Listeners tuned into today’s special edition of Desert Island Discs, recorded at the home of Burma’s pro-Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, could hear the excitement of the programme’s famously unflappable presenter Kirsty Young as she introduced the Nobel Peace Prize-winning human rights campaigner “known in Burma simply as ‘The Lady’”.
What followed was a frank and at times playful interview, recorded last month when Young travelled to Naypyitaw. For only the second Desert Island Discs to have been recorded outside the UK, Ms Suu Kyi wore yellow roses in her hair and a red dress and spoke candidly of her desire to rule Burma, turning heads at Oxford, and why she considers her country’s military “family”.
“It is terrible what [the army has] done and I don’t like what they’ve done at all but if you love someone I think you love her or him despite of, not because of,” she told Radio 4. “Don’t forget my father was a politician and his assassination was arranged by another politician, I didn’t come into politics to become popular.”
Ms Suu Kyi, who chose a mythical rose bush whose flowers change colour on a daily basis as her luxury item, spoke of her days at Oxford where she studied philosophy, politics and economics, and met her future husband Michael Vaillancourt Aris who died in 1999 while she was under house arrest.
“I suppose I turned a few heads… it’s difficult not to be aware of that,” she conceded, confirming she had “tried alcohol once” in the bathroom at the Bodleian library, “to see what it was like” – she wasn’t impressed.
Young, who sounded awed to be in such a presence, gasped at the directness with which her interviewee answered a question about her political ambitions: “I would like to be president,” Ms Suu Kyi said. “Now, people always like to be very, very modest and say, ‘well I don’t particularly want to be the president but if the people’... I think that’s a load of nonsense… If you are a politician and you are the leader of a party then you should want to get government power in your hands”.