Daily archives: December 9, 2007

Nadira’s Story

Good interview with Nadira in the Sunday Times today. It is brilliant that she now gets to tell her own story, and it certainly opens up a huge raft of questions.

Apparently there are some great photos in the newspaper, which they haven’t put on the net.

From The Sunday TimesDecember 9, 2007

Ambassador’s belly dancer stages her life

The theatre show recounts Nadira Alieva’s life as a child drug runner and how she was raped twice

Christina Lamb

THE belly-dancing mistress of Britain’s controversial former ambassador to Uzbekistan is to perform her life story on the London stage in an attempt to change her image.

The British Ambassador’s Belly Dancer, which opens in January at the Arcola theatre in Hackney, tells the story of Nadira Alieva, the Uzbek dancer who captured the heart of Craig Murray, causing him to leave his wife and two children.

But instead of the comfortable life in the West he promised, she became the target of a smear campaign started after Murray criticised the British government for using intelligence obtained by torture in Uzbekistan.

“The government was using me as a cheap way of discrediting Craig,” she said. “I was described as a bimbo, a prostitute, ‘stupidly beautiful’ by journalists. In fact I have a degree. I was supporting my family.”

Not only was the relationship between the 22-year-old dancer and portly 48-year-old diplomat splashed across the tabloids but Murray lost his job and the couple ended up in a cramped rented flat in Shepherd’s Bush. So poor were they that Alieva started lap-dancing at Spearmint Rhino in London’s Tottenham Court Road, a haunt for City traders entertaining clients.

Now 26, she was a bundle of excitement as she opened the door to the flat where she and Murray have lived for three years. The tiny living room was a jumble of books on world affairs and Britney Spears CDs, and the sofas were old. “It’s not like an ambassador’s residence,” she shrugged. “Sometimes I say to Craig, ‘You should have just kept quiet.’ He would have been ambassador in Denmark.”

In the small sitting room are framed certificates for drama courses he paid for her to take. These gave Alieva the confidence to tell her side of the story through a one-woman show with voiceovers from Murray. It’s a story that opens a window onto one of the most repressive regimes in central Asia, recounting her life as a child drug runner and the two rapes that she endured, and culminating with her dancing in a nightclub in Tashkent when Murray walked in.

With her lithe body and exotic looks emphasised by long-laced leather boots, trilby and wide toothy smile, it is easy to see what attracted him. “Her body invited sex while her eyes screamed ‘save me’,” he later wrote.

Alieva is equally candid about what she saw in him. “All us girls in the club hoped to marry foreigners and escape,” she said.

Her story starts in a small town called Djizzak near Samarkand. Her parents were actors and often out of work. “We weren’t just hungry but starving,” she recalled. The little money the children earned from collecting plastic bottles for recycling or hawking chocolate in the streets was not enough and her father sank into depression. From vodka he moved onto heroin.

“One day he would be happy, saying the world is beautiful; the next he would turn into a monster and beat us,” she said. At the age of 11 she was his heroin mule. “We would travel to a village near the border with Afghanistan where Afghans would bring opium in exchange for food. Because I was a little girl the police wouldn’t check me.”

At 15, Alieva nearly killed herself one night but her seven-year-old brother talked her out of it. “That night I made a deal with God,” said Alieva. “Make me someone, take me out of this place, then I will believe in your existence.” Shortly afterwards she astonished everyone by getting into Tashkent University on a scholarship to study English, the only person from her town to do so. On graduating she began working as an English teacher but her £8-a-month salary barely covered the rent.

Instead she got a job as secretary to a man who ran two petrol stations but who, at the end of the second week, raped her.

She quit. But the money she scraped tutoring English and cleaning was not enough. One day her brother fainted. When she took him to the doctor, they were told he was suffering malnutrition. The next day she was walking past a nightclub and saw an advert saying “dancers needed”. “It was basically a brothel,” she said. But she was earning £150 a month.

Then, one April night in 2003, Murray walked in. “It was my turn to dance and I could see this man, very English-looking, with a half-smile, looking at me,” she said. “He wasn’t sporty-looking or handsome and I wasn’t interested. I just wanted my tip. But the manager said you mustn’t refuse him, he’s the richest man in the place.”

After chatting for a while, Murray suggested that she quit the club and become his mistress. “I told him, ‘You’re not the first to offer’, and I left.” The next time Murray returned to the club, it was Alieva’s day off so he gave another girl £50 for her phone number. Flattered, she agreed to a date. Although she knew Murray was married, they were soon an item. “I’d gone out with diplomats before but Craig was different,” she said. “He’d take me to official dinners and parties and introduce me to people. People were shocked as they knew I was a dancer but he didn’t care.”

But after they had been seeing each other for four months, he went to London with his wife and did not return. “I’d started to feel something for him because of his generosity and gentleness, then, voom, he disappeared,” said Alieva. “Five months without a word. I thought, right, that’s it with men.”

In fact Murray was defending himself against allegations of corruption, alcoholism and exchanging visas for sex, part of a dirty-tricks campaign prompted by a speech he had made the previous year in which he had condemned the systematic use of torture in Uzbek prisons, highlighting a case of two men being boiled to death. So stressed was he that he ended up in a psychiatric ward.

While Murray was away, Alieva was raped again, by an off-duty policeman. Finally, in January 2004, Murray returned. He told Alieva that he had left his wife and wanted to marry her. “My heart was cold,” she said. “But he was alone in the residence and he was unwell so I felt sorry and moved in.”

They had lived together for four months when they came to England on holiday and Murray was suspended and then diagnosed with a heart complaint and given six months to live. Unbeknown to Murray, she decided to dance again to support him and ended up at Spearmint Rhino.

“It was awful,” she said. “They expect you to strip naked for £20. I got more than that in Uzbekistan for wearing a bikini.

And I had to pay the club £80 a night to dance.”

Murray became suspicious at her late-night disappearances and looked at websites she had used. “He stormed into the club to see me flirting with a man and said, ‘Dance for me, I’ll pay you’,” she said. “He’d borrowed money from a friend. He paid the £80 so I could go home. It was the first time I saw his tears.”

Alieva told him he had been so busy with his problems he had neglected her. So when he was cleared by the Foreign Office and given a £250,000 payoff, he paid for her to study drama at Rose Bruford college, in Kent, from which she graduated in July, then for summer courses in Shakespeare and Restoration theatre.

It was discovered Murray’s heart complaint had been misdiagnosed and he was not about to die. After a failed run for parliament in 2005, today Murray scrapes a living giving speeches. He is now in Ghana trying to set up a deal selling electricity.

His account was published in his book Murder in Samarkand. But his self-confessed whisky-loving womanising ways undermine what was supposed to be an expose of the brutal dictatorship of Islam Karimov and Anglo-American collusion. The book is being turned into a movie with Murray played by Steve Coogan. There is talk of Alieva being played by Angelina Jolie. But for the time being she has her own story to tell.


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