How We Met: Karen Ruimy & Mariella Frostrup

'She's more Bond Street, I'm more Portobello Road'

Karen Ruimy, 48

Born in Morocco, Ruimy (left in picture) moved to Paris as a child. After pursuing a life in finance, she switched careers to become a singer and flamenco dancer. Her show 'Flamenka' has been staged in the West End, while her single 'Come With Me' reached number two in the UK dance charts. She is also the co-founder, with Mariella Frostrup, of gender-equality charity Great Initiative. She lives in London with her husband.

I moved from France seven years ago to London and I wanted to create a foundation about gender equality. After a few months a friend said, "I know someone who wants to create a new charity too." I was like, "Well, I don't know who she is, but why not?" It turns out that Mariella and her husband – a human-rights lawyer – were involved in African NGOs. We started right away.

The first thing I noticed when we met was that she could not stop talking for one minute. But she looked like a cool, gorgeous woman and I was drawn to her as I'm a high-energy person too, and I like women who mix beauty with intelligence.

We met up once a month to create our charity, which took two years, as we're both so busy. We had to raise money, so in 2011 we held a gala launch. She was the media star but felt uncomfortable asking famous people she knew. Though one she did ask, George Clooney, who is a close friend of hers, was coming, and then he was detained on a film set. She was mad about that.

In fact, 30 minutes before the gala started, everyone was saying they couldn't make it at the last minute and she was losing it. And I said, "Listen, it's not the end of the world." I calmed her down and helped her relax.

We went to Liberia together for five days after the event to visit projects on the ground that we had helped to fund. We went to see one sewing workshop that employed women who had been raped and who had been rescued from the streets; there were so many horrible stories of women treated like animals. And I saw in Mariella a deep compassion. She has suffered herself; she lost her father very early and she grew up in Ireland with very little money.

I'm not from London, so Mariella gives me tips on who's who and where's worth going to. She invites me to premieres and parties, too: we went to one gala hosted by the Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William; she even got me on the honorary table. Our biggest difference, mind, is that she's not a royalist. I know that we will always fight about that.

What is unusual for a woman like Mariella is how she's as comfortable in places we've visited such as a rubbish dump in Liberia as a glitzy gala. She is so passionate I feel she could electrify a whole city.

Mariella Frostrup, 50

The Norwegian-born journalist and broadcaster, who was raised in Ireland, first hit our screens as a film reviewer in the early 1990s. She has since appeared on radio and TV, presenting shows including Radio 4's 'Open Book'. She lives in London with her husband.

I decided to set up the Great Initiative, focusing on advocacy [aiming to influence public policy on gender equality], and a friend of mine said she knew someone else who was looking to set up a similar thing, this wealthy Moroccan lady. I didn't have much hope of it working out, as I felt that we would be poles apart: some fabulously rich woman private-jetting around the world.

But we set up a lunch in London anyway and in walked this woman looking fantastic in high heels, a fabulously bright fur coat, looking like a bird of paradise. She was animated and feisty and we hit it off.

We agreed to arrange a glitzy gala event to raise funds for the charity. But people can be so flaky, particularly celebrities, so by 6pm there had been so many cancellations I was ready to jump off the roof of the hotel. Meanwhile, Karen was off having her hair done and her outfit sorted and not having had to deal with the endless cancelling. When she arrived, her advice was: you just have to be calm. I said, "Don't talk to me about calm!"

Our trip to Liberia to see the projects that we were funding was emotional, hardcore and rough, so at the start I had a suspicion that this would be the point that Karen would reveal her true colours and be horrified by it all. But she carried on being calm and was so gentle with the more traumatised women. It made me realise we were friends not partners.

She has a flair for the dramatic, so it's no surprise at all that she got into flamenco dancing. I've been to Paris to see her perform in shabby Pigalle-style burlesque theatres and it's an eye-opener. She puts on a good dance-and-singing show; she's not exactly 20 any more, but she's a brilliant dancer.

I've been to stay at her place in the South of France. It was so relaxing that we rarely left the house; we'd talk about everything from African politics to designer gowns at dinner and laugh at showbiz people behaving badly.

She moved to the UK some years ago now and she enjoys the older traditions of this country. She loves the monarchy, while I'm more interested in egalitarian democracy.

She's more Bond Street while I'm much more Portobello Road. But in the end, where we buy our clothes matters less than the values that we share and they have brought us together across what might have initially seemed like a vast gap.

For more information on the charity, visit thegreatinitiative.com. Ruimy's album 'Come With Me' is out now (karenruimy.com)

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