade having produced two children. But she carries off the role of grannie, glamour puss and champion of the oppressed with aplomb. When, in 1995, she asked The Independent's John Carlin to escort her to Guatemala "to be my human shield" (he didn't refuse), she showed up with two small bags - plus a porter carrying enough kit to equip a battalion of UN peace- keepers.