Magazine article The Spectator

Radio 'My Country First'

Magazine article The Spectator

Radio 'My Country First'

Article excerpt

It's not unusual for Kirsty Young's castaways on Desert Island Discs to choose music that reminds them of people who are important to them. But Aung San Suu Kyi must surely have been the first politician-guest to ask her friends and family what she should take with her to that solitary isle, instead of carefully stage-managing her selection to present a particular view of herself. Who, for instance, would have expected to hear Tom Jones belting out 'The Green Green Grass of Home' on Sunday morning? But there he was, as cheesily sentimental as ever, chosen for Suu Kyi by her Burmese PA. She even confessed that she hadn't listened to the song before the interview (which took place at her home in Naypyidaw) and said she had no idea whether she liked it or not.

Suu Kyi was a bit of a coup for Young (and Radio 4), consenting to take part in what is essentially a frivolous, celebrity-driven programme. As might have been expected, she gave us a very different kind of conversation from the usual flim-flam. Young kept trying to bring the interview back on track, by probing Suu Kyi about her time at university in Oxford in the early Sixties. 'I can only guess, ' she simpered, at what was going on in those heady student days, all that drinking, smoking, carousing. 'Were you very well behaved?' she asked.

'I was very well behaved, ' insisted Suu Kyi, with quiet dignity. Disappointed that Suu Kyi had nothing to confess, Young muttered, almost but not quite off-mike, 'You're not just saying that, are you?'

It was the strangest conjunction, this conversation between the ever-so-principled, always-serene Suu Kyi, and the keen-eyed, eager-for-a-headline journalist. 'Looking at photographs [of Suu Kyi back then] you were like a Bond girl, ' Young persisted. 'You were an astonishing-looking creature.' At first Suu Kyi giggled, 'I suppose I turned a few heads. . .' But within seconds she adroitly put paid to that line of questioning by insisting even after her marriage (to the Tibetan scholar Michael Aris), 'My country would always come first.'

Did he understand this? asked Young, refusing to give up entirely on her quest for the personal Suu Kyi, for the woman's heart beating beneath that armour of political steel. 'I don't think it was so much that he understood the struggles of Burma, but that he understood me.'

Much more astonishing to me was the fact that Suu Kyi once baked a cake in the shape of a tank for the birthday of one of her sons, who at the time loved the idea of being a soldier. …

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