Gurkha rights campaigner Lumley is The Times's Briton of the Year

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London, Dec. 28 (ANI): After campaigning successfully on behalf of Gurkhas seeking residency and other rights in Britain, actress Joanna Lumley is The Times's Briton of the Year.

By sheer dint of her personality, a charm that could melt icebergs and a voice like silk, Lumley has managed not only to get the change in policy she and her fellow campaigners wanted, but also left the Government looking clumsy, foolish, leaden-footed and duplicitous.

The sight of Lumley ambushing Phil Woolas, the Immigration Minister, in front of the television cameras and inveigling him into doing a live press conference before he knew what was going on was one of the broadcasting delights of the year, followed closely by the appearance of Gordon Brown all but prostrating himself before her as he capitulated to her demands.

Lumley was not the only one campaigning for retired Gurkhas to be given the right to live in Britain, but she was the most visible.

For a while it seemed as if no television news bulletin was complete without a shot of Lumley proclaiming the Gurkhas' battle cry "Ayo Gorkhali". And there can be no doubt that she was responsible for their victory.

Small wonder that when the campaign was over she was hailed in Kathmandu as a goddess and had a mountain in Nepal named after her.

The truth is that Lumley has long been regarded in this country as little short of a goddess, or at very least a national treasure. Post-victory her stock rose even higher and there were calls of "Lumley for PM" (no doubt sensibly she shows no signs of wanting to go into party politics).

The affection in which she is held runs deeper than her glamour and instantly recognisable voice.

Rather, it is that she has a combination of qualities that give her an appeal far greater than the sum of its parts. She is elegant and beautiful, but also modest and down-to-earth; earnest and passionate, but also self-deprecating and funny; charming, with a disarming lightness of touch, but also very, very determined.

Messrs Woolas and Brown never stood a chance. The key moment came after that seeming government betrayal, when Brown told the Commons that the Government was looking into the case of the five Gurkhas who wanted to come to Britain "as a matter of urgency", only for the five men to receive letters of rejection the next day.

Lumley and her fellow campaigners were all set to denounce the Government at an impromptu press conference when she chanced upon Woolas. Negotiations were held and the two of them addressed the cameras. "I think we are all agreed that we are going to be able to help in the formulation of new guidelines," Lumley announced, daring Woolas to contradict her. "So, that will be wonderful." The minister blathered about "proper processes", his face a mixture of fear and wonderment at this creature who seemed to have taken every ounce of any power he ever had. Victory was inevitable.

That Lumley, 63, should be such a doughty campaigner might not come as a surprise, given her background. The daughter of an officer in the 6th Gurkha Rifles whose life was saved during the war by one of his men, Tul Bahadur Pun, Lumley was brought up in Malaya where her mother, a keen mountain walker, taught her how to deal with snakes. During the Malaya "emergency", her father would go off into the jungle with his Gurkha troops, to reappear several weeks later, thinner and with a long beard.

After a spell in Hong Kong, she went to boarding school in England, a place that seemed to her "strange and cold and pale and misty". She left school with one A level and dreams of a glamorous life, a combination that led to a career as a model. From there she moved into films, landing small parts in movies including On Her Majesty's Secret Service until she got her big break as Purdey in The New Avengers, a high-kicking fashion plate with a pudding basin haircut: Joanna Lumley, national sex symbol, had arrived. That she was by then a single mother, the result of a short-lived relationship in the Sixties, did nothing to affect her popularity.

Other parts followed, including six series of Sapphire and Steel - more than enough to pay the rent but nothing that would elevate her standing beyond that of posh blonde totty. Then came Absolutely Fabulous. Her character, Patsy, drank, smoke, swore, took cocaine and had sex with younger men. She proved that Lumley could laugh at herself, and get the rest of us to laugh too.

From then on Lumley was on a roll.

Committed to the causes she believed in, she was both fearless and prepared to get her hands dirty.

In documentaries she poled up rivers and spent nine days on a desert island for the Girl Friday documentary, during which she made her bra into a pair of shoes. Even her smoking seems somehow endearing.

In 2007, in a bar in Sheffield, she confronted a man with a gun. "I do hope you're not going to use it," she told him. "Are you in some sort of trouble? Can I do anything to help?" Naturally, he waited until the police arrived. (ANI)

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