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The Blue - Dame Stella Rimington

On the 1st December, the pupils of Kent College Pembury listened to a riveting talk by the former Director-General of MI5, Dame Stella Rimington, who was the first female head of the intelligence service, and the first to have her name revealed to the public.         
When told that her name would be announced, Dame Stella thought "Oh gosh, this is going to be a sensation”. While Dame Stella believed that informing the public of her identity was a "good idea” and that it was "time for us [MI5] to be more open”, she felt that "it was not handled well” and became a "PR disaster”. This was because there was no "press-plan” or interview on television, but a simple announcement. This turned out to be extremely difficult for Dame Stella as the press and the tabloids quickly found out where she lived, and they tried to find out more about her life and took photos of her and her family. This was at a time when the IRA was very active in London and Dame Stella could have done without this distraction.          
Dame Stella grew up in a time when there were many prejudices against women and where "women weren’t really expected to have careers”. So for Dame Stella to have broken through all the stereotypes and expectations of her as a woman was an impressive feat.                
"The secret of my life is that it’s…turned itself in a whole range of unexpected directions”.   
Dame Stella went to an all-girls school herself, "not dissimilar to this”. She believes that single sex education is "very good”, and that "the pressure on people nowadays…to do everything…is so great that you need to be able to concentrate”. Dame Stella’s school was "dedicated to giving girls a good education and trying to get as many as possible to go to university”. However, as girls weren’t taught about options or possible careers that they could undertake after they completed their degrees, there was a strong insinuation that after university girls would only take minor jobs until they married and had children, at which point they would be expected to give up their work.When Dame Stella left Edinburgh university she did not have a cluue what she was going to do; she certainly didn’t imagine she would become Director-General of the MI5, "It would have been inconceivable when I first started because it was a very male dominated world”. Men were expected to go out and work while the women stayed at home and cooked or looked after the children. When Dame Stella started working at MI5; "women were kept in a…glass box”, and only the men went out and did the dangerous or high profile work.       
When Dame Stella did become Director-General, many other countries "weren’t used to women in senior positions at all”, and weren’t sure how to act around her, nevertheless, they "soon got used to it”.                            
Dame Stella was in India, as a diplomat’s wife, when she was first approached by the MI5. She was not working at the time, as was expected of a diplomat’s wife, but when she was offered a job as a "part-time typist”, she accepted. When she returned to England, she applied for a full-time job.               
At the time Dame Stella joined the service, there was an "air of paranoia” due to the recent uncovering of the three Cambridge spies, Philby, Burgess and Maclean, who had been directed to infiltrate the MI5, MI6 and the BBC, by the Russians.            
Dame Stella had a lot of experience in the MI5 before her promotion to Director-General and had toiled "up through the ranks”, Dame Stella had been "director of three different branches by the time I became director general, I’d also been deputy director general”. As Director-General, she made "top level decisions” and dealt with "Finance”, "policy”, "the government” and "foreign intelligence”.          
However, Dame Stella states that she does not have a particular greatest achievement, other than securing the job of Director-General in the first place, as the MI5 is "a team” and "everything that happens is by team work so anything, any success, is not down to one person at all, it’s down to a group of people”.               
While Dame Stella does not believe the Bond films accurately portray the real MI5, "M turning into a woman was undoubtedly influenced by the fact that [she] got the job of” Director-General. Dame Stella’s own daughter told her that, "Mum, she looks exactly like you”. Even the clothing chosen for the character to wear was similar to Dame Stella’s, with ‘M’ wearing "Cuban heeled shoes and all the sorts of stuff that I used to wear in those days”.        
Dame Stella is now a successful writer, she has written an autobiography and she is currently working on the 10th book in her Liz Carlyle series - "I’m one of those people who never stops…doing things”. Dame Stella now has little contact with the MI5, but she does read newspapers and interprets what she sees; she then includes her interpretations into her series of books. "When you’ve left you are no longer inside, and so there’s a difference, you can’t be half in and half out of the secret world”.

Posted: 15/12/2016 at 11:52
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