As the daughter of the Russian female double agent who inspired Ian Fleming’s first and most glamorous Bond Girl, Liana Romero knows a thing or two about the subtleties of espionage.
But at the age of 88, her view that female spies should seduce – and why misogyny, not sensitivity, are the real characteristics of any 007 – may leave the more politically correct both shaken and stirred.
“Seduction is the most powerful weapon a woman spy has,” said Ms Romero, the daughter of Larissa Swirsky, a Russian-born double agent who was the real-life inspiration for Ian Fleming’s Vesper Lynd.
Her comments come Cary Joji Fukunaga, after the director of the new Bond film No Time To Die, called Connery’s 007 “basically a rapist” for his forceful approach to women that “wouldn’t fly today”.
“James Bond is a sexy, powerful man, not someone who respects women so much, he won’t touch them,” said Ms Romero in an interview with The Telegraph.
Ms Romero, who said she met Connery on the set of his film Cuba, filmed in Spain’s Cádiz province, said her mother used her powers of persuasion on UK agents, including Fleming, when she took the decision to become a double agent and inform her British handlers of what she had learned as a spy for Nazi Germany.
“She sat in front of the office desk, crossed her legs, adjusting the hem of her dress to reveal them to the best advantage, slowly lit a cigarette, inhaling and breathing out the smoke in the approved furtive, reticent fashion […] and said, in cosmopolitan English, ‘I am the Queen of Hearts. Who are you?’” is how David Scherr, the MI5 agent in charge of Gibraltar’s security between 1942 and 1944, would later describe his memorable first encounter with Swirsky.
Now a documentary about Swirsky, entitled Queen of Hearts, is in post-production after being filmed this summer in Spain by The Flow Studio. Marta Alamillo, the producer, said: “It’s a tale of a brave and feisty woman who played a role in WW2 that, as with other women, has not been recognised by history.”
Born into an aristocratic Russian family in Odessa in 1910, Swirsky’s early life was a whirl of extraordinary experiences after she had to flee the 1917 Russian Revolution in which most of her relatives were killed.
According to Ms Romero, she acted in silent movies in Berlin and partied with the likes of Coco Chanel and Salvador Dali in Paris before meeting her husband, Spanish naval officer Manuel Romero Hume, on holiday in Cannes. “He met her at teatime and before midnight he had proposed. She had a magnetism that no one could resist.”
When the Second World War broke out, Swirsky and Romero Hume were living in Ceuta, one of Spain’s North African territories. The Franco government was officially non-belligerent, but was an ally of Hitler’s Germany and the Italy of Mussolini, and Swirsky was persuaded by an Italian friend to lend her talents as a speaker of six languages to the Axis cause, becoming a Nazi spy.
With her husband posted as harbour master at Puente Mayorga, on the Bay of Gibraltar, Swirsky entered a nest of spies, secret operations and saboteurs, as Germany and Italy attempted to wrest away British control of the Rock, a key strategic post at the entrance to the Mediterranean.
“Her job was reconnaissance to check on targets in the bay or enter Gibraltar and report on the damage done by German bombers. The British had no idea where some of the attacks were coming from and 16 ships were blown up off Gibraltar,” said Wayne Jamison, a journalist who has written the Esvásticas en el Sur (Swastikas in the South) series of books on the Second World War and the presence of Nazis in southern Spain.
Ms Romero recalls how, as a girl of 10 or 11, she accompanied her mother – part of Swirsky’s cover as a well-to-do lady of leisure on missions that could have led to her death at the gallows if exposed.
“She was absolutely cold, and had an actress’s perfect control of her facial and bodily expressions,” said Ms Romero, remembering how her mother tossed her miniature camera onto a tall filing shelf while being strip-searched in a Gibraltar military base.
Tea with Ian Fleming
Ms Romero also said she remembers her mother’s tears when her sister visited from France saying she had joined the Resistance and also bringing the first news of the Holocaust.
“She didn’t know how bad the Nazis were,” Ms Romero said. “When they recruited her, they had promised she would regain all the family property from the USSR, and be able to care for her father’s grave.”
After Swirsky switched sides, she provided valuable information to British agents, such as how Italian frogmen were using manned torpedoes at night to attack ships.
“Fleming would come to our house for tea, and the Germans and Italians came for beer in the evenings. He was bowled over by my mother and after the war he based the character of Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale on her,” Mr Romero said.
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