Robert Wolf asks: whatever happened to … Pamella Bordes?
WHILE I like to think that I’m maturing in much the same manner as a fine wine, I must admit that I’ve now passed through the first flush of youth and I’m accelerating rapidly towards what I hope will be the dignity and gravitas of middle age. That being the case, the name Pamella Bordes inevitably conjures up vague memories of exoticism, intrigue, and sensuality for me.
Born Pamela Chaudry Singh in New Delhi, in 1961, she was awarded the title of Miss India in 1982, an accolade she still seemingly considers the most memorable moment of her life. A short marriage to convicted arms dealer
Henri Bordes provided her with a new surname, and somewhere along the way the additional ‘l’ snuck into her forename.
Her real notoriety, however, stems from the enormous sex scandal in which she was embroiled in the UK in the late ’80s. As a ‘social companion’ to Andrew Neil, then editor of The Sunday Times, she was admitted to the higher echelons of society and photographed around town with numerous members of the political classes. MPs David Shaw and Henry Bellingham wrangled a House of Commons security pass for her on the rather dubious pretext that she was working as a researcher. She was also mentioned in the same breath as junior minister Colin Moynihan and then-editor of The Observer Donald Trelford.
Undoubtedly, she was a well-connected woman.
Possibly a little too well-connected. Besides her media mates and political pals, the Evening Standard linked her with a Libyan security official named Ahmed Gadaffi Al Daim and arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi (what is it with this woman and arms dealers?).
Understandably, this kind of conflict of interests created an absolute firestorm of media coverage, eventually resulting in her extradition back to India and, more sadly, estrangement from her mother. The News of the World claimed that she was a prostitute charging £500 a night, though the figure of £10,000 a night has also been bandied around. The Daily Mail coughed up £250,000 for her version of events, only to apparently discover that most of her accounts of her exploits were too lurid for publication. Ms. Bordes herself reportedly believed that her story, told in full, could have brought down the government of the day.
Following her adventures in Europe, she seems to have decided that actually there is such a thing as bad publicity. She sought solace in a career as a photojournalist, and even spent some time right here in Bali, where she suffered minor injuries when she crashed a motorbike while being chased by a paparazzo. For a while, her work attracted very positive attention. In 1997, she was featured in an exhibition entitled India: a Celebration of Independence. Initially based at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the exhibition travelled worldwide. Similarly, in 2003 she received superb reviews in the New York Times both for a solo show and for her portfolio of images from Angkor Wat. After that, though, she rather dropped off the radar, doubtless aided by switching her surname back to Singh and dropping that pesky additional ‘l’ from her forename.
The period between 2003 and 2010 was something of a Bordes black hole, until the Daily Mail tracked her down living in Goa a couple of years ago. Reportedly she prefers a quiet life these days, pottering around the hippy havens of Goa, participating in yoga and Pilates classes, and hanging out with friends. She refuses to speak to the press, suggesting that she really would rather shuffle quietly out of the spotlight. Elsewhere, she has acknowledged that she still nurses a few regrets from the high-octane days of the late ’80s: “Sometimes I made really bad decisions, trusted people who let me down … I’m not going to turn round and say, ‘Oh, every experience enriched me’ or any such cliché. I honestly wish I hadn’t met certain people.”
Yeah, we all feel that way sometimes, Pam. In some ways, it’s a sorry tale, from the pinnacle of infamy to a somewhat reclusive existence back in her native land. The Telegraph of India suggests that, “in many ways, Pamela was probably more sinned against than sinning”. Still, she seems to doing OK, living off her earnings as a photojournalist and getting heavily into climbing. Yep, climbing. When you’ve lived the high life and been splashed across the front page of pretty much every newspaper on the planet, maybe the best way to soothe an addled soul is to grab a few crampons and scramble up some rocks.