Friday, July 17, 2009

Confessions of London's most dangerous woman....


The daughter of multi-millionaire property developer Amir Damji and former leading light of the British Asian social scene, she has been described in many ways. International conwoman, man-eating femme fatale, drug addict, pathological liar, escaped convict and “cunning and calculated adventuress”. It is hard to know which of these labels are rooted in truth, but within the acres of print devoted over the years to Damji's lifestyle and character, we have rarely heard her side of the story. Until now.

In the book, we find tales of incest, rape and kidnapping; allegations of an alcoholic father and a mother incapable of love: of pimping — Damji was once a madam for a New York “escort agency”—and of numerous sleazy, dangerous men, all named. There are drugs and drug-dealing, prison and escape and, yes, high glamour both here and in New York. How much of it we can believe isn't clear, as Damji's chequered past makes her a very unreliable narrator. But her version of her own life is compelling.

She was born in Uganda, where her family were outspoken critics of Idi Amin's nascent regime and powerful in their wealth. At the age of three, she reveals, she was briefly kidnapped by men who wanted to frighten the family into leaving, and in 1970 they came to London, settling first in Ealing Common (her aunt is the media commentator Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, who also comes in for vicious criticism in the book).

Damji says it was sexual abuse by an older relative, starting when she was nine years old, that set a lifelong pattern of dysfunctional relationships with men. “That stigmatised my experience of sex for much of my life,” she says. “I think some of the decisions I made definitely stem from that. The men I had affairs with, the craziness in New York, the escort agency, seeing sex as commodified and a purely perfunctory thing…

I think there is a lot of mysticism around British Asians. There's so much that needs to come out. I really hope this book shows other British Asian women that they're not alone in going through things like this …

The incest stuff is huge, it's massive but it's just not discussed and that's scary because it makes you think you're the exception, you're the one to blame, and that's a horrible place to be.”

At the age of 18, sickened, she claims, by fights between her parents, she left London for university in New York but dropped out to work as a switchboard operator for an outfit called Bel Air, selling high-class hookers to rich clients. In this sleazy world of very easy money she first became addicted to cocaine. But what was she doing in such a world?

It was so dark and glamorous,” she replies in a frankly unconvincing attempt at self-justification. “The guys running the outfit [and the pole-dancing bar attached to it] were these crazily sexy, freakishly contemporary guys. It was the Eighties, it was all about excess.”
Yet it was the ruin of her. “Until now I have always lived in the moment, “ she agrees. “It's ridiculous risk-taking.”

Story Continues...

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