Dame Paddy Ridsdale, as she generally known, was an intelligence operative, secretary to Ian Fleming during WW2 and the inspiration for the Bond character Miss Moneypenny.
A Conservative Party stalwart and married to Member of Parliament for Harwich from 1954 to 1992 Sir Julian Ridsdale CBE (1915 – 2004), Dame Paddy – or Vicky, as she was known to some – is best known for her role in ‘Operation Mincemeat’, a “famous caper” concerning a “man who never was” in 1943.
In the war, Dame Paddy wrote love letters and telegrams that were planted on the body of ‘Major William Martin’, an invented, drowned naval officer, that was floated in the ocean off Spain. The body carried fictitious plans of a purported Allied invasion of Sardinia and Greece and formed part of a plot designed to deflect attention from the Allied landings in Sicily. Of it, she later remarked: “I was sent to buy clothes in all the best men’s shops and had to pose as his girlfriend. I had to go to post offices and rather loudly send this telegram to ‘my boyfriend’, hoping of course that somebody would overhear me”. In due course, the body was indeed found, the Axis powers completely taken in and “Mincemeat swallowed whole, hook, line, and sinker”. A BAFTA winning film directed by Ronald Neame, The Man Who Never Was, made about the deceptive scheme in 1956.
Dame Paddy was known as a “political hostess in the style of a bygone era”, lived in a mansion “sandwiched between a sheikh and a Saudi prince” in The Boltons for the majority of her adult life and is buried in the grounds of the church there. She had one daughter, became Lady Ridsdale when her husband was knighted in 1981 and was appointed Dame Commander of the British Empire (DBE) in her own right, for political services, in 1991.
Of her relationship with her one-time employer Fleming, she concluded: “Ian had so many girlfriends that I was not tempted to become one of them”.
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