"Hearts the size of eiderdowns"
Joanna Lumley, , OBE, FRGS
Joanne Lumley - "What I have learned from this campaign," she says of her Gurkha triumph, "is that the people of this country have hearts the size of eiderdowns. It made me aware of how deeply the Gurkhas are embedded in the British psyche.They know all about them, their fearless fighting. To realise they had been treated so shamelessly, shocked people to the core."
Eiderdowns! Don’t you love it? Only a woman unafraid of her age would admit to remembering eiderdowns. And it takes an quirky intelligence to equate eiderdowns - domestic, comforting and dreadfully old-fashioned - with the national wave of support.
Later on, she tells me that until she ambushed the hapless immigration minister, Phil Woolas, in a television studio and bamboozled him into agreeing a change in policy, she and the Gurkha Welfare Trust had written thousands of letters that just seemed to disappear. "It was like fighting clouds," she says.
Does she blame Gordon Brown for the Government's shabby treatment of the Gurkhas? Lumley never blames anybody. That is her skill. "I don’t think he was kept informed," she says. "It was very hard to find out what was going on. The corridors of Westminster are long and dark..."
She treats her own strategic role in the eventual victory for old soldiers as incidental. "We are a just nation," she says. "I think perhaps the British character has been stifled. We have been made recently to do things we don’t feel good about. It was a win-win situation, really."
. . .She focussed a compassionate eye and sharp brain to the living conditions of the Nepalese - especially the 10,000 old Gurkha warriors of World War Two who did not serve long enough to earn an army pension. "They are on the absolute minimum, these darlings," she says, "living on not much more than £1 a day. It’s the twilight of their days. It would be so awful if their lives just went on getting grimmer. During our darkest hours, they stood by us. Now we must stand by them."
Joanna has a heart the size of an eiderdown. . .