Nepalese rulers thank Gurkhas' champion Lumley

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The Independent Online

The rulers of Nepal expressed their gratitude to actress and Gurkha campaigner Joanna Lumley today during her emotional tour of the country.

Ms Lumley, whose late father was an officer in the Gurkha regiment, played a pivotal role in a campaign to allow those who fought for Britain to settle here.

The star was mobbed by well-wishers as she flew in to Kathmandu from London yesterday and received more tributes today.

Nepalese Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal and President Ram Baran Yadav thanked Ms Lumley, with the President telling her: "You have championed the cause of Gurkhas.

"For this social justice, I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to you and to all of your team members."

After her meeting with the Prime Minister, Ms Lumley told reporters: "I would like to say what an honour it was to meet the prime minister who was so gracious to us.

"He made a wonderful speech of welcome and he was pleased with the work we have done for the Gurkha veterans."

As well as speaking to politicians, she addressed crowds of veterans in Kathmandu, including one who told her he had served with her father in the Second World War.

The actress, who played Patsy in Absolutely Fabulous, told a cheering crowd of 2,000 gathered at the capital's city hall: "I am very happy that I am at my home in Nepal.

"For my first visit to Nepal but not the last, it makes me so proud to know that I have been here accepted as the daughter of Nepal. Thank you for that."

Her schedule for the day also included afternoon tea with the British ambassador to the country Dr Andrew Hall, followed by a wreath-laying ceremony and a meeting at a regimental association.

Ms Lumley is travelling with Gurkha Justice campaigner Peter Carroll, who said the day's events had been emotional and proved how worthwhile the campaign had been.

"I hope every single person who sent us an email, wrote to their MP or attended a rally could see from the coverage of the trip a fraction of the joy that the campaign has brought to these fantastic people," he said.

The "warmth of welcome" and "generosity of feelings" shown by the country's leaders and the crowds who travelled great distances to attend the gatherings was "overwhelming", he added.

"Some had walked for days to get there," he said.

At the city hall rally, he and Ms Lumley met veterans including Gyanendra Rai, a Falklands veteran and a central figure in the campaign for settlement rights.

"To meet him was an amazing feeling," said Mr Carroll. "He was very, very grateful."

A later meeting brought "even more emotion", according to Mr Carroll.

"A very frail gentleman told Joanna he had actually fought with her father in the war," he said.

"It was a moment where you could see why it was so personal for Joanna."

Ms Lumley said a great injustice had been righted when the Government finally relented in May and said all Gurkha veterans with four years' service would be allowed to move to the UK.

Mr Carroll said he expected to be completely overshadowed by Ms Lumley, although he is well known in Nepal for launching the campaign.

He approached Ms Lumley after a woman in Kent tapped him on the shoulder and suggested he ask her to get involved, he said, adding: "The rest is history."

Tomorrow Ms Lumley will travel to Jhapa and Dharan to meet Gurkhas.

The group will visit Pokhara on Wednesday to meet members of the charity the Gurkha Welfare Trust and will stay in the city on Thursday to meet Gurkhas' widows and address a meeting at the city hall.

On Friday, Ms Lumley will visit Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha, before flying back to Kathmandu to visit homeless children and orphans at the Maiti Nepal project.

The group is due to fly back to the UK on 1 August.