Former MI5 head told of the spy who loved her

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There is no doubt how Ian Fleming would have written the scene. The most important Soviet defector of the Cold War is being debriefed by the beautiful, curvaceous, future head of Britain's Secret Service and the sexual tension is palpable.

In the real world of espionage, however, the passion remained a secret until now and there was no James Bond-style climax to the encounter.

Oleg Gordievsky, a senior KGB double agent, who fled from Russia in the boot of a MI6 car, has revealed that he found the future head of M15 – Dame Stella Rimington – a "beautiful woman" who he would like to have married.

Mr Gordievsky was interviewed for months by Dame Stella, who was then head of counter-espionage, after he defected to the West in the 80s.

He has revealed that, during the interviews, he was secretly thinking "how lovely it would be to have you as a partner, as a friend". He said: "I actually liked her as a woman immensely. She was a beautiful woman. She had beautiful, big green eyes. She was not so tall, she was not too slim. She had curves. My wife in Moscow had divorced me so, strictly speaking, I was a single man and she was a single woman."

Dame Stella, who has recently separated from her husband, said she was surprised by Mr Gordievsky's intentions, after she was informed by Michael Cockerell in a documentary to be broadcast tonight about her life.

"I think that would have been a very strange marriage, I must say," she says. "A marriage between the head of counter-espionage and a director from the KGB would have hit the headlines more than anything else I've done."

Dame Stella, in the first TV interview about her career at M15, paints a picture of an unglamorous, hard-drinking, service where transit vans full of top secret intelligence files were ferried across London.

The spies used to hitch a lift with the vans, which Dame Stella said was an "insecure" way of transporting information between buildings, to go shopping at Marks & Spencer.

The documentary also reveals the hostility she encountered from the Whitehall establishment after she decided to write her memoirs, including from Sir Richard Wilson, the head of the home civil service. One senior diplomat also calls her "a real little madam".