During the long, isolated years Aung San Suu Kyi spent under house arrest at her dilapidated lakeside villa in Rangoon, her "lifelines" included a piano and the BBC world service. On Tuesday, as the Burmese pro-democracy leader began her first visit to Britain in 24 years, she finally got to meet one of the voices who had helped keep up her spirits during lonely years of selfless sacrifice.
Dave Lee Travis, known as the "Hairy Cornflake", and whose BBC World Service show was one of her favourites, kissed her hand as she visited the Burmese Service at Broadcasting House, central London. It was, he said afterwards "a pleasure to meet her".
The Nobel laureate has previously said the World Service music request programme A Jolly Good Show – presented by Travis for 20 years – was a comfort during her time under house arrest, saying it made her world "much more complete". During a tour of the studios, Aung San Suu Kyi paid tribute to the BBC for keeping her in touch, during the 15 years she spent detained by Burma's repressive military junta.
Her visit to Britain follows her latest release from house arrest in November 2010, and her election as a member of the Burmese parliament, and is part of a five-country tour of Europe. It was a low-key start to her visit to a country that was for more than 20 years her home.
It was a poignant moment in Norway when, 21 years after it was first awarded to her, she finally got to deliver her Nobel peace prize acceptance speech on Saturday. And there was more than a touch of razzamatazz in Dublin on Monday, as the magnitude of her celebrity was measured by that modern yardstick – a pop concert in her honour.
For her first engagement in Britain she chose a debate at the London School of Economics. And, for the first 30 minutes at least the audience, in possession of much-prized tickets, didn't hear her speak at all, as the five academics at the roundtable, spoke on the rule of law. The more restless among those packed into London's Peacock Theatre took to the Twittersphere to express exasperation. "This is a lesson in patience and grace ...", tweeted one, as Aung San Suu Kyi listened earnestly, waiting her turn.
When it came, Aung San Suu Kyi, the chair of Burma's National League for Democracy, delivered an impassioned plea for reforms in her homeland to be underpinned by the rule of law. "Unless justice is done, and seen to be done, we cannot believe in genuine reform," she argued. "The progress that we hope to make with regard to democratisation and reform, depends so much on an understanding and acceptance of the importance of the rule of law."
Now an MP in the Burmese parliament, whose recent reforms have seen a rolling back of sanctions, she urged foreign investors to be mindful of the impact their business might have in Burma.
In celebration of her 67th birthday, on Tuesday, she was presented with a framed photograph, taken of her father, General Bogyoke Aung San in London in 1947. That same year, Bogyoke Aung San, still revered as the founder of modern Burma, would be assassinated in Rangoon aged just 32. The photograph has been found by the British Museum, and it was not known if his daughter, just two when he was killed and destined to bear his legacy on her slim shoulders, had seen it before.
Asked where she had found the strength to oppose the Burmese regime for so long, she told the audience: "During this journey I have found great warmth and great support among people all over the world". In Thailand, which she visited last month, she had been welcomed "as if I was one of them".
She added: "I have found this in Switzerland and Norway, and yesterday evening in Ireland, and now here in England. So it's all of you, and people like you who have given me the strength to continue." And, she added with a wide smile: "I suppose I have a stubborn streak in me."
Donning an LSE baseball cap, also presented to her, she waved as the theatre rose to its feet to sing Happy Birthday. "Thank you all, very much," she said.
Later she will visit Oxford, where she studied and lived with her husband, the academic Dr Michael Aris, and their two sons, Alexander, now 39, and Kim, now 34, and where she will receive an honorary degree. She has not been back to the city since she left to care for her dying mother in 1988, and was drawn into the maelstrom of popular unrest in Burma. She spent 15 of the following 22 years under house arrest, too afraid to leave for fear she would not be allowed to return, even while her husband was dying from cancer.
On Thursday, she is due address both houses of parliament in Westminster Hall.
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