Back from the dead with a sunny smile: Jaycee's happy end

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The hair is darker and her face appears to have filled out a touch during the 18 years she so famously spent in captivity, but Jaycee Lee Dugard's timid smile and those piercing blue eyes are more or less the same.

Two months after her rescue shocked the world, the former child kidnap victim has taken a tentative step into the limelight: allowing a photograph of her as an adult to be made public for the first time yesterday.

The image, which will appear on the cover of this week's edition of the US gossip magazine People, will be accompanied by an apparently upbeat interview in which Ms Dugard talks about her abduction and tells of her joy at being reunited with her mother and sister.

"I'm so happy to be back with my family," she says, in a short excerpt which was released in advance of publication. "Nothing is more important than the unconditional love and support I have from them."

Ms Dugard, now a 29-year-old brunette, displays no obvious signs of the trauma she must have endured during her years imprisoned in a backyard compound at the home of convicted rapist Philip Garrido in Antioch, a small town an hour's drive east of San Francisco.

She was interviewed at the secure location in northern California where she has been staying under police guard, with her immediate family, since shortly after she was rescued in August. Social workers and a team of counsellors are helping Dugards to come to terms with sudden end of their long ordeal, which began when Jaycee was abducted from a bus stop near Lake Tahoe at the age of 11.

A family spokesman, Erika Schulte, said Ms Dugard seemed to have put behind her the years of abuse she suffered at the hands of Garrido and his wife, Nancy. She was held as a sex slave for many years and had two daughters by her captor: Angel, now 15, and Starlit, 11.

"She just radiates," said Ms Schulte. "I was thrilled when I saw the photo because it was the perfect representation of what she looks like. It speaks to her joy with being with her family now and looking forward to her new life.

"She is a grown-up, she is a mother and a sister and a daughter – and it's amazing to just be in the presence of all of that. And if you walked into the room and didn't know the circumstances, it would seem, I think, like any other family."

Ms Dugard has apparently formed a close bond with both her mother, Terry, and her sister, Shanya. They have been spending time riding horses and cooking – Jaycee is said to be fond of knocking up a rice, beans and salsa dish for dinner – and they are considering collaborating on a memoir.

Ms Schulte said she was not sure if Angel and Starlit had been fully informed of the ugly details of what happened to their mother, who gave birth to her first child at the age of 14, without the benefit of medical attention. However, they are said to have become close to their newly-discovered grandmother.

Although People paid an undisclosed sum for the exclusive interview, few are likely to begrudge Ms Dugard an opportunity to gain financial security. She is said to be anxious to protect her daughters' privacy, and insisted that only the backs of their heads could feature in the photo-shoot.

"She's very protective and very private right now," said Peter Castro, the deputy managing editor of People. "Of course, there's a contradiction: if she is so private, how could she be on the cover of People magazine?

"But she wants to lift the veil on the situation. She wants the world to know that she's doing OK and that she's in a very good place right now.

"This is a story that is really about redemption. Somebody described it as 'giddy'... I don't think she is suffering any kind of deep-seated depression.

"She is just so happy to be with her mum after 18 years. She missed 18 Christmases, 18 Thanksgivings and 18 birthdays with her family."

Ms Dugard is due to make at least one more public appearance in the not-too-distant future: she has agreed to give evidence against Phillip and Nancy Garrido at their forthcoming trial for kidnap and child rape.