By Oliver Marre
Forget the new James Bond film: very soon, you will be able to hire a real-life spy for the night. Eliza Manningham-Buller, who was director of MI5 until April 2007, is about to follow the likes of Tony Blair on to the lucrative after-dinner speaking circuit. According to friends, she has just signed a contract with the London speaking agency JLA, which represents John Humphrys and William Hague. Rates for its most expensive entertainers start at £25,000, though Manningham-Buller is thought to be on the market for closer to £10,000 per engagement.
Her decision is likely to prove controversial, since she has a history of making a splash with her rare public pronouncements. While still in office, she gave a speech saying: ‘I rarely speak in public. I prefer to avoid the limelight and get on with my job’, before going on to say there were 30 secret terrorist plots to kill people in the UK known of at the time. On retirement, having taken up a seat in the House of Lords, she strongly criticised the government’s plans for the 42-day detention period for suspected terrorists.
Most intriguing are the security implications of her new career. When Stella Rimington, her predecessor, published an autobiography, there were attempts to have it banned, then the text was scoured by government officials to make sure no secrets were given away. Public speaking is harder to regulate, although JLA’s boss Jeremy Lee insists she will not be in danger of contravening the Official Secrets Act. ‘She will talk about leadership,’ he tells me. ‘Her experience of running an organisation amidst a great deal of stress translates into all sorts of industries. She won’t be discussing how close MI5 is to [TV drama] Spooks.’