Ambassador's belly dancer stages her lifeTimes Online - UK, Sunday, 2 March 2008
THE belly-dancing mistress of Britain’s controversial former ambassador toUzbekistan is to perform her life story on the London stage in an attempt tochange her image.
The British Ambassador’s Belly Dancer, which opens in January at the Arcolatheatre in Hackney, tells the story of Nadira Alieva, the Uzbek dancer whocaptured the heart of Craig Murray, causing him to leave his wife and twochildren.
But instead of the comfortable life in the West he promised, she became thetarget of a smear campaign started after Murray criticised the Britishgovernment 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’ byjournalists. In fact I have a degree. I was supporting my family.”
Not only was the relationship between the 22-year-old dancer and portly48-year-old diplomat splashed across the tabloids but Murray lost his joband the couple ended up in a cramped rented flat in Shepherd’s Bush. So poorwere they that Alieva started lap-dancing at Spearmint Rhino in London’sTottenham Court Road, a haunt for City traders entertaining clients.
Now 26, she was a bundle of excitement as she opened the door to the flatwhere she and Murray have lived for three years. The tiny living room was ajumble of books on world affairs and Britney Spears CDs, and the sofas wereold. “It’s not like an ambassador’s residence,” she shrugged. “Sometimes Isay to Craig, ‘You should have just kept quiet.’ He would have beenambassador in Denmark.”
In the small sitting room are framed certificates for drama courses he paidfor her to take. These gave Alieva the confidence to tell her side of thestory through a one-woman show with voiceovers from Murray. It’s a storythat 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 sheendured, and culminating with her dancing in a nightclub in Tashkent whenMurray 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. “Herbody 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 clubhoped to marry foreigners and escape,” she said.
Her story starts in a small town called Djizzak near Samarkand. Her parentswere actors and often out of work. “We weren’t just hungry but starving,”she recalled. The little money the children earned from collecting plasticbottles for recycling or hawking chocolate in the streets was not enough andher father sank into depression. From vodka he moved onto heroin.
“One day he would be happy, saying the world is beautiful; the next he wouldturn into a monster and beat us,” she said. At the age of 11 she was hisheroin mule. “We would travel to a village near the border with Afghanistanwhere Afghans would bring opium in exchange for food. Because I was a littlegirl the police wouldn’t check me.”
At 15, Alieva nearly killed herself one night but her seven-year-old brothertalked 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 yourexistence.” Shortly afterwards she astonished everyone by getting intoTashkent University on a scholarship to study English, the only person fromher town to do so. On graduating she began working as an English teacher buther £8-a-month salary barely covered the rent.
Instead she got a job as secretary to a man who ran two petrol stations butwho, at the end of the second week, raped her.
She quit. But the money she scraped tutoring English and cleaning was notenough. One day her brother fainted. When she took him to the doctor, theywere told he was suffering malnutrition. The next day she was walking past anightclub and saw an advert saying “dancers needed”. “It was basically abrothel,” she said. But she was earning £150 a month.
Then, one April night in 2003, Murray walked in. “It was my turn to dance andI could see this man, very English-looking, with a half-smile, looking atme,” she said. “He wasn't sporty-looking or handsome and I wasn’tinterested. I just wanted my tip. But the manager said you mustn’t refusehim, he’s the richest man in the place.”
After chatting for a while, Murray suggested that she quit the club and becomehis mistress. “I told him, ‘You’re not the first to offer’, and I left.” Thenext time Murray returned to the club, it was Alieva’s day off so he gaveanother 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 outwith diplomats before but Craig was different,” she said. “He’d take me toofficial dinners and parties and introduce me to people. People were shockedas 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 Londonwith his wife and did not return. “I’d started to feel something for himbecause of his generosity and gentleness, then, voom, he disappeared,” saidAlieva. “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 campaignprompted by a speech he had made the previous year in which he had condemnedthe systematic use of torture in Uzbek prisons, highlighting a case of twomen being boiled to death. So stressed was he that he ended up in apsychiatric 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 lefthis wife and wanted to marry her. “My heart was cold,” she said. “But he wasalone 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 holidayand Murray was suspended and then diagnosed with a heart complaint and givensix months to live. Unbeknown to Murray, she decided to dance again tosupport him and ended up at Spearmint Rhino.
“It was awful,” she said. “They expect you to strip naked for £20. I got morethan 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 atwebsites she had used. “He stormed into the club to see me flirting with aman and said, ‘Dance for me, I’ll pay you’,” she said. “He’d borrowed moneyfrom a friend. He paid the £80 so I could go home. It was the first time Isaw his tears.”
Alieva told him he had been so busy with his problems he had neglected her. Sowhen he was cleared by the Foreign Office and given a £250,000 payoff, hepaid for her to study drama at Rose Bruford college, in Kent, from which shegraduated in July, then for summer courses in Shakespeare and Restorationtheatre.
It was discovered Murray’s heart complaint had been misdiagnosed and he wasnot about to die. After a failed run for parliament in 2005, today Murrayscrapes a living giving speeches. He is now in Ghana trying to set up a dealselling electricity.
His account was published in his book Murder in Samarkand. But hisself-confessed whisky-loving womanising ways undermine what was supposed tobe an exposé of the brutal dictatorship of Islam Karimov and Anglo-Americancollusion. The book is being turned into a movie with Murray played by SteveCoogan. There is talk of Alieva being played by Angelina Jolie. But for thetime being she has her own story to tell.
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