Aung San Suu Kyi says goodbye to Britain – and Dave Lee Travis

As Burma's pro-democracy leader completes her tour of Britain, among the pomp and circumstance a more personal story stands out

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Held under house arrest by Burmese military authorities until November 2010, Aung San Suu Kyi is today concluding her first visit to Britain since she left 24 years ago to lead Burma’s pro-democracy party.

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Yesterday, Suu Kyi accepted an honorary doctorate at Oxford University, where she studied during the 1960s. Today, as her tour reaches its climax, she’ll meet Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall, and address both houses of Parliament in Westminster Hall, an honour usually reserved for heads of state. 

But in the context of Suu Kyi’s struggle, another meeting seems just as significant as the pomp and circumstance of such historic events. Earlier this week, she came face-to-face for the first time with a man who helped keep her spirits up during a total of 15 years of incarceration.

When Radio 4 presenter and Radio Times columnist Eddie Mair interviewed Aung San Suu Kyi for the magazine this time last year, she revealed that none other than Dave Lee Travis, the Hairy Cornflake himself, had been among her favourite DJs on the BBC World Service, which kept her in touch, informed and entertained while she was under arrest.

Lee Travis presented the request programme A Jolly Good Show on the World Service for 20 years until 2001. “I would listen to that quite happily,” said Ms Suu Kyi, “because the listeners would write in and I had a chance to hear other people’s words. It made my world much more complete.”

Suu Kyi met the former Radio 1 DJ during a visit to BBC Broadcasting House in London on Tuesday, and recalled how she was “thrilled” when she first heard a young Burmese boy speak on his programme.

“Well that’s the World Service,” said Lee Travis. “It does what it says on the tin, and I am just glad to have been a part of the things that you listened to that helped you.”

Lee Travis later told the BBC: “It is so delightful to shake the hand of a person that is doing such a lot for freedom.”

And how does Eddie Mair, the man who first uncovered Suu Kyi’s penchant for the Hairy Cornflake, feel about helping to bring the two together? 

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“I’m not really sure I had much to do with it,” Mair told RadioTimes.com modestly. “Their relationship was formed, as so many are over the airwaves, between presenter and listener. Usually they never get to meet…but I’ve a feeling Dave Lee Travis and Aung San Suu Kyi’s paths would have crossed without my help.”