Gurkhas plan welcome for Lumley

KATHMANDU: Nepal’s Gurkhas are planning a hero’s welcome for British actress and campaigner Joanna Lumley when she makes her

first-ever visit to the Himalayan nation on Sunday. Thousands of the Gurkha soldiers and their families are expected to turn

out to greet the 63-year-old star of TV show “Absolutely Fabulous”, who spearheaded a campaign for the British army veterans to be allowed to settle in Britain.

Although she has never been to Nepal, the actress’s impassioned lobbying earned her the adoration of the Gurkhas, who are describing her visit as a “homecoming”.

“We are proud and honoured to have her in our country. She is truly a daughter of Nepal,” said Krishna Kumar Rai, vice-president of the Gurkha Army Ex-Servicemen’s Organisation (GAESO). “She has done us, the British army veterans, an unforgettable favour — she has given us justice,” he added.

Britain announced in May that all Gurkha veterans who had served at least four years in the army could apply for residency after a government climbdown in the face of Lumley’s campaign. Previously, only those who retired after 1997 had been eligible to apply.

The Indian-born actress, whose best-known role

was as the cocaine-snorting fashionista Patsy in the

hit comedy “Absolutely

Fabulous”, had become a rallying voice for the men she called the “bravest of the brave”.

She has said that her father, a British major in the 6th Gurkha Rifles during World War II, would have been “overwhelmed with shame and fury” at Britain’s treatment of Gurkha veterans.

“I don’t have the words to describe how happy I am that Joanna Lumley is coming to Nepal,” said Falklands War veteran Gyanendra Rai, who is now hoping to move to Britain after having his first application turned down in 2006.

Rai, who was seriously wounded in the 1982 Falklands campaign, was one of several ex-Gurkhas to bring a judicial review against the British government’s decision to refuse him permission to settle there.

The former soldier said he plans to be at the front of the crowd at Kathmandu international airport to greet Lumley on Sunday. “She is like a goddess to the Gurkhas,” he told AFP.

During her six-day trip to Nepal, Lumley will meet President Ram Baran Yadav and PM Nepal as well as visit three towns with large Gurkha communities.

Organisers say they expect thousands of veterans to travel to meet her, many of them coming on foot from remote areas of the country where road connections are limited.

“Our main aim is to meet all the Gurkha veterans

and to give any necessary help and encouragement to those who want to come to Britain” said Dhan Gurung, a British-based ex-Gurkha accompanying Lumley on the trip.

The Gurkhas have been part of the British army for almost 200 years and more than 45,000 have died in British uniform. Around 3,500 currently serve in the British army, including in Afghanistan.

“If Joanna Lumley was not there, the disparity and discrimination would not have ended for

us,” GAESO’s Krishna Kumar Rai told AFP.