Author: By Jerome Taylor
When Joanna Lumley stepped out of Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan airport this afternoon
she was greeted by hundreds of elderly Gurkhas and their families, many of
whom had travelled down from their mountain villages to greet the
In the coming days she will meet many thousands more ex-servicemen who fought
in Britain’s wars but were denied the right to settle in the UK until a
campaign led by former Gurkhas and Lumley finally forced the government into
an embarrassing u-turn earlier this year.
Holding placards with slogans such as “Ayo Goddess Joanna” and “Gurkha heroes
welcome our British heroes”, those gathered to meet the Absolutely Fabulous
actress on her first visit to the Himalayan republic draped her in reams of
traditional marigold garlands and scarves as a mark of respect and
The actress responded by shouting “Ayo Gurkhali!”, the Gurkha’s traditional
war cry of which translates as “The Gurkhas are coming!” By the time she
finally made her way through the crowds and into a waiting car you could
barely see the former model’s head, buried as it was under tens of colourful
Lumley is regarded as something of a hero in the world’s youngest republic
because of the pivotal role she played in the campaign to allow those who
fought for Britain to settle here.
Previously only Gurkhas who retired after 1997 had been eligible to apply to
settle in the UK. The Nepali soldiers had long asked the British Government
to give all those who served in the army the right to retire in Britain but
it was only once Lumley joined the campaign that the Government, faced with
growing public outrage, finally backed down in May.
Lumley’s decision to fight for Gurkha rights came after Tul Bahadur Pun, a
Victoria cross-winning Gurkha who once saved her father in battle, was
denied permission to come to Britain to receive medical treatment because he
had “failed to demonstrate strong ties with the UK.”
As the crowds surged around her outside the airport, she referred to Bahadur
Pun’s bravery by stating: “I think I wouldn’t have been born without the
Gurkhas. My friends of Nepal, I am your family.”
Nepal itself has responded in kind by giving Lumley and her fellow campaigners
something closely resembling a state visit. The actress is being accompanied
by the lawyers who fought a series of High Court battles against the
Government, Peter Carroll, a long term Gurkha campaigner and Dhan Gurung,
Britain’s first Gurkha counsellor.
During the six day visit the group will meet the country’s prime minister and
president before heading to the mountainous Gurkha villages where thousands
are expected to meet her.
Bagirath Yogi, the editor of BBC Nepali, said Lumley’s visit was generating
intense excitement inside Nepal. “Joanna Lumley has become very well known
in Nepal because of her Gurkha campaign, she’s already a sort of celebrity
there,” he said. “Most Nepali papers have been following the visit very
closely, they’re fascinated by her.”
Speaking before she boarded her plane to Nepal the former model turned comedy
actress said she intended to use the trip to understand more about the
living conditions of Gurkha veterans who fought in the British army over the
years. “I feel so humbled by the fact I’m going to meet so many ex-Gurkhas
and their families and see where they are and how they live,” she said.
“Just to be in that country is such a privilege. I don’t think it can be
anything other than wonderful.”
Krishna Bahadur Rai, vice president of Gurkha Army Ex-Servicemen’s
Organization GAESO, said yesterday: “The recent victory of the Gurkhas in
their struggle obtain the right to settle in the UK came about because of
the effort that Joanna put in for the cause. Because of her contribution, we
have named her ‘Nepal’s daughter'”.
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