Thursday, August 28, 2008

Pappadum Pam: Her acts enthralled a nation

" ... It was also alleged that she was friends with the cousin of Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi and was the mistress of infamous arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi ... "

Her sex-capades almost brought down a government and made her a media star

By Sheela Narayanan
Electric New Paper
August 26, 2008

IT was 1989. The New Paper was a year old. The Cold War between the former Soviet Union and the United States was on its last legs. Burmese opposition leader Aung Sang Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest and the Tiananmen Square incident happened.

And then there was Pappadum Pam.

Pamella Bordes nee Singh was a 23-year-old sultry former Miss India-turned-prostitute who scandalised Britain and the then-Conservative government.

Her fee for a weekend of sex: $6,500.

She had paid sessions with several Members of Parliament, a junior government minister Colin Moynihan (who is now chairman of the British Olympic Committee) and prominent newspaper editors. Using her high-level political connections, she snagged a research job that came with security clearance for the British House of Commons.

It was also alleged that she was friends with the cousin of Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi and was the mistress of infamous arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi.

When her story broke, everyone wanted to know everything about her. How did the daughter of an Indian army officer became a hooker and very nearly threaten the political survival of the British Conservative government?

It was a scandal that instantly drew comparisons with the 1963 Profumo affair when British War Minister John Profumo's mistress, Christine Keeler, was revealed to be having an affair with a Soviet naval attache. That controversy resulted in the downfall of Prime Minister Harold Macmillan's government - Keeler was jailed and Profumo resigned in disgrace, and the man who introduced them killed himself.

Margaret Thatcher's government managed to withstand the shock of Pappadum Pam. There were no political fallouts, even though the prime minister was pressured to investigate the matter when the alleged Libyan links were seen as a threat to national security.

A Thatcher aide had remarked then: 'As far as we can ascertain, there is no political dimension at all to this.'

The Sun newspaper took the liaisons lightheartedly, polling British national editors to find out if they too had had an affair with Pamella. The paper later apologised to one editor, who complained that by leaving him out of the poll, it had challenged his manhood.

Pamella eventually sold her story to The Daily Mail for £250,000 ($660,000).

It was not just readers in the UK who were hooked on her affairs.

In June 1989, when The New Paper started carrying a series of reports on her, it pushed daily circulation to a high of around 66,000. The figure was around 38,000 in July 1988 when the paper was launched. But soon after all the shortlived thunder and fury, Pamella slipped out of the limelight and went into hiding in India.

She resurfaced in 1992 and reinvented herself as Pamela Singh, serious photographer. By then, she had dropped the extra 'l' in her name and her French businessman husband Henri Bordes. But she could not shake her past completely.

British-Asian journalist and author Mihir Bose recalled his encounter with Pamella in 1992, in his 2006 book, Bollywood: A History.

He recounted how Pamella, who was hired to take photos for his article on Bollywood, was frightened of being recognised in India. She checked into a Mumbai hotel using her maiden name but word soon got out that she was in town.

Instead of treating her like a leper, she was feted by the Indian media and the Bollywood glitterati as a conquering heroine, for taking 'revenge' on India's former colonial masters. Mr Bose even received a phone call from Pamella's mother, who had disowned her daughter 12 years earlier. The mother reportedly urged her daughter: 'Come to Delhi and stand for parliament; the youth of the north are all for you.'

Mr Bose concluded: 'I ended up writing the most extraordinary story I have ever written, not about the Bollywood stars but about the photographer who was supposed to be merely taking the pictures to illustrate my piece.'

Pamela became a freelance news photographer in 1993, shooting for publications such as The Washington Post, The Telegraph, The Independent, Paris Match, Elle, Newsweek and wire agencies such as Reuters.


The Hindu Business Line reported that Pamella did a stint in architecture at the New York Parson School of Design and attended the International Centre for Photography in the same city.

She later trained under photographers such as Peter Beard, David Bailey and Raghu Rai of India.

She said: 'These masters taught me the art in their own unique ways. And I was as keen a student as one could ever get.'

The New Paper's attempts to find the elusive woman, now 42, were unsuccessful. She is said to be a recluse living in Jaipur and rejects all media interviews. If she does give the rare press interview, she never talks about her past, only about her work and exhibitions.

The New Paper found an e-mail address and a mobile number from a New Delhi art gallery where she held her last exhibition. We also tried another e-mail address, another phone number and made a dozen phone calls to Indian newspapers - but Pamella could not be found.

And it seems that is the way she likes it - quietly doing her work in India, meditating, doing yoga, travelling and just being left alone with her studio and cameras.

She said: 'Whenever I am in the mood, I pack my bags and head for some exotic destination with a set of frames in my mind. I am enjoying my work and want to do it in a perfect way.'

Pappadum Pam has become Zen.,4136,174411,00.html

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